Tuesday, February 27, 2018
The Long Winding Road to Emmaus: A Twice Told Tale
Job 13:15a "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." (NASU)
Luke 24:21 "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened." (NASU)
Sometimes in the midst of the trials and burdens of life, we lose sight of our anchor. We feel tossed and thrown as on a wild and restless sea. Our emotions tell us that things will never be good, all will be despair and loss. Our hope seems shipwrecked, our desire to go on in life sinks into depression. We see nothing good, only evil all around us. Our enemies (both physical and spiritual) seem to have the upper hand, they seem to be winning the day. Things are just not working out the way we expected! The victory we felt sure would come has not yet manifested itself, and we feel ourselves sinking ever deeper into a pit in which we cannot get the proper traction to climb. The clock is ticking down, our hope is gone, our day is over, and Christ has not come.
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, we had hoped that Jesus would be the one who would rescue us. We had fervently prayed that maybe, just maybe, today would be the day when we would “live happily ever after” and find our dreams coming true. We shake our heads and go out for a walk. Maybe some fresh air and a quick walk will clear out the cob webs in our minds. Still, the topic of our recent failure hangs like a cloud over our heads, raining down doubt and fear.
We chat quietly together, commiserating a bit in our sorrow, in our recent loss. We try to remember all the "good reasons" we came to this time--like the first time we heard the story of Jesus, or the first time we met him, or even when we experienced firsthand some of his mighty works. Still, sorrow clings to our soul like a wet coat in a sudden thunderstorm. We can't get rid of the sense of sadness, it is drenched on us and sticks to our bodies. We wonder why we even brought the subject up and continue to make our journey in silence. Maybe time alone with our thoughts will help.
Suddenly, a stranger approaches. He seems rather ignorant of our experiences, and besides that he has a fairly sunny disposition. He is definitely someone we want to avoid at this moment. No pie in the sky false hope will satisfy us. We fear that he will say something like, “Cheer up! Keep a stiff upper lip! Things will work out in the end!” We try to avoid the stranger, yet he resolutely comes our direction. He seems determined to interrupt our brooding, our despair. He is on a mission, and we seem to be his primary targets. We try to ignore him, but then he speaks.
“So, what’s going on? Why the sad face?” he inquires. Out of pure human kindness we try to explain our pain in as brief a manner as possible. We do not want to burden strangers with our “little” concerns, after all. The stranger hears our story and stands tall. Looking at us he says boldly, “Foolish ones, slow of heart to believe what God has said!”
The force of his accusation causes us to stumble in our walk. How dare this stranger tell us our business? How dare he interject his thoughts into our moment of pain, our sorrow? Just who does he think he is to interrupt our musings with his “pollyanna” announcement? We look at him with disdain and think that he likely has nothing of real value to offer.
Then, he begins to speak to us again. Starting with the beginning of our story and bringing us pretty much up to date he tells us things we knew but somehow in our anguish had forgotten. As he speaks, our hearts get a bit lighter. We can literally feel a burning inside that slowly (painfully slowly) begins to purify our thoughts and hearts. His words seem to dry the wet sorrow drenching us. Like sunshine after a thunderstorm, we begin to feel a bit of relief. Spring may yet come! We even feel encouraged (a little at least) .
We invite the stranger to eat with us, and he offers to say grace. As he prays, we realize his true identity. He is Jesus, our Lord, the one who was beaten brutally, was painfully crucified, who died with the full weight of our sin upon his broken and bruised body. He has been there all along, listening to us, sympathizing (or is it empathizing?) with our pain and anguish. He has been waiting to comfort us with his presence. He loves us in this way, even when he seems silent.
We beg him to stay. Oh, the situations of our life haven’t changed dramatically. We still have problems, and those problems seem just as depressing and burdensome as before. The difference is that we have Jesus in the house, and the light of his love gives us courage to press on, he becomes an anchor for our souls. Why? Simply stated—“Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Through him and his love we may not have better situations or circumstances, but we can still be “more than conquerors through him who loved us” in the trials we share as his joint heirs. How? Talk to him. Let him talk. Trust his character. He is faithful even when we are faithless. We genuinely matter to him.
He longs to say to you "Keep pressing on, I have not forsaken you. I love you."
As we walk our soggy paths of life, we should pause and wait for the Lord. Let him catch up to us in our musings. Listen to his words (even the ones that gently rebuke). Get in his presence, let him pray for us and with us. Let his words and actions encourage and empower. Remember, he walks with us whether we acknowledge him or not. Why not sit in his presence for a minute and acknowledge his concern for us?
Thanks for reading!
Thursday, February 22, 2018
An Empty Story and a Life Affirmed
It wasn't the way he said it that attracted my attention, but it was his demeanor. This was a person who was in some sense utterly defeated. Everything about him echoed his words. Worthless. Useless. Empty.
I wasn't sure at first how to respond. Sitting before me was a shell, an empty person who felt as though he had absolutely nothing to offer.
I tried to help. "You're not worthless, just look at all you've accomplished."
The words sounded hollow, almost accusatory. His eyes flashed, but it wasn't "life" coming in. It was genuine anger. I had misunderstood him.
"No, you don't get it. I have nothing to offer. I am worthless. I am done."
The words hung in the air like heavy fog, demanding an answer. I honestly didn't know what to say.
If you knew this man, you'd be surprised at his self-evaluation. He earned several degrees (some from prestigious universities and with well known professors). He taught thousands of people, and he mentored many who would ultimately follow in his academic footsteps. He had traveled to a variety of places. He married well and his children were healthy, intelligent, and well behaved. He had rebounded from a moral failure and rebuilt his life and reputation. He was respected by his peers. He "had it all" in a country where such an existence was supposed to be the "American dream".
I wanted to remind him of these things, but he sat there glaring. His red eyes and sad look reminded me of an old derelict building left standing too long that now leaned and threatened to fall over. The supports were gone, the shell was hollow, there was nothing left. How do you rebuild on such a foundation?
The person sitting before me was an encourager. Many times I saw him take last place so that others would be acknowledged and even honored. He prayed that his students would accomplish more than he, and they did! Oh my, how well his students had done! The man went out of his way to make sure others were served, to make sure that others had affirmation, that others were encouraged. He was a Barnabas, and people would flock to him to receive his ministry of encouragement.
Yet here he sat, downcast, done, empty . . . How do you encourage the empathetic man of encouragement who has run dry? Who is worthy of the task?
And then I had an idea. I looked into his eyes and his sad face, and I said, "You know, sometimes I wish I had your life."
He gave me an incredulous look, but I continued. "I can't count how many times I wished I could treat others as well as you treat them." Then I said, "I love you, and I can't imagine what this world would be like without someone like you."
The eyes that were wet with tears showed a few signs of life. A wry grin appeared on his face. Life was returning, and for a moment the derelict building began to look a bit like a stately home once again.
He didn't need a history lesson. He didn't need me to recount his glorious deeds. He simply need to be affirmed. He needed appreciation.
I didn't write this story to get you to feel sorry for this man (okay, maybe just a little), but I wrote this to be a reminder to us all. We need to be appreciated, we need to be affirmed. We all cry out to be loved.
You see, this person's story could be your story, it could be my story. Life has a way of draining us, and sometimes we aren't sure how to refill the well. Feelings of worthlessness can pile up, and we begin to compare ourselves to others (often unrealistically). "I'm not good enough. I don't have the stuff. I'm not needed."
Yet the truth is probably bigger than we realize, and a little affirmation can go a long way.
Take a moment today. Give some affirmation to someone who has encouraged you. Let people know that you appreciate them, and that you are thankful for their contribution to your life. Who knows, it could restore life . . . maybe even yours.
Thank you for reading!
Sunday, January 07, 2018
A Communion Meditation at Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-5 (HCSB) “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD shines over you. For look, darkness covers the earth, and total darkness the peoples; but the LORD will shine over you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your radiance. Raise your eyes and look around: they all gather and come to you; your sons will come from far away, and your daughters will be carried on the hip. Then you will see and be radiant, and your heart will tremble and rejoice, because the riches of the sea will become yours, and the wealth of the nations will come to you.”
Matthew 2:1-11 (HCSB) “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ . . . ‘In Bethlehem of Judea,’ they told him, ‘because this is what was written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah: because out of you will come a leader who will shepherd My people Israel.’ . . . After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was--the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.”
Monday, December 25, 2017
Advent 2017: The Mystery of Christmas (Annual Post)
I started this blog several years ago, and every year I have posted a piece I wrote around Christmas 2003. It kind of sums up for me what is the "Mystery of Christmas" as I meditate on the Incarnation and its implications for humanity (and perhaps for God as well!). The very idea of God becoming "one of us among us" (Immanuel) still fascinates and overwhelms me. God, the creator of all things, humbled himself, became of no reputation, and entered his own creation so as to renew and to redeem and to rescue us (and, ultimately, to do these things for all of creation as well). God, the Creator of all things, became flesh so that he might accomplish the plan to make his grace and glory known in humans and in all of creation. The God who never knew death would die for us. The God who never knew sin would become sin for us. He would break the power of sin, condemn sin in his own flesh, and provide for all of us the rescue we need to become the people God always intended us to be. What an amazing love! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! As you celebrate the advent of our King Jesus the Messiah, I hope you enjoy this rerun. Feel free to make comments if you'd like.
A little over 2000 years ago, a tiny child was born in some pretty bleak conditions. Oh, he wasn’t the only one born in less than optimal conditions. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the lucky ones. He and his mother actually survived childbirth and thrived. Still, this story is unique and amazing on several levels.
First, the life of this child would literally change the way time is reckoned in the world. His life and abilities would have such an impact on generations of others that a brand new movement would be created, one that would radically change the very face of the earth (sometimes for good, sometimes not so much). His name would become recognized among the names of the greatest of humans, yet he never forgot his own humble beginnings or lost a sense of who he was.
The second thing about this child is tied to the first in that this baby, this helpless lad full of spittle and mush, was born as the very Son of God. When Mary held his little head to her breast, he drank human milk. Yet, he was (and is) the God of the universe. Can you picture this simply ridiculous yet somehow poetic scene? God, who calls the stars by name, pressed to the human breast for sustenance. Humble yet awesome, is how some folks would no doubt recall this child.
A little over 2000 years ago, God proposed that the only remedy for the human condition of sin would be if he humbled himself, stepped out of eternity and into human flesh, and suckled at Mary’s breast in preparation for the greatest, most impressive conversion of all. God, in Mary’s arms, toddling around Joseph’s home, learning to talk, learning to walk, tasting food, and touching things with human hands! As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for us, we cannot contain it!”
God knew that the only way to redeem us was if he did it himself. Haven’t you ever had that thought? You know, the one where you say, “If I want something done right, I’ll just have to do it myself?” Imagine God having that thought about bringing us to proper relationship with him. Imagine again that the only way he knew he could do that is if he came to earth as a baby. Think of it—-how vulnerable the almighty God was at that moment, how paradoxical that the God of all creation had to learn to walk! And why did he put himself in this situation? Out of his divine sense of justice and righteousness and mercy, out of his inexpressible love for humanity he acted in this manner.
God humbled himself. In a sense, he took on our insanity so that we may be sane. He became flesh so that we might walk in his Spirit. He became sin that we might be righteous. He became poor so that we might be rich. He who had the reputation of Creator became a humble servant with no reputation. He became a toddling, dribbling, helpless babe so that we could become mature humans in the image of the almighty Son of God. What wondrous love! What humility and service! How then can anything he asks of us be too difficult?
Lord, during this Christmas season, remind us of your sacrifice and love so that we might be a light shining in darkness to others. Teach us to live a life of humble service like your Son did on our behalf so many years ago. As we celebrate the babe in the manger, may the glory he revealed in his life shine through us towards others that they may know God. May the grace of God and the peace of Christ rule in our families and our lives.
Thanks for reading!
Merry Christmas! May you know the blessings of the God who humbled himself and served!
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Advent 2017: Have Yourself a Humble Little Christmas
“Christ Jesus . . . made himself nothing.“He made himself nothing, he emptied himself—-the great kenosis. He made himself no reputation, no image.“I can recall my father shaking his head and repeating over and over to himself, ‘If only I knew what this meant. There is something powerful here. If I only understood it.’ Maybe that is why this Scripture has glued itself to my mind and equally disturbs me. Reputation is so important to me. I want to be seen with the right people, remembered in the right light, advertised with my name spelled right, live in the right neighborhood, drive the right kind of car, wear the right kind of clothing. But Jesus made himself of no reputation.”
“Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.”
What can you do this Christmas season that will bless others and produce no reputation for you? Who can you serve that can't repay you? This year let's commit ourselves to serving, giving, and loving as Christ did. Let's look for opportunities to bless others in a way that does not give us recognition. Instead of asking for things for ourselves, let's give to the needs of others. Instead of expecting gifts, let's give our lives away in blessing others.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Advent 2017: Waiting on Joy
Psalm 126:1-6 "When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Our mouths were filled with laughter then, and our tongues with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." The LORD had done great things for us; we were joyful. Restore our fortunes, LORD, like watercourses in the wilderness. Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. Though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves."
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Advent 2017: God's Love at Christmas: Love Manifested
I Want to Know What Love Is
1 John 4:7-12
How many of you know the rock group Foreigner?
Yeah, I’m old, that is certain!
One of their hits was “I Want to Know What Love Is”. I liked the song, but the point I want to make is this—there are lots of people in our world who make the same statement.
People want to know love; they want to experience it, they want to see it--just look at movies and magazines today. Many of the materials give instructions on finding love. Some movies exemplify romantic love as the goal of human existence. In fact, I would dare say that love is a dominant theme in many movies and magazines. The problem is that the love exemplified in these “sources” rarely offers real satisfaction or any sense of fulfillment.
Love in the world often ends in hurt or disappointment. We've all experienced this in some way of another. A "love" that we thought would save us ends up hurting us, or a "love" we thought would complete us ends up ruining us, or a "love" we hoped would end our suffering actually produces more pain. These stories could unfortunately be multiplied more than we'd like to admit!
The problem is that many of those experiences were not real, unconditional love. These "loves" described above were in many cases simply counterfeits of the love that can indeed help us (even if it sometimes wrecks us first!). What does real love look like?
Our passage in 1 John 4 today addresses the issue of what love looks like.
Verses 7-12 offer us John’s view of love, and in them we find three points to consider:
1. The character of love
2. The definition of love
3. The result of love
As we unpack these three topics, we will see that for John “Love resembles Jesus” in his character, action, and empowerment.
1. The Character of Love
1 John 4:7-8—John likes to repeat himself. This is now the third time he has instructed his readers to “love one another.” In 1 John 2:7-11 and 3:11-12 John has already given this command, now he returns to his earlier message.
John seems to repeat himself in an effort to make sure the point gets across. Church tradition/history tells us that John's message as he grew older became simply “Little children, love one another”. When asked why he repeats this message, John reportedly replied: “It is the command of our Lord, and it is enough.”
“Love one another” in John’s mind flows naturally from the basic character of love. John defines the character of love as being tied to the character of God.
Notice that John says in v. 7 “love is from God”.
The kind of love John to which John is encouraging us is not a mere emotion or an expression of human concern. The love mentioned in 1 John usually refers to a divine source, a love of a heavenly origin (cf. 1 Corinthians 13).
We don’t learn this kind of love simply by attending seminars, reading books, or trying harder. We learn to love one another in this way only as we draw closer to God through Christ.
Love’s true character is divine. Notice that in v. 8 John says, “God is love”. As John Stott reminds us: “"This is the most comprehensive and sublime of all the biblical affirmations of God's being."
We must not confuse this with the idea that “love is God”. We do not define God by our view of love. Rather, we define love by God’s nature (thank you, Ray Stedman, for this insight). God is the exemplar of love, he is the very definition of love. We know love if we know God.
God’s love includes his holiness—Psalm 138:2 (On Holiness see: Isaiah 6:3; 1 Peter 1:14-16). God’s character is just and loving—the two always go together as we will see more clearly in our next verses (H. A. Ironside).
So, John tells us we should love one another because of God’s nature or character. John adds that those who know God (i.e., know his character or know him intimately) will as a direct result love others. John’s argument is simple—if the life of God is present is us, then his love should be present as well. If we know that God’s love for us, then we should love others.
Passages that show Jesus as the example of God’s love: 2 Timothy 1:13: John 8:42: 1 John 2:5-7.
Real love resembles Jesus in his character. If it is real love, then it will look like Jesus. Of course, that insight reminds us that we still need some kind of definition of love. John offers us a definition in the next few verses.
2. The Definition of Love
1 John 4:9-10—Here John shifts from discussing the character of love to giving the supreme example of love—John now sets out to define love for his readers. His definition is centered on the central fact of Jesus' loving sacrifice for humanity.
John describes the manifestation of God’s love and sums it up in one historical event—Jesus’ crucifixion (cf. John 3:16-19).
a. In this one event God revealed a love that has never since been surpassed (2 Cor. 4:6-7; 9:15)
b. This love sacrifices to make things right
c. This love empowers others to do the right things
Let’s unpack these ideas.
Love is sacrifice. John says that love was manifested (i.e., made known, made visible, made clear) by God’s act of sending his only Son Jesus into the world. The reference to Jesus as God’s “only begotten” refers to their unique relationship. Only Jesus is God’s “only begotten” Son—it refers to Jesus’ divine status. Nonetheless, Jesus was sent by his Father to accomplish a demonstration of true love.
Please remember that this sending was not simply to tell the world what it needed to hear—(John 3:16-19)—rather God had another thing in mind. Jesus is sent to be the “propitiation” for our sins—1 John 2:1-2--(meaning to appease or to bring reconciliation). It has at its core the idea that two groups are estranged—one is angry at the other (Rom. 1:18-19). Jesus was sent to reconcile us to God.
God’s wrath was aimed at humanity because of sin. We were guilty and deserving of death (Romans 6:23). Instead of holding us guilty for our own sins, however, God decided to appease his own wrath by his own plan. Jesus took our place and received the just punishment of our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6). Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Do you see in this act the coming together of God’s justice and love God’s justice demanded holiness and required an ultimate sacrifice for sin, while God’s love provided the only true means to atone for that sin (Ray Stedman). Love is sacrificial—it does what is necessary to set things right..
But God’s love is not simply sacrificial, it does not simply “cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)—rather it also gives us what is needed to live love ourselves. In other words, love empowers us to emulate Jesus. God’s love was manifested “in us”—this can mean either “on our behalf” or “in our midst”. The point is that God’s love is manifested in space and time. It is not simply theoretical—it is real—it is “in us”.
In v. 9 John says that God sent Jesus into the world so that we could “live through him”. Let that sink in—we who deserved death for our sins are being given life by the one who actually died for the sins of the world. The greatest sign of love is the bloody cross—there by God’s grace and love we lost our burden, our guilt, even our inability to live as God intended—in the cross our Lord died so that we might live through him. This is the reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus. That baby in swaddling clothes is born to bear our sin, to die on our behalf, to bring reconciliation and healing to those who are broken by sin.
God’s love is for our benefit—it enlivens us--it is empowering. That is the true definition of love—It sacrifices that others may gain.
How does our love for others measure up?
Love resembles Jesus in his sacrifice. The definition of love is sacrifice for the improvement of the beloved. The lover is willing to sacrifice to bless the beloved. And this sacrifice is not just the definition of love, it also reminds us that love results in something. The result of love is John's next topic.
3. The Result of Love
1 John 4:11-12—Now that he has shown the character and definition of love, John now offers a description of the result of love.
“If God so loved us” is reminiscent of the “so” in John 3:16. It probably refers to the manner in which God loved us. John seems to be saying, “If you have received love in this way, you should then love others like that.” In other words, the way we love should be sacrificial and for the benefit of others—that they may gain God. We should love with the result that others are drawn to God through Jesus.
This God kind of love also has a moral imperative to it—because God has done this, we “ought” to respond in a similar manner (1 John 2:4-11).
How and when did God love us?
a. God loved us when we were sinners (Romans 5:6-8). We cannot understand grace or the love of God until we understand the nature of sin. We will not understand the wonder of the atoning sacrifice until we grasp the horror of that which needed atoning.
b. God loved us by giving a means for us to be reconciled to him—he gave Jesus as our atoning sacrifice (Romans 3:25; 5:9-11). As already noted, Jesus died so that we could live.
God’s love should be our motivation to love others.
Verse 12 is incredible—here John states a well known doctrine—God is not visible to the human eye—we cannot see him. Yet John seems to claim that when we love one another, God becomes apparent. The verse claims that when we love with the love God has given us in Christ, then God abides in us and his love is “perfected” (i.e., made complete, accomplished, finished, brought to its goal) in us. Our relationships of love become the place where God and his love become visible to others. When we love others, we show them God.
Love resembles Jesus as we make him known by loving others. This Christmas season, let's give the gift that will keep love alive and growing--let's love others so that they may know God's love.
This is a weighty thing—how are we to be “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20-21) when we are still fallen and prone to let God down?
How can we claim to know God when we cannot love those closest to us?
How do we respond to John’s exhortation in these verses?
First, we must recognize our need to experience and live in God’s great grace and love—knowing God through Jesus Christ is the starting point. Remember that John says that loving others comes from loving God. This week make it a point to spend extra time with God. Take 15 minutes a day to look up verses that speak of God’s love (start in 1 John 2, 3, and 4, but don’t neglect John’s Gospel—chapters 3, 5, 13-15)—learn of his love and ask him to empower you to emulate it.
Next, take some time to ask where you can share this love of God. Start with your brothers and sisters in Christ, but don’t neglect those outside of the household of the faith. Look for opportunities to tell others how God’s love has changed your life, just be sure to love them while you tell them. Here are some suggestions (thanks to Bruce Goettsche for these):
1. Seek for ways to get beyond feelings of competition.
2. Speak of other’s with honor instead of enjoying or gossiping about their shortcomings, struggles, or inconsistencies.
3. Rally to the side of those who are hurt or experiencing injustice—offer them a word of encouragement or stand with them in prayer.
4. Look for opportunities to help those who can’t help you back—give sacrificially into the life of one who may not pay you back..
5. Extend forgiveness to those who offend.
6. Be patient with someone who desperately needs it.
7. Be quick to show hospitality to others.
8. Be willing to pray for and with each other.
9. Share the story of Jesus and your salvation with someone.
10. Bake cookies for someone who is down and write them a note of encouragement.
Love resembles Jesus.
How are we doing?
Thanks for reading!