Following Jesus What Difference Does It Make – The Complete Lenten Series

I realize that Lent is not quite over, but with Palm Sunday coming and Holy week only a few days away, as I mentioned this morning, I want to turn my focus to reflections on this last week of Jesus life.

I hope that you have enjoyed the posts during this Lenten series as much as I have.  The depth and variety of what people have written has inspired me.  It is obvious that for many of us following Jesus really does make a difference in incredible ways.  We have contributors from Ireland, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, England, the Us and Canada. We have farmers, theologians, pastors, physicians, artists, authors, photographers and musicians.

Here is the complete list of posts:

A Good Friday Prayer

Matthew Young –  Waiting For Spring 

Palm Sunday Prayer

Palm Sunday Is Coming – What Does It Mean?

John Leech –  Thin Space

Jill Aylard Young – Suffering and Hope: A Meditation on Miscarriage and Romans 5:3-5 

Dave Perry – Imagining the Lectionary – Psalms and Passion

Jon Stevens – Re-Rooting Ourselves in the Only One Who Counts 

A Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Ryan Harrison – Summer Breaking

Steve Wickham – Really What Difference Does Following Jesus Make?

Kathy Escobar – Humility

A Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Melanie Clark Pullen – Rest For the Soul

James Prescott What Difference Does It Make – Surrender and Control

Prayer Knocks, Fasting Obtains, Mercy Receives – A Meditation From St Peter Chrysologus

A Season For Grief and Sorrow

Tracy Dickerson Icon

Learning to Live Without Plastics

Jarred McKenna Jesus In Japan (Libyia & Bahrain) I Was Hungry & Thirsty… & You Fought Rob Bell on Twitter

Coe Hutchison Following Jesus What Difference Has It Made

John Mitchell  Followers of the Way

I Have and Always Will Belong to God

Ryan Harrison It Doesn’t But It Should

Don’t Try and Escape the Desert

Alex Tang  Following Jesus

Theresa Ip Froehlich Thank God For Lent

A prayer for the Second Sunday of Lent

Eugene Cho – Giving Up Coffee or My Life

Tim Dalton – Following Jesus What Difference Does it Make

Paula Mitchell – The Grace to Trust

Jeff Johnson – Christ Has Walked this Path A Lenten video

Where is God in the Midst of Disaster?

Keith Giles – Nobody Follows Jesus So Why Should You?

Ron Cole – Leaving to Find Church

Jon Stevens – You Do Not Need To Go To Seminary to Follow Jesus

Earthquake In Japan How Do We Pray?

John Van de Laar – Into The Desert

Lynne Baab – Freedom From Fear of Death

A Lenten Prayer by Ignatius Loyola

Another Ash Wednesday Prayer

Ash Wednesday Prayer 2011


Waiting for Spring

This is the past post in the series Jesus is Coming What Difference Does it Make. It is provided by Matthew Young who is the pastor of Elysburg Presbyterian Church, PA .  Matt is a graduate of Princeton and was on staff with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship for several years in Seattle.  He is married to Jill Aylard  Young and they have one adorable daughter Grace.


Waiting for Spring

Waiting for Spring

Drip. Drip. Drip. So goes the water down the spout.  Snow melts, again.  Spring tries to come.  But it sure takes a while.

Here we sit a few days into the new season, and the mid-range forecast into April is for colder than normal temperatures.  Ugh.  I imagine all of us feel ready for a change, ready for that warm sun and the daffodils poking up.

But it’s not here yet.

Neither are we.

In our Lenten disciplines, we size ourselves up spiritually and face the harsh realities of our own internal landscapes.  We lament where our lives do not express the kingdom’s arrival in Jesus Christ.

We long for more of Him.  Yet we resist Him, too.  We ache for freedom, but in so many ways we choose bondage.  Overwhelmed by resistance from the inside and the outside, we become discouraged.  Maybe we settle for “half-way” into spring.  But even as we settle, God’s Spirit makes us unsettled and cries out within us.  Through the Spirit, our souls cry for more.   We want it to be spring.

Holy Scripture is full of human experience that longs for a certain springtime.  The psalmist cries out:  O Lord, how long will you look on?  Rescue my life from their ravages, my precious life from these lions… Awake, rise to my defense! (Ps 35:17, 23)  Or, from the prophet Habakkuk:  How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? (Hab 1:2)    The psalmist and the prophet long for God’s sunshine of liberation, freedom, and good news.

When we feel this way, we can know we have company within Holy Scripture itself.

I wonder where winter is taking its time to recede in your life.  I wonder where you have cried out for God to bring a springtime that can’t come soon enough.

Maybe there is a relationship that hasn’t thawed yet.  It’s still frozen in time after that dispute.

Perhaps a dream you held has become muddied over, covered in gunk from life’s monsoons and floods.

Maybe it’s some personal sin struggle you have – that recurring issue that just won’t go away, no matter how hard you seem to try.

Holy Scripture has good news for us, in these places.  Not only do we find the Bible the voice of our longings.  We also find promises we can claim, as we wait.

The prophet Isaiah rings clear:  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

No matter how cold it gets, or how disappointing life can be, God still shines on us.  Even on dreary, cloudy, muddy March days, his promise still stands: those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.

So, really, no matter how it feels inside of us or how it looks out there, God’s faithfulness isalways blooming.  That is the promise.  That is what we stand on.  That is the soil we plant our lives.

And what good soil it is!  By the Holy Spirit, faith sprouts new life even in advance of winter’s thaw.  Prayers and worship flower up.  Acts of kindness and  tenacious grace bloom radiant.  As God pours his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5), a quiet, steady spring comes even in the darkness.

The fact is, winter is no match for God’s faithfulness.  The truth is, there is no such thing as permafrost in God’s ecology.

Our life together is, in fact, life in God’s spiritual greenhouse.  No matter what time of year, something is always growing, just by God’s presence with us.

May it be so for you!


Palm Sunday is Coming But What Does it Mean?

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday and many of our churches are busy making palm frond crosses or preparing for a walk around our churches as a start to the day.  Most of us know that this day commemorates Jesus triumphant procession into Jerusalem on donkey’s back but few of us are aware of the deeper implications of this event.  Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem may have begun with crowds shouting Hosanna but it ends with Good Friday and the apparent triumph of the powers of the Roman Empire and of Satan.  It does not end with a gold crown but with a crown of thorns.  Jesus triumphal entry ends with his willingness to take into himself all the pain and suffering of our world so that together we can celebrate the beginning of a new procession on Easter Sunday – a procession that leads us into God’s banquet feast and the wonder of God’s eternal world.

Over the last couple of years I have written several posts that talk about the subversive nature of this event.  I have reread these this morning and realized how much I needed this reminder.  So I thought that I would adapt them here for all of us to remember once again and meditate on the meaning of this event.  This is also written for the April synchroblog Do You Live Under A Rock Palm Sunday Procession

The beginning of the Easter celebration is just over a week away and stores are full of Easter eggs and decorations to help us celebrate by diverting our attention from the real meaning of Easter to their commercialized version of it.  And how many of us are sucked in?  What is the focus of your celebrations for this Holy week – is it on the life, death and resurrection of Christ or is it on the upcoming Easter egg hunt and that new spring outfit that you intend to debut on Easter Sunday morning?

Our Easter celebration should begin with Palm Sunday a celebration in which we excitedly enter into a preview of  Jesus announcing his Messiahship and the advent of God’s kingdom of wholeness and abundance.   What many of us don’t realize is that  there were actually two processions into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning – one that symbolized the Roman culture of Jesus day and the other Jesus proclaiming his upside down kingdom.

In the year 30, Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor assigned to Judea and Jerusalem.  It had become the custom of the governors to live outside Jerusalem, but it was also their custom to come with their soldiers to Jerusalem for Passover.  To provide a very visible and powerful Roman military presence at that volatile time, to prevent any potential uprising, for there are already been uprisings and many crucifixions.

His procession would have come from the west at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers – an impressive and lavish procession specially designed to impress the people with a visual display of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.

On the other side of the city, down from the Mount of Olives in the north came Jesus and his humble procession – no pomp, no ceremony, dressed simply like the people, riding on the back of a donkey and followed by his disciples drawn from amongst the peasants and the common people.  I can imagine the lepers he had healed and the once blind man dancing and rejoicing with him.  And there is Lazarus with Mary and Martha a living symbol of the triumph that this procession represents.

Here was the truly triumphant procession and the true rejoicing of the season.  Jesus and his friends were greeted with cheers and shouts by crowds  all along his path. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna!”

Much of what Jesus’ life and teaching was about was the conflict of the kingdom of God with the empire of Rome.  Theologically and politically.  The Romans believed their emperor was to be worshipped as the son of God, the savior of humankind.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem and his followers acknowledged him as Lord and Messiah, this was not only a personal theological statement but a political statement as well.  Jesus’ belief in a liberating, inclusive, non-violent, peace-seeking kingdom of God was over and against the oppressive, greedy, elite-loving, peasant-starving kingdom of Rome.  No wonder his was so angry with the Temple hierarchy – the chief priest, the elders and the scribes –  who had become servants of the empire and not of the kingdom of God.

Jesus ride into Jerusalem was obviously headed for a collision with the powerful Roman empire –  collision that would cost his life and change history forever.

The question for all of us as we approach this Palm Sunday and enter into the celebration of Easter is: Where is our allegiance?   Where do we find ourselves in these pictures?  Are we part of that ragamuffin discipleship band following Jesus fully aware that we are on a collision course with the values of our secular culture? Are we some of the misguided enthusiasts, cheering our own idea of a  messiah, that looks more like the Roman emperor than the humble Jesus?   Are we enarmoured of an idea that has little to do with what Jesus has come to teach? Do we only want to follow a Jesus when we think he promises health and happiness here and now.  Have we so misunderstood him and his purpose and that we are ready to turn against him when he turns out not to be who we thought he was?

Perhaps however, we’re not part of Jesus’ procession at all.  Perhaps we’re standing at the other gate, cheering for the symbols of empire.  Dazzled by power, attracted to wealth, wanting to identify with the victors, not the vanquished, hoping to be counted as one of the elites of our time.

Actually most of us are probably part of both processions – wanting to follow this Jesus whom we find so don’t fully understand but also caught up in the excitement of Easter egg hunts and spring fashion displays.

And the beauty is that Jesus, in his humanity, sees and knows all of us. . . the flawed humanity that surrounds him. . . the flawed humanity of each of us. . . and he sees it and he forgives it, and loves us, and gives his blessing to all of us as he clops along the dusty road toward his confrontation with power, his time of trial, his abandonment, his death.

Thin Space – A Lenten reflection by John Leech

Today’s post is contributed by John Leech, rector at St Albans Episcopal church in Edmonds WA.  John blogs at Sermon Oats


Celtic Eucharist

A Thin Place

A long time ago driving down the California coast I found myself looking at a long stretch of sand, rocks, waves, and mountains. And I said: I could look at this all day. A year later I was doing just that – a mile up the hill, at a monastic retreat house. It was an opportunity for rest and renewal, for silence, solitude, and contemplation.

It was there I found a ‘thin place’ – a place where the membrane was perceptibly permeable between the world of sensory input and the world of the Spirit. You could say, I was in a place where I was able to become aware of that thin veil.

The thin place I found there is before an altar – with a great skylight above it pouring down illumination on us as we gathered for Eucharist. And as we sat in meditation, the silence was vibrant

The air was filtered with light. We could stay there as long as we liked.

At night the space was silent and dark, lit only by an altar lamp and a candle burning by an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

You could sing good-night to her, after Compline. Follow the monks as they singled out, and sing.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve we rang in the new year with the rosary. I built a fire in my cell, in the big patent stove. As the flames roared, old journals seemed ready to burn, old memories ready to become incense.

Something stirred there that was becoming, coming into being more fully, with each moment of prayer.

I go back to that thin place periodically, on retreat. I like to stop on the way and touch bases at other places that speak to me – an old general store with a pot-bellied stove, a rocky outreach into the ocean, and a place of pines and quiet.

But of course we cannot always go back – we never really do go back – but we can visit the sacred again in new places, or old.

One of the most prominent and convenient places to visit the sacred is in the Eucharist. Eucharist is a thin place we make for each other in the intention and the quiet, the prayer and the movement and the stillness, as we come together to hear the Word and remember the gift – and share it, and be still, and know our God is present.

This is the blessing – God is here. God is here.

And we go forth transformed – from thin place and Eucharist. Gradually we learn – the thin place is everywhere. Everywhere the heart is open and God can come. And he will dwell in us; and we in him.

Be peaceful. Be at home. Find the place in your heart where Spirit can breathe, Word can speak, and Creator make new.

Be blessed in the bread and in the stillness. Carry that peace with you – know it is always there, waiting for you. If only behind a veil, God is here.



Back From Retreat, Ready for Easter

Tom & I are just back from our quarterly retreat and I am feeling renewed, refocused and ready for Easter.  While I was away I wrote the following prayer, the first of several I want to share as we move through the final days of Lent towards Holy week.

Holy week is the pivotal point of our faith culminating in the wonder of Christ’s resurrection, but many of us are afraid to walk this path because we are afraid of suffering. But there is no other pathway to eternal life and the wonder of God’s kingdom than through the Cross and the joy for me is that we do not walk this path alone. We walk it together with Jesus and with the great company of those who have gone before.

Let us walk the way of the Cross together
And move forward without fear into God’s eternal purposes
May we trust in God alone, follow Jesus and cling to the Spirit
May we choose rightly so that life will begin anew in our hearts.

Suffering and Hope: A Meditation on Miscarriage and romans 5:3-5

Today’s post is contributed by Jill Aylard Young.  Jill serves on the board of Mustard Seeds Associates. She lives with her husband Matthew and daughter Grace in Elysburg, PA where Matthew is pastor of Elysburg Presbyterian Church. Jill has an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary and is particularly interested in spiritual direction and formation.


Suffering and Hope: A Meditation on Miscarriage and Romans 5:3-5

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  (NIV)

As congregants poured out into the lobby at the close of the church service on Sunday – the Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania where my husband is pastor – I made my way straight over to a young woman who had just found out at 12-weeks that the little life within her was no longer alive.  She knew that I too had experienced a similar miscarriage a few months before and so we immediately embraced with knowing and tears.  We had rejoiced together in her long awaited pregnancy. Now we were sorrowing together and processing the loss as fellow Christians with a faith and hope that doesn’t diminish the reality of pain.

My husband had just preached a sermon on Romans 5:3-5 and this was the backdrop as we shared with each other. The truths in this Scripture felt palpable as we stood together. In the course of our conversation she said both that this experience had been the worst of her life and that she had never experienced such grace and love from the people of God surrounding her. Suffering and hope were mingling.

As I came away from our conversation I realized how fresh my own sorrow from my miscarriage was still, even as I was joyful about my very new and unannounced pregnancy. Just a few hours later my second miscarriage began.

Disbelief, anger, emptiness….a lot of questions, aching disappointment!

We are not protected from suffering as we follow Jesus.  We are subject to the same risks in this life.

So how is suffering different as we walk with Jesus?  It certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t struggle, question, resist, and just simply hurt! But suffering provides opportunity for the Holy Spirit’s work within us, to grow our character and deepen our hope. I had hoped for a second child (and still do though I’m an older mom who got started later on marriage and family). I already had joyful images in my head of a family of four, of a sibling for our dear daughter Grace, of another grandchild for my dad who a year ago lost his wife, my mother.

As I struggle with this unexpected loss during this Lent, I feel that tug of the Holy Spirit within me to a hope that is deeper than my pictures of how I want my future to be…A hope rooted in the love of God, poured into my heart even in the midst of sorrow, disappointment, unmet longings… a hope in God’s love that is not dependent on how the circumstances of life work out. This I have learned through dark times in the past and this I must learn again and again.

By God’s mercy may we follow Christ in our suffering, opening our hearts to his love and staying in faith even as we doubt, ache, and resist.

Imagining the Lectionary: Psalms and Passion by Dave Perry

Today’s post was provided by Dave Perry and was first published on Visual Theology.  Dave is a Methodist Minister who has been the Chair of the Lincoln and Grimsby District since 2000. He had his first taste of Christianity and Methodism whilst an undergraduate and became a member of the Methodist Church at Selly Oak.  His hobbies include fell walking, rambling, running, reading, art, photography, model railways, red wine and watching movies on DVD. Dave is married to Sue, who is Deputy Head of Dietetics for the Hull and E. Yorkshire NHS Hospitals Trust. They have two daughters, Bekki (online merchandising designer) and Judy (final year Communication and Media student).


Whichever way we look at it, the final phase of the Lenten journey towards Easter is the supreme test of our mettle as disciples. Do we continue alongside Jesus, or do we gradually fall back and move to the periphery, melting into the crowds of bystanders where we will find anonymity and little to mark us out as ‘different’?

With each passing year Jesus walks an increasingly lonely road through our culture to the events of Holy Week. The palms are fewer, the passion less. Those who dare to follow him closely can no longer take for granted that the bystanders understand what they are doing or appreciate the significance of this pathway to Easter. The increasing strangeness and oddity of the spectacle bear an inverse relationship to the cachet of being a Christian in our society.

There is no celebrity or glamour on offer here. Staying close to Jesus offers no enhancement of our personal status in the eyes of others. But then it is not about us. It never has been. It is about Him. And he eschewed all such self-serving interests for the sake of being utterly God-centred and passionately people-focussed. So the journey he makes goes from acclaim to resentment, and from there to ridicule, ending with the final excruciating good riddance of the Cross. And in his rejection the divine odd-one-out calls his disciples to stay close all the way through.

By abandoning the aggrandising power which the world craves for a life lived in and for the apparent powerlessness of love, Jesus demonstrates a completely subversive understanding of the whole concept of power. And as he does so the full potential of humanity shines within him as a countercultural beacon of hope. The power of such divine love is the energy which brings God’s Kingdom alive in and through those disciples who determinedly stay close to him, come what may.

The Christian Faith may indeed seem strange to those who watch from the sidelines today – and in a sense if it is true to itself it always will – but in love our homecoming, our belonging and our true identity are always to be found. These truths we discover in Jesus. And there is nothing odd or strange about the deep authenticity which comes from knowing one’s whole being is centred upon them, through his presence with us on life’s journey. As we follow him and serve others these life-giving holy truths come alive within us and empower us to fulfilled living in a way that makes sense and gifts meaning to every waking moment.

Jesus needs his disciples to trust that this is more than enough for anyone. It was for him, why shouldn’t it be for us?

Re-Rooting Ourselves in the Only One Who Counts – Lenten Reflection by Jon Stevens

open gate farm

Today’s post is the second submitted by Jon Stevens who farms on Camano Island at the Open Gate Farm
Farmers around the world are a different group.  They are not like the business people who shuttle into the canyons of commerce to wrestle with the bears and bulls that hide behind the rocks.  No, farmers seem to be a more placid, gentle, peaceful people.  They are a people who can look through you without doing much damage.  In fact, sometimes it’s even a healing gaze you get.
This is because of what they do.  They bump up against the realities of this world, the hope in the seeds, the doubt in the weather, the hope in the growing plants, the doubt in the weather, the hope in the harvest, the doubt in the weather, the peace of full larders and cheer filled Christmases, the doubt in the weather…it never ends.
It is that contact with the never ending which leaves the lines in their souls.  It is that daily contact with the doubts and the hopes, it is that living in the tension of wondering will God actually provide? which forms and shapes them into who they are.  It is that contact with the hope of birth, the finality of death, the eating of what they have had to kill, whether it be beast or plant, which gives them contact with God in ways the rest of the world has forgotten.
It’s not that God isn’t in those canyons of commerce.  It’s just that He is a bit harder to find.  So if you are looking for someone to follow, say for example Jesus, it might be easier to do so as a farmer.  You might discover your gift is not just raising lettuce or beets or beans.  It might be your gift is finding the only one worth following…and the path to Him.  That’s how it’s been for many of us who have left the cities to re-root ourselves in the only life that counts, a life with Him.  It’s o.k. to leave where you are.  He’s waiting for you just over the hill!
Happy Hoeing,

A Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today’s prayer is based on some of the lectionary scriptures for this Sunday.

May we look and listen

Responding to the Spirit of God who lives within us

May we throw off the grave clothes that confine us

And take on the life of the One who raised Christ from the dead

We who were once in darkness have now found light in Christ

He who dwells within us is the light of the world

May we live as children of light

Bearing fruit by doing all that is right and good and true



Summer Breaking – Lenten Reflection by Ryan Harrison

Today’s post is the second by Ryan Harrison who lives in Denver, Colorado but her heart is in Morocco. She fills her days with reading, teaching, and ministering in the city. This post was first published on How We Spend Our Days


It happened eight years ago, but I can’t stop thinking about it. One moment, melted into forever, into my eternity. It’s become that which I look for in my life: that one breath, sigh of relief, of burdens being lifted and the true meaning of his words. Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden for my burden is easy and my yoke is light. Come to me, full of grief, of sorrow, of hopes unanswered. Come to me, full of anxiety, of pride, of an empty desire to control.

Eight years ago I sat on a beach in North Africa. It was hotter than hot and we sat– the foreigners and the locals alike, heavy with sweat and stiff muscles, the way we craned our necks to reach out to the breeze that wasn’t there.

Children tucked in at their mother’s feet not daring to run to the water’s edge– too hot anyway for jolly. The birds would flitter across the slow, short waves, the waves themselves too tired to roll.

And then it happened. Slowly the hair on the back of our necks lifted, unmatted from the skin. Women’s veils, the ones with fringe on the end, started to tussle.

The breeze. Summer’s chains clanging against fall’s relief; summer breaking. That’s what they call it.

When a season breaks, everything right in the world matters ten thousand times more than everything wrong. The children stretch, cool wind breathing life into their lungs, and they shout for joy, for the hope that is the breeze–no longer stranger, but friend.

Women start to laugh again. These sometimes women, sometimes product to be used, purchased for a time being and worn hard– they have life coursing through their veins again. Tomorrow seems closer, seems sweeter and softer than ever before. They lay back and float on the sand, their bodies light with the expectancy of a birth easier than they have ever known.

Tomorrow is sweet, but the shadows on the horizon dance, a harbinger of the coming pain. The next day? Not as sweet. Heavy. Sticky with pain. A cruel desert.

But again, God will bring the wind. He leads us out of our deserts, our skins hardened and wind-blasted. The wind polishes away the sand, the weight of the heat. He breaks them, those chains of ours. Those seasons of never-ending heavy grief.

And so we follow, through the desert.