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Archive for October, 2013

Getting Personal | John 4.16-18

Gospel of John headerTHURSDAY
Reflection 39 of 240

REFLECT
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
John 4:16-18 | ESV

Now he puts on the brakes. “Not so fast. Go get your husband and come back here and then we’ll talk.”

And she grew very quiet.

“I don’t have a husband,” she nervously muttered. To which Jesus replies, “‘I don’t have a husband.’ Well said! You’re right about that, because you’ve had five husbands, haven’t you? And the man you’re with these days isn’t your husband at all, is he? No prevarication there! You have spoken God’s truth.” MAV

RECEIVE
If we analyze this conversation between Jesus and the unnamed woman at the well as a textbook example of “how to do evangelism 101” it would seem that at this point Jesus has her. I mean, it’s time to close the deal, right? “Please give me this water so that I never thirst again or have to come here to draw water.” “Okay, it’s yours. Just bow your head, and say this prayer…” (insert sound of recording screeching to a halt)…but Jesus totally blows it. Instead of closing the deal, he opens up the woman’s chest for some open heart surgery by asking her one simple thing: “It’s high noon, Bingetown Girl. Do you know where your husband is?” Oh Jesus, the momentum was building so wonderfully, you had her drinking out of the palm of your hand! And then you go and make it all personal like that. You open up the core wounding of her life when you could have sewn up the whole business and had another convert to add to your retinue. You could have left her to deal with those deeper issues, you know, later. It’s called baby steps, Jesus. First things first. Let’s get her passage to heaven secured, and then she can deal with her deeper, messier issues, well, later. You could have been sensitive. But no. You go and make it all personal and touch the nerve of her very existence. “It’s high noon, Bingetown Girl. Do you know where your husband is?” You set her up! Not only do you hit the nerve of her very existence, you set her up to knee jerk an embarrassed, evasive, prevaricating answer. “I have no husband.” It’s not too late. You can still be sensitive and let her off the hook, but nooooooo, that two-edged sword coming out of your mouth fillets her heart by exposing the truth she knows – the truth everyone who knows her knows which is no doubt why she’s come to draw water at noon when no one else is there and she doesn’t have to endure shunning glances and snarky remarks. “No. You don’t, do you? The truth is you’ve had five husbands, Bingetown Girl. And the one you’re living with now isn’t your husband at all, is he?” Heart successfully filleted. Splayed. Jesus, you’re cruel. And even worse, you’ve lost the sale, haven’t you? Yes, but then he turns to us, that two-edged sword now pointing in our direction. The knowing look, a slight shake of the head. That’s the whole point. Lose the sale, save the soul. The question is, will we now linger long enough to risk the filleting of our own deepest interior spaces? Will we risk his getting personal with us? And we find ourselves longing for the opening strains of “Just As I Am” to start, just so we can get away…

RELATE
If we do take this conversation as a textbook case of “how to do evangelism,” what do you learn from it? What one simple question in the mouth of Jesus would be the one to undo your own soul?

RESPOND
Lord, give me the grace and courage today to risk the piercing compassion of your gaze, to risk the word from you mouth that will undo me, redo me. Not just as I am, Lord, but just as you would and will. This day. Through Jesus.

For all of this week’s small group resources including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

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Thirsty | John 4.10-15

Gospel of John headerWEDNESDAY
Reflection 38 of 240

REFLECT
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” John 4:10-15 | ESV

Jesus, unfazed, hit the ball right back into her court with a spin: “Well, if you had a clue as to what God is so freely offering you and could get past my Jewish skin to see who it is that is really saying to you, ‘How ‘bout a drink?’ then you would have been the one asking – no, begging! – him for a drink, and he would have obliged, serving you up the ultimate living spring water experience.”

That got her.

The woman says to him dismissively, “Sir, you’ve got no bucket, and that’s one deep well (about 135 feet deep, to be exact). So where are you going to get this living spring water of yours? Who do you think you are, you lone raggedy man? You think you’ve got anything on Jacob, our ancestor, who gave us this well, who drank from it himself all the time along with his sons (all twelve of them) and all his flocks? Please.” But Jesus shoots right back at her, “Anyone who drinks from this well only ends up thirsty again. Whoever drinks from the water I’m offering will never thirst again – EVER. No, you drink the water I’m offering, and you end up with a ceaseless, inner, gushing spring of water – a spring gushing and welling up to life, life and more life!”

Now seeing past his Jewish skin, she’s sold. The woman says to him, “Sir. Please. I’ll take a pint of that! Never to thirst again! Never to come out here again and sweat drawing water that only leaves me thirsty for more. Yes, I’ll take that!” MAV

RECEIVE
Not too far from the shores of a poison sea, right in the middle of a dry, barren, desolate wilderness, is a spring. A gushing, refreshing, living spring. For centuries it’s been known as En Gedi – “the eye/spring of the young goat” – because the wild goats flock to it. Everything is dry and dead not seventy-five feet above, but down below, it’s a lush jungle paradise. Some think this was one of David’s strongholds when he was on the run from mad King Saul, and that En Gedi provides the backdrop for such Psalms in which he gushes, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul pants for you, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” or “God, you are my God, early will I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” We are a thirsty people. We are a thirsty people living in a dry and barren society, a parched culture “where there is no water.” Too much of what we are offered to drink is designed to only make us thirstier. And so we trudge on in the endless procession from one unsatisfying watering hole to the next, dying a little more with each step. It’s the basic condition of humanity, the very definition of what it means to be human. And though ethnically and religiously they were different, thirst is something Jesus and the unnamed woman at the well both shared. Interesting that though Jesus wasn’t afraid to confess his thirst to this foreign woman, she got hung up on their differences. I like this woman. She is so us. She is quite actually drying, dying in her thirst, but all she can do is call attention to his skin and their disparate origin, to the long lasting feud. Yes, this is you, and this is me. And Jesus doesn’t take our bait. No diving into the past, no exploration of the controversy, no justification of this side or condemnation of that, no faithfully regurgitated party lines. Just a coy teaser that draws her right in. “If you could see beyond my skin and had a clue as to who I really am, oh, the drink I could give you if you’d only ask, Bingetown girl.” She immediately thinks literal well and water, specifically the well he’s sitting on. But Jesus envisions an inner, ceaseless, refreshing spring – something, sadly, still as foreign to us as it was to her, as we, like her, trudge to our religious and secular watering holes, looking for refreshment and relief from the hot sun of life, just as Jews trudged to their temple and Samaritans to theirs, or she to this well. Funny that we often call our churches “Well” or “Oasis” as if it’s still something we have to go to. Still as clueless as the unnamed woman. For the well is within.

RELATE
What watering holes have you most frequented? Where are you still going to satisfy your thirst? Have you experienced the inner spring “gushing up to eternal life” that Jesus speaks of? How is this found?

RESPOND
God, my soul thirsts for you! What blessed awareness to see my own thirst and how it drives me. Let me feel it, and bring me to the birth and rebirth of the deep, inner spring that Jesus holds before me here. Uncap that well within today, that my life may an En Gedi refreshing the wild goats in this dry, parched world. Yes, make me that, Lord. Through Christ.

For all of this week’s small group resources including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

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Bingetown Girl | John 4.5-9

Gospel of John headerTUESDAY
Reflection 37 of 240

REFLECT
So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) John 4:5-9 | ESV

And so he comes to a little Samaritan village called Sychar (“Bingetown”) – a town near an ancient Jewish landmark: the spot Jacob gave to Joseph his son centuries earlier. And right in the middle of that spot? Jacob’s Well. Jesus, totally worn out from the journey, stopped and was sitting just like this on the well, right at high noon. Then one of the locals appears. A woman. A Samaritan woman. She comes to draw water from the well (typically a morning or evening chore). Awkward moment. As she quietly goes to lower her bucket, Jesus starts a conversation. Now it’s even more awkward. “How ‘bout a drink?” (Jesus was alone, you see; all of his fledgling followers were off in the town getting something to eat.)  Startled, she says to him – this Samaritan woman, “Excuse me? How is it that you, a Jewish man, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for something to drink?” (Jews and Samaritans, of course, wouldn’t be caught dead in such a conversation – nor would they dare even suggest sharing a drink!)  MAV

RECEIVE
It’s often remarked that the Apostle Paul was very strategic in his choice of the cities and town where he did his major preaching work – they were typically the more significant ones located at key crossroads to maximize exposure in the area to his message. This would seem sound wisdom, but I can’t help but notice the contrast with Jesus’ choices: he seems to keep showing up in little podunk towns that we’re still trying to locate with precision. Many assume Sychar is an alternate spelling of Shechem, or perhaps an intentional Jewish misnaming of the hated Samaritan city of Shechem (“shoulder”). “Sychar” means “drunken” or possibly “liar.” Others insist it was an actual village near the more well known Shechem – a wee little forgotten village right by Jacob’s well. And it’s here that Jesus chooses to stop for a breather – and how instructive that Jesus stopped for a breather! And how doubly instructive that he chooses as his rest stop a little hole in the wall called “Liarville” or possibly “Bingetown.” You can’t help but wonder what Jesus’ oh so Jewish followers were thinking about all this as they ran off to Bingetown to buy food from people they weren’t even supposed to talk to. But there they go, and here Jesus sits under a hot sun, wilting and waiting. And as we hear the sounds of a woman’s footsteps approaching, we sense, and no doubt rightly so, why Jesus “had to” pass through Samaria. He came for a pivotal conversation with an unnamed woman who wasn’t even supposed to be there – and who certainly wasn’t supposed to talk to him. We call such moments “divine appointments.” Such can and do happen not just at unexpected times and unlikely places – they can and do happen at times and places that are just wrong. Even in Bingetown/Liarville in an out-of-bounds country. It’s prudent to do demographic studies and choose ministry locations wisely and strategically. But one thing this story teaches us if we are listening: God’s definition of strategy and ours can often be worlds apart.

RELATE
What unexpected “divine appointment” have you experienced most recently? What did you do with it? What happened?

RESPOND
Lord, open my eyes to see that one divine moment that you intend me to waltz into right on cue in your unpredictable kingdom dance. Help me not to be too busy buying food to miss it. Accomplish through me in it what you would intend. Through Jesus.

For all of this week’s small group resources including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

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Moving Towards the Mess | John 4.1-4

Gospel of John headerMONDAY
Reflection 36 of 240

REFLECT
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria.  John 4:1-4 | ESV

Back to the story. Jesus. In Judea. Baptizing. A lot. And the Pharisees – the law-thumping religious purists of the day – know he is. And Jesus knows they know. He’s now a significant blip on their religious radar, his activity gathering even more momentum than John’s as more and more people flock to him, say they’re all in, and show it by being dunked in the river – though Jesus himself didn’t do the dunking, curiously; he let his fledgling disciples take front and center with that. Jesus, aware of the stir he’s beginning to cause in religious minds takes his act further upstream out of Judea, away from the Jewish Bible Belt, and heads north back to his Galilean stomping grounds.

But first a detour.

Actually, it was the most direct route back to Galilee. It’s just that good Jews never took it. Samaritan land. Feuding neighbors. Ethnic, religious, cultural bad blood. Long story. But Jesus doesn’t mind walking right into it. In fact, he had to.  MAV

RECEIVE
Shifting back to the initial stirrings of Jesus’ ministry, John enters some completely new territory. Samaritan revival. What an unlikely story in such an unlikely place. The bad blood between Jews and Samaritans has its roots in the history of 2 Kings 17:24-41. It was a feud with religious and ethnic overtones, and it was over 700 years old by the time Jesus arrived on the scene. Ancient blood feuds? In the Holy Land? Who would have thought. You’d think the Holy Land is occupied by people. This blood feud was so bitter that Jews who traveled from north to south, or vice versa, typically crossed to the other side of the river to make the journey, since the Samaritans had the gall to park themselves right in the middle section of the Holy Land. I’ve heard of crossing to the other side of the street to avoid someone, but just how much do you detest someone to cross to the other side of the river? And, of course, Samaritans weren’t known for being welcoming to Jews who did cross through their land. But this Jew had to. That’s a bit of a teaser for us, that word “had” to. Why did Jesus “have to” pass through Samaria? Was the Jordan running too high, was it at flood stage, or was he in a hurry, or what? And while it’s usually less than helpful to speculate over matters an author doesn’t see fit to address, perhaps here it’s pertinent, because just maybe the reason behind the “had to” is at the very heart of who Jesus is, what his message is all about, and thus what we are to be all about as his followers. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a prime directive of the kingdom of God: God always moves towards the mess. We love detours around the mess. Every time. Give us that wide-open expressway lined with the pleasant, the congenial, the peaceful, the serene, and we’ll opt for it every time. No messy detours, please. And so when dealing with bitter feuds or even milder disagreements, we find alternative routes around them, rather than walking right into their territory, and sitting on a well in the shadow of their most holy place, and risking a conversation. St. Francis had a basic prescription for wannabe Christ followers: read the Gospels and do what you find there. Good habit to embrace as we follow Jesus moving towards the mess of ancient feuds and religious controversies, and instead of engaging in theological fisticuffs, offering the enemy a drink.

RELATE
What messes in your life are you currently trying to avoid? How might God be challenging you to move towards them?

RESPOND
Lord, give me the grace and the unflinching courage to move towards the mess today rather than seeking a detour around them to greener pastures. Through Christ.

For all of this week’s small group resources including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

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Getting It | John 3.35-36

Gospel of John headerFRIDAY
Reflection 35 of 240

REFLECT
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.  John 3:35-36 | ESV

The narrator continues:

And just in case you’re wondering Who I’m talking about – the One from above, the One with the wide angle view? It’s the Son, and the Father loves the Son. The Father holds nothing back from the Son – full disclosure, full authority, right there in his hands. The one who gets this, who trusts him, has it all – life to the max forever! But the one who turns a deaf ear to the Son misses everything, misses life and ends up under a dark cloud of divine judgment that won’t go away.  MAV (Mike’s Authorized Version)

RECEIVE
Listening to John’s mini-monologue about the Son and how he excels all other comers, takes me to what we often call the “Christ-hymn” of Paul in his letter to the Colossians. Pausing for a few moments and reflecting on the meaning and flow of that him would be a fitting way to conclude this week’s reflections on this final Baptist scene:

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message. Colossians 1:18-23 | Message Bible

RELATE
We’ve heard from John (both of them) and now Paul; compose your own “ode” to Jesus. Who is Christ to you? How would you describe him?

RESPOND
Lord, let my heart be seized with a fresh vision of you! Let my soul be gripped, my mind captivated, my spirit freed through a fresh encounter with you. Loose my tongue to sing and speak, and my feet to enter the kingdom dance with you. Through your Spirit.

For all of this week’s small group resources including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

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W i d e A n g l e | John 3.31-35

Gospel of John headerTHURSDAY
Reflection 34 of 240

REFLECT
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.  John 3:31-34 | ESV

Now it’s me, the narrator again – with just a few postscript comments on this final dipper scene:

You want to talk about greatness, about superiority? The One coming from above, from out of this world, has a handle on everything – and everyone; the one exposed to not much more than the local neighborhood can talk about local happenings, but that’s about it. You want more than that, it’s going to take Someone with a much more wide angle view. That Someone has come, and now he’s giving us an earful of testimony as to what he has seen and heard – but no one’s interested in what he has to say! Ah, but the one who does perk up and listen does more than put her seal of approval on a man’s message – she hears the Voice of God – and she owns him as true. When God does the sending it’s God doing the talking when the messenger shows, and there’s no holding back: God doesn’t mince his words – or his Spirit!  MAV

RECEIVE
Many scholars concur that the narrator once again breaks in here, once again and finishes out what we know as chapter 3. No doubt it’s John’s personal connection with that inner circles of John the Baptist’s disciples that prompts his interjection. At one time John would have identified with the angst of the Baptist’s disciples at their rabbi being so fully eclipsed by a Jesus-come-lately. But now he has not just the perspective of the years since, he has a hugely expanded perspective on this Jesus himself. John the Baptist may have been a bright shining light, but Jesus was the out-raying of God’s glory. One the Baptist had pointed out Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” it seems pretty clear that John started following Jesus and never looked back. John was merely a booster rocket falling back to earth after its mission is accomplished; Jesus was the orbiter. And so John explores a series of contrasts: the man of the earth, John the Baptist, whose perspective and understanding is limited by such earthly horizons; Jesus is the One “from above,” the out-of-this-world Man with the ultimate wide angle view. Who wouldn’t want to have the perspective of the greatest of all prophets? But when Jesus walked into the room, who would stay or look anywhere else? Humanity is obsessed with making first contact with life off this planet. So imagine a genuine visitor from outer space, someone truly out-of-this-world, shows up requesting an interview with the major media outlets. Now imagine nobody listening or caring. That’s the situation John presents here. An other-worldly Visitor shows up on the scene, brimming with knowledge and insight that will totally change the way we see life, the world, reality…and no one cares. The media turns him down. People are more interested in infomercials, daytime dramas, and nighttime reality shows. That’s the incongruity John has witnessed. It’s as if he wants to smack his former fellow Baptist compatriots up the side of their heads, asking them, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know who this is? Where he’s from?” Well, do we?

RELATE
Does Jesus and his out-of-this-world message really have your attention? How does it show?

RESPOND
Lord, draw my eyes up from the dust swirling around my feet; draw my eyes up to see the world, to see life – to see you, with a much wider lens. Give me the wisdom to turn away from those with a narrowed perspective that can only talk theory about the way, and to really see and hear the One who is the Way.

For all of this week’s small group resources including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

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The Groom Gets The Girl | John 3.27-30

Gospel of John headerWEDNESDAY
Reflection 33 of 240

REFLECT
John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:27-30 | ESV

John composed himself – and his answer – carefully: “God plays the tune he wants, and we can only choose to dance to it.” Then John made his point clear. “This shouldn’t be a surprising turn of events to you – you can all repeat word for word what I’ve clearly said: ‘It’s not me – I am not the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Anointed.’ No. What have I said? ‘I have merely been sent before the One that really matters.’ Picture a wedding celebration, my desert friends. The groom gets the girl, right? The friend of the groom can only sit by and listen to the laughter of lovers – and, you know, it thrills his heart to witness his friend’s wedding bliss. That’s me. I am the friend of the groom. And to see him getting the girl and all of the attention doesn’t just make my day, it makes my life. Let his celebration grow into a deafening crescendo – this is how it supposed to be! – while my party dies away to nothing.” MAV

RECEIVE
I love that John – who was accused of having a demon and being a killjoy because of his Spartan, austere message, dress, demeanor and lifestyle – thought of a wedding celebration when he thought of the kingdom of God. When he thought of Jesus. And I love that whereas his disciples are arguing with a lone Jewish man over a religious issue of purification, John takes them to the deeper issue driving their angst. How fitting that in doing so, he takes them, his desert companions with all of their diligent abstinence and fasting, to a party – at least in their imagination. John leads them over the threshold, and they hear the music. They see the dancing. They smell the food. They at least watch others taste the wine. And clinging to their austere rabbi in the midst of this imagined party, they now hear it. The unmistakable laughter of lovers, a bride and groom with eyes only for each other, in each other’s arms, dancing, reveling, kissing. And then they turn to look at John’s face – and does anyone else even know they’re here? Does anyone see them? No matter. John’s face is beaming, his lips uttering l’chaim! “My joy is now complete.” I don’t imagine John’s disciples got this any more than we often do. Our religious selves can have a hard enough time with the concept of the kingdom of God being a party – let alone embracing a party that isn’t about us – and we’re not even announced at the door. But John’s whole point was to lead the bride to the groom – and when the groom gets the girl, mission accomplished. And as he toasts the bride and groom, he can fade into the background and enjoy the party while they celebrate. So easy to make our celebrations, our parties, our life, about us. So easy, so natural, to preach ourselves, to name-drop our resumes at the door. So easy to become a Michael Scott from The Office and try to make someone else’s celebration all about us and then pout when it’s not. Welcome to the circle of John’s disciples. It’s a good bubble to burst.

RELATE
What most challenges you here: the idea that the kingdom of God is a party, or the idea that it’s not a party about you? Why?

RESPOND
Lord, lead me out of my little pity party into the expansive celebration that is your kingdom that is you. Let me hear your laughter today as it suddenly dawns on me that I am the bride with whom you are dancing, and let me release myself into your arms. Through Jesus.

For all of this week’s small group resources including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

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