Lately, I have been compelled to keep an eye on current events, during what feels like particularly dangerous times. Partisan divisions, fear about the pandemic, the economy and anger in the face of visible injustices contribute to a climate of deep insecurity.
Recently I was praying and journaling, asking God for deeper discernment and clearer discernment—to see under surface appearances what the Spirit wants me to know.
I went to sleep and in the early morning hours I had a vivid dream that a child came to me and prophesied, saying: “You are blind. You are deaf.”
In the dream I was struck by how confident the child was, and began to question this as over-confidence. But then I thought of Jesus’ call to welcome the children, and decided to receive this word and ponder it.
When I woke up I began thinking about the divisions that I myself participate in. Truthfully, I think I see more clearly than those I disagree with– who also seem way too confident that they see more clearly than me.
I then remembered the words of Jesus:
“For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (John 9:39).
If I do not see, that is, if I am in fact blind– only then do I stand to “benefit” from the judgment that Jesus brings into the world. If I claim that I see, then Jesus’ judgment for me is to “become blind.”
The child’s confident declaration: “you are blind, you are deaf!” then is very good news, because it positions me to benefit directly from Jesus’ ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to proclaim…. recovery of sight to the blind” (Luke 4:18).
As I continue to notice my lack of sight, I can cry out in desperation like the blind man at the entrance to Jericho, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” and wait for Jesus to speak to me like he did that humble man: “What do you want me to do for you?” And I can say “Lord I want to regain my sight!” and position myself to receive my sight.
I can see though that I carry within myself the attitude of the Pharisees, when I view myself as an exception, as one who is uniquely seeing– prophetic, unlike those with whom I disagree.
In fact, I too protest as they did: “We are not blind too, are we?”—me, Gracie and our like-minded friends?! And Jesus tells me: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘we see,’ your sin remains.”
I most certainly do not want to say “I see,” or even believe that I do secretly, while I claim to confess my blindness. No! Instead I want to benefit from Jesus coming to me, opening my eyes– which according to this text requires I truly acknowledge my very real blindness.
Let us be careful not to justify an attitude like that of the Pharisees, who say “we see.” This is the dominant attitude visible in our country today, with people pitted against one another, informed by our opposing media sources, claiming to “see” clearly what’s really happening. There’s a widespread lack of humility these days, and Christians often spout viewpoints that differ little from the mainstream media (right wing or progressive/left). What is the Spirit saying to the churches?
I long for greater clarity, and want to be guided forward in alignment with God’s will, speaking and acting in agreement with God’s Living Word for now—stripped of ideology, politics and personal bias.
In my blind and deaf state, I am drawn to being part of the adventure of faith, a member of the company of God’s people who are led forward by the Lord, as stated in Isaiah 42:16.
“I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone.”
Being led by Jesus by a way a do not know excites me and gives me hope. So today I am reflecting on this, trying to acknowledge that I myself am like the people the Lord addresses in Isaiah 42:18.
“Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but my servant, or so deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with me, or so blind as the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; Your ears are open, but none hears.”
As the Lord’s servant who I hope to be, I want to acknowledge my deafness, my blindness, and then respond to the command “hear!” and “look!”
I want Jesus to notice me, like he did the blind man at the beginning of John 9, and I welcome him anointing my eyes with his spitty mud— at least I think I do.
I ponder the command of Jesus to the blind man to “go and wash in the pool “Siloam,” (meaning “sent”)– to himself find his way there in the dark, where he washed off his muddy eyes. It was this act of humble obedience and trust that resulted in him coming back seeing (John 9:7). I wonder what the equivalent of Jesus’ command would be for me– today, tomorrow and on into this Fall and Winter and beyond—to walk forward blindly to the place Jesus sends me—to wash, and see. Will I be attentive and responsive? I think of the prophet Isaiah’s later word and want to obey (literally hear) the voice and trust.
“Who is among you that fears the Lord, that obeys the voice of his servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).
May we enter into a healthy, redemptive blindness, letting Jesus open our eyes and help us see clearly in these dark times.
Check out upcoming webinar courses through The People’s Seminary at www.peoplesseminary.org.
If you’d like to hear a recent sermon on John 9 which explores this further, check out our Tierra Nueva service below.
- September 8: God’s Mission and Ours in Genesis 1
- September 15: Departure and Re-entry into the Garden (Genesis 2-4)
- September 22: Abraham’s Call and Ours in Genesis 12
- September 29: Exodus: Hearing God for Liberation and Mission
- October 6: Mission According to Isaiah 1-39
- October 13: Mission According to Isaiah 40-55
- October 20: Jesus’ Baptism and Ours
- October 27: The Ministry of Jesus in the Gospels
- November 3: Healing in the New Testament and Today
- November 10: Kingdom Identity 1, Nationalism and the Powers
- November 17: Advocacy in Biblical Perspective
- November 24: Reading the Bible at the Margins
- December 1: Mission According to the Acts of the Apostles
- December 8: Mission According to the Apostle Paul
- December 15: Bible Study on John 4
Cost: $225 – $60 of which goes to cover CTMMs in the global South. Partial and full scholarships are available.
Mental Health: Therapeutic and Jesus-informed Accompaniment i
Our world is witnessing a spiritual and psychological emergency of mental health issues, dual diagnoses, self medication and self harm. This course aims to equip us to see mental health sufferers as an under-reached people group waiting to hear Jesus’ message of healing and liberation.
We will combine therapeutic and theological ideas to address the individual, social, biological, and spiritual roots of mental illness. We aim to provide participants with a general understanding of mental health labels so we can accompany people as they get to know Jesus who gives us our authentic adopted title. We will explore how to accompany people prophetically, pastorally, and therapeutically in their journey to freedom.
Each class session will consist of Heidi Basely’s teaching on mental health disorders, followed by a Biblical reflection led by Gracie or Bob Ekblad on Jesus’ encounters and teachings.
When: Mondays, 11:30am-1:00pm (PST)
- September 14: Introductions to Mental Health Models for Holistic Healing and Liberation
- September 21: Anxiety, Depression, and Bipolar Disorder
- September 28: Personality Disorders
- October 5: Eating Disorders—Bulimia, Anorexia, Binge-Eating
- October 12: Psychosis and Schizophrenia
- October 19: Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and Phobias
- October 26: PTSD and Trauma
- November 2: Dissociative Disorders
- November 9: Narcissistic/Family
Systems: How Our Roots Influence Our Lives
- November 16: Suicide Awareness and Prevention
- November 23: Therapeutic, Pastoral, Prophetic Accompaniment
Cost: $150 – $50 of which goes to cover CTMMs in the global South
Partial and full scholarships are available upon request
For more information and registration click here.
Recovering: From Brokenness and Addiction to Blessedness and Community is a ten-week webinar course taught by Aaron White beginning September 17, 2020.
This Guerrilla Webinar course will examine the widespread phenomenon of addictions and attachments—not only related to drugs and alcohol—that threatens to steal away our created purpose in Jesus.
It will help participants explore the root causes of addiction; the danger of attaching our passions to anything other than God; the general failure of Church and society to help people through their pain; and the invitation Jesus makes to live together in holistic freedom. Jesus’ antidote to the pain and isolation that leads to addiction is Beatitude Community with him and with each other. We will look at how the Beatitudes speak to our deepest human condition and offer us hope to overcome our attachments and disordered desires.
When: Thursdays,12:00-1:00pm (PST)
- September 17: Broken
- September 24: Blessed
- October 1: Poverty of Spirit
- October 8: Mourning
- October 15: Meekness
- October 22: Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
- October 29: Mercy
- November 5: Purity of Heart
- November 12: Peacemaking
- November 19: Persecution
For more information and registration, click here.
Daily as I keep informed about national and world events I have felt called to also read and re-read Jesus’ teachings. I notice that I can get agitated and reactive to news, and the very words of national leaders– which can leave me feeling angry, frustrated and empty.
In contrast, Jesus’ words are refreshing and life-giving, offering me wide-angle perspective, strategic wisdom and precise direction– both directly through the Spirit’s guidance and through the teaching of Scripture.
Jesus’ last words to his disciples before his crucifixion are recorded in John 13-16. These words invite relationship and inspire hope. Check this out:
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
I most certainly need help and clear direction on many fronts– and answers to my many prayers. So Jesus’ offer here is something that interests me. How do I abide in him and welcome his words to abide in me?
“Abide” (from the Greek meno) means ‘to continue, to remain in, to keep on.’ This most certainly requires deliberate effort, including prayer, and reading, studying and meditating on Jesus’ words.
I think of Psalm 1’s description of the person who meditates on God’s teaching day and night– resulting in being “like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in its season– whose leaf does not wither; and in whatever he/she does, she/he prospers.”
“My Father is glorified by this,” continues Jesus, “that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.”
Being a disciple of Jesus involves being guided by his daily directions and staying rooted in his larger teachings. The word translated “commandments,” (entole), includes both precise directives and written teaching contained in Scripture (see Gen 26:5; Exod 15:26; Deut 13:18; 15:5).
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” continues Jesus. “Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Living according to God’s instructions leads to fullness of joy.
“These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11).
I most certainly want and need to experience this joy. Jesus’ most relevant command in these days of partisan division and racial tensions comes in John 15:12:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
This has motivated me of late to proactively pursue relationship with people I disagree with, including listening to their perspectives, but also challenging them in love.
We have just published through The People’s Seminary Press the first English translation of our French mentor and friend Daniel Bourguet’s book The Last Words of Jesus Before the Cross: Meditations on John 13-16, which I highly recommend in my endorsement.
“Daniel Bourguet models attentive, respectful, listening to Jesus’ final words to his disciples, making them come alive as highly relevant to anyone immersed in the trenches of life and ministry. This book is a treasure chest full of wonder-inspiring revelation drawn from the detail of John’s crafted Gospel, compelling me to a deeper reading of the Bible, with the Holy Spirit as guide. This is a must-read for people desiring fresh nourishment to sustain us for a life-long journey of engaged faith.”
This book is hot off the press and can be ordered on Amazon here.
Last October I had a vivid dream exposing racial violence at the heart of the Christian community that I’ve been pondering ever since. Now in the aftermath of last week’s killing of George Floyd, amidst national-level protests, and Donald Trump’s holding up a Bible after dispersing a crowd of peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas, I feel especially compelled to speak.
My dream took place in the middle of the night before the final day of the 24/7 International Prayer conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland on October 27, 2019. The conference brought together over 1000 people from 29 countries for worship, prayer, talks and workshops on topics related to prayer, mission and justice.
Just before Belfast I’d enjoyed a personal retreat at Taizé, an ecumenical spiritual retreat center which draws thousands of young people from around Europe. That night I toured the wall that separates Protestant from Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast, being struck by murals on the Protestant side glorifying the military. My ensuing dream was as vivid as an actual lived experience.
In the dream I move from a big Christian worship setting to suddenly find myself standing on a dirt road in front of house in an idyllic rural town. I hear children humming and singing worship songs as they walk into town from my left, which I recognize from worship conferences I’d just attended.
I notice they are White children, and watch them turn and walk merrily up a driveway to one of the houses off the main road. I think to myself how great it is that they have benefitted from such quality Christian input from these conferences, and wish my own children could have benefitted when they were young.
Suddenly I am interrupted by a disruption down the road to my right, towards the center of town. I look and see a group of White men I assume to be the fathers of these children, dragging a shirtless Black man along by his arms.
The men drag him into the town square, and force him into a pond in the center of town, up to his waist in water. The men divide into two groups, each group holding the Black man’s arms stretched apart. A White man approaches with a thick green garden hose, and begins spraying his chest, face, mouth and eyes with high-powered water. The men hold a big piece of plastic behind the Black man’s head, making the water hit against the back of his head. The man looks desperate and afraid, but is unable to break free.
I watch in shock and then begin walking quickly down the road out of town– in the direction the children had come from. I think that I must call 911 (the police), and then decide to get off the road so the men can’t see me since I am the only outside witness I know of.
I head up a big hill, towards higher ridges when suddenly I’m face-to-face with two people on their way down. They tell me there is a heavily-watched wall and tower on the ridge above, and everything I do will be under surveillance.
“Everything you do is being filmed and everything you say recorded,” one of the men tells me.
I feel intimidated, but think again that I must call 911– though I remember thinking it will probably not make a difference. In the end I’m not sure I ever called, but think I did.
Then I am suddenly right in the center of the town at the crime scene— standing on the road in front of the pond. Everything is disturbingly quiet, cleaned up and set in order. The water is calm and the scene idyllic. The grass is cut short around the pond, like a golf course green. I see the piece of blue plastic that was held behind the man’s face and body when they were spraying him, set upright in front of the beautiful pond.
Two of the White men are working in their yards behind me. I nod towards them and they notice and barely acknowledge me, continuing their work. I notice ear buds in their ears. Had the police come? There is no sign that law enforcement had been there. I wonder where the Black man is. Is he dead or alive? I remain silent as I ponder, and then the dream ends and I awake disturbed, unable to sleep the rest of the night.
I think back to that dream of brutal, racial violence used to silence and intimidate– enacted by White men at the heart of what looked like an idyllic White Christian community. In the dream the men appear united in mob violence against a lone individual who is the only one unlike them—a Black man who has become their victim.
As a White man, I am able to re-enter the town and stand before the crime scene with no questions asked. What I see is that towns people’s biggest concern appears to be their property, and the maintenance of their beautiful, ordered community.
As the only outside witness, I feel powerless to effect change. I am far outnumbered by the men, who I hadn’t attempted to confront. Whether I report the crime to the authorities or not seems to make no difference. This is a normal reality to people of color. How should we respond?
Right now protests in the United States and across the world are exposing police brutality and institutional racism. We must continue to insist on deep structural changes. We need to make sure changes are implemented, supporting efforts like Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” and efforts to confront and change racial profiling. People of color must be able to call the police and expect protection and fair treatment—with no fear of being killed by a fearful or trigger-happy cop.
We need justice in our courts, where prosecutors and judges reign supreme, meting out unjust sentences and leveling impossible-to-pay back fines. These injustices must now be exposed and uprooted, and minimum-sentencing laws (and many other laws) must be changed. We have witnessed judicial injustice beating down people of color and White people too our entire 26 years of jail and prison work here in Washington State.
Let’s examine our own hearts, confessing and turning away from racism and White supremacist mindsets. We must refuse and denounce all attempts to co-opt Christian faith to justify violence or law and order, like President Trump’s June 1st dispersion of a crowd of peaceful protestors with rubber bullets and tear gas, so he could pose with a Bible over his head in front of a church. That the Bible was upside down is both symbolic and real—and followers of Jesus must read it right-side-up, with open eyes and love-filled hearts towards the suffering world.
Our children and young people need to come home to families where repentance and courageous truth-telling are the norm, and sent out of our worshipping communities as compassionate, anti-racist change agents. I am deeply moved by the thousands of young people hitting the streets in protest across the United States—including in our own small town of Burlington on Thursday. There I joined a mostly White and Latino group on Burlington Boulevard, holding my Black Lives Matter sign as cars and trucks honked their support.
Now is the time to expose and uproot the sin of racism and prejudice, and engage in informed solidarity with people of color in our communities. May the Holy Spirit guide us into all truth, giving us courage for this important work.
Training for front-line workers engaged in the Jesus movement
Personal and social brokenness and chaos abound in our world, affecting all of us. If we want to effectively care for one another and address larger social problems we need to take the time to pursue our own holistic healing, practical training and empowerment by the Holy Spirit.
In this course we will address areas of core wounding, presenting practical approaches to healing that integrate prayer and psychology. We will also explore the relationship between personal and social change, addressing some of the roots of authoritarianism, allegiance, passivity, racism, rebellion, and addiction.
Participants will learn:
- Psychologically-informed healing approaches to address issues like father & mother wounds, trauma, unhealthy attachment, addiction, rejection, and shame.
- Practical guidelines for accompanying people in need of psychological healing and spiritual freedom.
- Scripture-informed teaching on the relationship between personal and social change.
Each session will include guided prayer exercises.
When: Tuesdays (+ 1 Thursday), 12:00-1:00 PM (PDT). May 26, June 2, 9, 16, 23, 25, 30
- May 26: Becoming a healthy change agent: recovering our identity as a child of God
- June 2: Identifying and healing father wounds
- June 9: Healing of trauma and soul wounds
- June 16: Identifying and healing mother wounds
- June 23: Healthy resistance vs. reactive rebellion
- June 25: Healing from shame and rejection – Anthea McNeill
- June 30: Psychological & spiritual first aid – Heidi Basely
Instructors: Bob & Gracie Ekblad, Heidi Basely, & Anthea McNeill
$20 of every purchase funds TPS trainings in Africa.
Some partial and full scholarships are available.
Write to "> for discount codes.
I regularly receive calls to prayer, and more often these days. Praying to God is so important, and I am personally involved in movements like 24/7 Prayer International (and others). I notice though that people often understand prayer mostly as one-way communication with God. While prayer certainly includes us speaking to God, it also includes God speaking to us! Spirit-guided action will also follow.
Is our prayer conversational in a way that actively includes paying attention to what God is saying to us and acting on it? According to Jesus, life-transforming prayer must include speaking and hearing, resulting in action.
In Luke 6:46-49 Jesus directly challenges people who both speak and listen to him, but don’t do what he says. Discerning what Jesus says then is essential– so we can receive instructions and direction for our lives and commitments.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Jesus asks.
Jesus then offers a simple comparison of two builders. One builds his house on a rock, and it withstands a flood. Another builds on the sand, and it collapses when hit by the torrent. His story invites us to decide which builder we want to be. And the right choice seems obvious.
This week I met up with Jason and Jessica, a couple from our Tierra Nueva community (pictured above). We met up in their driveway and read and discussed Luke 6:46-49 together. I saw some things I’d never noticed that really struck me. I hope these reflections inspire you.
Jesus’ teaching here is about prayer, which must include three essential steps if we are to build on a foundation that can withstand life’s storms. These include 1) Coming to Jesus, 2) Hearing his voice, and 3) Action in alignment with what he tells us.
“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and acts on them, I will show you whom he/she is like: she/he is like a person building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.”
The first step is coming to Jesus: “everyone who comes to me…” A great crowd of disciples had come to hear Jesus, and to be healed of their diseases and freed from unclean spirits (Lk 6:18). Back then people could come to the physical Jesus. Now we come to him through prayer, worship, adoration, contemplation, and other spiritual practices like Communion. By the way, the Gospel accounts of people’s encounters with Jesus have a lot to teach us about prayer as back-and-forth communication with God.
The next step is hearing Jesus: “and hears my words…” This speaks directly of the other, lesser-known aspect of prayer— God’s communicating with us and us hearing/discerning God’s voice. We can hear Jesus’ words to us through the Holy Spirit’s work, listening prayer practices, and through reading Scripture and receiving teaching.
The final step is the most ignored: “and acts on them…” (though some more action-oriented people jump straight to it without first going to Jesus and hearing his instructions). This step speaks to our response to what Jesus tells us: changing our lives, going on a ‘mission,’ or doing whatever we hear him say.
Only the person who engages in all three of these actions is “like a person building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48).
In contrast, the “person who built a house on the ground without any foundation” is like the “the one who has heard and has not acted” (Lk 6:49).
Jesus’ words assume the first action of coming to him—like those he mentions at the beginning who call him ‘Lord Lord.’ Next Jesus directly mentions the second aspect of prayer, hearing. “But the one who has heard.” The only difference between the successful and failed builder is acting or not acting in response to Jesus’ words.
The results of not acting on Jesus’ communication to us in conversational prayer are catastrophic. “And the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great” (Lk 6:29).
“Maybe it’s like if I have a car problem and I call a mechanic. I explain that my car is overheating and the check-engine light is on, indicating my car maybe needs more oil. That would be like praying to God, explaining a problem to him,” I explain to Jason and Jessica, trying to think of a relatable example.
“The mechanic tells me to be sure there’s antifreeze in the radiator, and to check the oil and top if off if necessary until he has time to check it out when his schedule is free. I agree– and this would be like the second step of prayer: listening,” I say.
“But then I keep driving my car without doing what he says. My engine freezes up and needs to be replaced. I’ve failed to follow the mechanic’s expert advice and now I’m suffering the consequences,” I conclude. The example works and we’re each moved by how down-to-earth Jesus is.
Jason and Jessica have been experiencing this concretely over the past year, finding housing, work and flourishing as a family after seven years of being separated due to incarceration.
“We’re both growing in our relationship with God,” says Jessica. It’s easier to understand one another and deal with whatever issues that we have– rather than just letting our emotions take control. My gas tank is not always on empty…”
Jesus’ teaching shows how much he cares about us. Jesus wants us to build our lives on a solid foundation so we can withstand the storms of life, not being shaken by the torrents that come against us. Jesus wants us to come to him. He speaks to us and we can hear him. He gives us direction and messages that enhance our lives, helping us and others avoid destruction.
May we all remember to go to Jesus in prayer, listen to his counsel, and gladly act on what he tells us!
Check out our Guerrilla Webinars and online Certificate in Transformational at the Margins here.
Sign up for this Thursday’s (April 23rd) Guerrilla Bible Study “No one is an accident: We belong to God (Psalm 139 and other texts) here.
Discipleship and Jesus-movement building through Bible Studies
12-1pm PST on Thursdays, April 30, May 7, 14, 21, 28, June 4
There’s a Jesus-movement underway in these uncertain times that grows as each of us learns to bear witness- sharing liberating messages we discover and pass on with the Spirit’s help.
Journeying alongside someone new to Christian faith is a joy and challenge. Where to begin? In this webinar course we will explore practical ways to help not-yet-believing people explore and experience God’s radical message of transforming love in Jesus. We will follow Jesus together through Scripture, identifying core teachings that help us grow into an understanding and practice of Christian faith that will appeal to people and bring personal and social change.
Participants will learn to:
- Draw from Scripture to share core teachings regarding following Jesus with people new to Christian faith in ways that mobilize them as active witnesses.
- Develop an incremental disciple-making approach that uses Scripture to help a person grow beginning from wherever they are in their faith journey into greater maturity.
- Facilitate the discovery of a life-changing message using non-religious language through short, conversational Bible studies.
- Think strategically about multiplying active carriers of liberating news (the Gospel).
Six Thursdays 12-1pm (PST) April 30, May 7, 14, 21, 28, June 4
April 30 Discipleship & Jesus-movement building intro. Discerning God’s presence in the darkness (Gn 1 & Jn 1).
May 7 Meeting the good God who seeks (Lk 13 & 15).
May 14 Coming to believe without seeing (Jn 5 & Lk 7).
May 21 Discovering your true identity (Ps 139 & Lk 3).
May 28 Repentance and change (Luke 18 & Ephesians 2).
June 4 Responding to Jesus’ Call (Matthew 4 & 9)
This Webinar includes
– 6 hrs of live webinar teaching from Bob & Gracie Ekblad
– Access to video of live Bible study
– Chapter 1 “Facilitating Guerrilla Bible Studies” of Bob’s book Guerrilla Bible Studies, Volume 1, Surprising Encounters with God
– Ongoing access to all the webinar sessions
$60 registration fee. Discount coupons available from anyone needing a scholarship, from 100%, 50% to 20% off entry free. Contact to get coupons.
$20 of every $60 received will directly fund TPS trainings in Africa and other sites in the Global South, as well as Siberia.
This course is prerequisite for the next six-week continuation course (Course 2: “From Basic Training to Going out on Missions informed by Bible Study”), to be scheduled.
Please click here to register.
This week I’ve managed several short Bible studies with people that have warmed my heart. I hope they will warm yours too.
Tuesday night I had scheduled a FaceTime Bible study with Tony, who was in his car when I called at 7pm.
“I thought we were going to meet up in person,” said Tony.
I thought I’d been clear that we were going to do this via FaceTime, but we’d also briefly discussed meeting in a sandy parking lot at a boat launch down by the Skagit River near to where we both live. We quickly agreed to meet in ten minutes, and I drove to the river.
I parked in the empty parking area where fishermen usually leave their boat trailers. Tony’s Honda appeared and slowly made its way towards me as he carefully avoided pot holes. He pulled up alongside my car. It looked like we were the recommended 6-10 feet apart as we lowered our windows.
Tony was sporting a black face mask, and with his long ponytail he looked like a hoodlum. I quickly put on my black face mask, and we laughed through our masks before quickly taking them off.
We checked in with each other, prayed and Tony shared a Scripture from Galatians 5:16-17 that had impacted him that day.
As the night was falling we opened our Bibles to John 3:1-8, Nicodemus’ breach of social distancing with Jesus by night. I laughed to think that from an outside perspective it looked like Tony and I were engaging in a drug deal. Rather, we were seeing and entering the Kingdom of God there together, despite the stay-at-home order.
The next day I do a twenty-minute video call with a man in the solitary confinement unit of our county jail. Justin (not his real name) appears with a huge grin on my phone screen. He tells me the good news that he’d been offered a deal: 68 months in prison. He says he was ready to sign, but waiting for his attorney to get off his quarantine. This beats the 200 months he originally thought he’d get.
“That means I’ve only got 27 months to go,” he says, happily– since he’s already been locked up 15 months fighting his case.
“Hey, do you want to look together at something I’ve been studying in the Bible?” I ask. “Yeah for sure, let’s do it!” he says.
I read John 18:1 “When Jesus had spoken these words, he crossed with his disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which he entered with his disciples.”
I describe the ravine between the walled city of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives that we’d visited a few years back, a rugged place off the radar where Jesus hung out with his 12 disciple “homies.” So let’s check out what happens next, I suggest, reading the next verses.
“Now Judas also, who was betraying him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with his disciples. Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons” (18:2-3).
“So Jesus gets betrayed by one of his friends—and that leads to an arrest. Has anything like that ever happened to you, Justin?” I ask. “Have you ever been betrayed?”
“Yeah, like the night I got arrested and ended up here. The cops were tipped off to where I was. They came with guns drawn, and big lights. They surrounded my place, broke in and arrested me.”
“So what was that like for you?” I ask.
He surprised me by saying he felt relief, as he’d been on the run for so long. Now he could face the charges and get them dealt with.
“Well, that’s interesting that you see it that way. I am sure glad you didn’t get shot in the process, which happens too often these days, I say. “Let’s check out what happens next.”
So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon him, went out and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am he.” And Judas also, who was betraying him, was standing with them” (18:4-5).
So they had a warrant and were looking for Jesus the Nazarene,” I say. “And one of his very own was the rat who led them to his whereabouts,” I continue.
Jesus’ readiness to face those who were out to arrest him linked in nicely with Justin’s readiness to do his time. At this point I shared some relevant background.
I share how when Jesus identifies himself as “I am he,” this links up with the Angel of the Lord’s encounter with fugitive Moses in the burning bush in the desert (Exodus 3:1). Moses had killed an Egyptian crew boss and was on the run. The Angel of the Lord told Moses, I’ve heard the people’s cries, including yours Justin, I know his suffering… He calls Moses as a liberator. When Moses asks God’s name, he tells him “I am who I am.” The Greek equivalent of this is “I am he.” “Let’s see what happens next,” I suggest. I read John 18:6-7.
“So when he said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore he again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“So here with these words, Jesus identifies himself as the God who hears the cries, sees the oppression and liberates the slaves,” I say. “Here Jesus presents himself, identifying himself to them and us as the God of liberation– to his very captors. What happens when he identifies himself?”
“They fall to the ground,” says Justin.
“Yeah, it’s like Jesus just tazed them, and they’re completely demobilized!” I say.
We laugh together, and then talk about how Jesus continues to ask them “who are you looking for?”
As I read the next verses, John 18:8-9, and I can see Justin is listening carefully.
“Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he; so if you seek me, let these (his disciples) go their way,” to fulfill the word which he spoke, “Of those whom you have given me I lost not one.”
We talk together about how Jesus shows he has power, and when he reveals himself people can’t even stay standing. But Jesus’ concern is to protect his disciples. He wants to be sure the authorities take him and not them. Earlier in John 10:11 he said: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Let’s see what happens next,” I suggest, reading John 18:10.
“Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus.”
Peter’s violence just hurts someone even more on the margins than himself—the slave of the high priest. Jesus responds to Simon Peter’s attempts to defend him with both firmness and humility. “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?”
Justin and I were moved by Jesus’ willingness to drink the cup of suffering that his Father had given him. We prayed together, and spent the last few seconds in silence before our 20 minutes video visit abruptly ended. My heart remains pierced as I think of Jesus’ arrest, and of Justin, back in his solitary confinement cell.
Join us for Thursday webinars “Best Practices for Facilitating Guerrilla Bible Studies: “Jesus, the liberator born among us (Matthew 1:18-25).” Sign up for April 16, 10-11am PST here, or 2-3pm PST here.