Confused? Frustrated?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

If you feel challenged and confused these days, you’re not alone! Many are mourning the absence of life as they knew it and are wondering how things will change when everything settles down. What will the new normal look like?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples struggled with some of those same challenges. They’d believed Jesus was the Messiah. They’d followed and trusted him over several years, and now he was dead. They couldn’t imagine what their new normal would look like.

On the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two disciples were walking toward the town of Emmaus when a third man joined them on the journey. Luke tells us that their faces were “downcast”. Their new companion listened as they told him about the events over the past three days – Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and their crushed hopes. And now, some were telling of an empty tomb, and that confused the situation all the more.

Don’t you love that Jesus. though unrecognized, was with them right then in their confusion and pain? Through Scripture, he began to make everything clear. And, when they sat down for a meal, he prayed and broke bread and at that moment they recognized it was Jesus who had been with them all along! He listened to their problems, taught them from Scripture, and revealed himself to them – alive!

Jesus is here in our confusion, too, and his mode is still to listen, teach, and reveal. Don’t you think we can trust that he will help make sense of whatever we are going through? I do!

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich

Can you believe it?

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

Do you know why the people of Israel were forced to wander in the desert for 40 years after being delivered dramatically from slavery in Egypt, given the Ten Commandments, and led by the great prophet Moses?

My first thoughts: They disobeyed God by worshipping a golden calf, they grumbled a lot, and they even suggested they should go back to Egypt. But the writer of Hebrews lets us in on the true problem: They didn’t believe God!

After recounting their bad behavior, he sums things up by saying, “So we see that they were not able to enter because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). After all God had done for them, they still didn’t trust him to fight the giants and give them the land. Unbelief kept an entire generation from receiving the blessings God had prepared for them.

Our trust in God is fundamental to his active involvement in our lives. In fact, Jesus said we needed to believe before our prayers would be answered. If we want to grow our ability to trust, maybe we start by believing some things God has already promised:

  • Your pain won’t last forever.  (Psalm 30:5)
  • Justice will come. (Psalm 103:6)
  • Your needs will be met. (Philippians 4:19)
  • God’s Word will show the way. (Psalm 119:105)
  • Relating to him will give you strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
  • You don’t have to be afraid. (Psalm 23:4)
  • God has a place and purpose for you. (Philippians 2:13)

Our earthly and eternal well-being depend on believing in the God of the Bible so much that we entrust our lives to him. None of us trusts him perfectly, but we can begin today to do it better!

“Man says, ‘Show me and I’ll trust you’. God says, “Trust me and I’ll show you.” – Anonymous

Rethinking the Cross

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11a

I never expected to be wearing a gold cross around my neck. I heard all my life about the suffering of the cross and was told we should not trivialize its awfulness. I agreed because what they said was so logical. Then I changed my mind.

I read about the early church’s choice of the cross as its symbol. They chose the cross because it was the turning point of history. On that day, Jesus’ work was finished. The veil of the temple was supernaturally torn apart indicating the opening of the way for us to enter God’s holy presence. Early Christians could have selected a symbol other than the terrifying cross. But they didn’t. They chose the cross, I believe, because Jesus had transformed it from a thing of horror to a symbol of hope.

He does that! He takes messy lives and makes them beautiful. He changes murderers into saints, drug addicts into Good Samaritans, and the apathetic into enthusiastic followers of God. Satan thought he had used an instrument of torture to defeat Jesus that day, but no – Jesus had turned the battered, blood-stained cross into a thing of beauty.

I was involved in a women’s Bible study when I began to realize all this, and I told them about the change in my thinking about the cross. A short time later, they presented a simple gold cross necklace they had purchased as a gift for me. I wear it almost every day. The cross is beautiful because Jesus made it beautiful. And wearing it is a moment-by-moment reminder of whose I am!

“If the cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything – the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery.” – John Stott

 

NOTE: Some of the most insightful teaching on the cross can be found in John R. W. Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ.

The Narrows

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path . . . with walls on both sides.” – Numbers 22:24

A few years ago, we traveled with some of our family to Zion National Park where we entered “The Narrows”. It’s the most confined section of the canyon where, at times, you can touch both sides of the towering rock walls as you walk through with a river underfoot. I’m not fond of closed-in spaces, so I knew that hike was not for me!

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how narrow our lives get, and the walls can seem too confining. Some of you are feeling that now when you can’t leave your home even for work. We’re used to wide open spaces – highways, malls, meeting places, beaches, and parks. Now we are kept inside with only occasional recourse to the outside world.

No matter if we are sequestering alone or with a large family, God is waiting with us in the narrows. He offers grace for each day, mercy in our stresses, hope that the wide-open spaces will soon reappear, and joy as we step cautiously through the restricted pathways of our present lives.

To access that grace, mercy, hope, and joy, we need to do one thing: Let our hearts be soft enough to receive. These gifts are there for us. Jesus is simply asking that you recognize he is with you in the small space and acknowledge you need him. As you turn toward him, he will respond. He always does.

Let’s be open to God today! When we do, the walls will seem to disappear, and the vastness of eternity will enter.

“. . . a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.” – Emilie Griffin

A Little Bit of Light

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

I well remember being afraid of the dark as a child. Every sound seemed threatening and what I thought was hiding under my bed kept me wide awake. Turning on the light to check the dark corners was the only solution to my fear.

The darkness evident in the world today causes similar anxieties. But, there is a solution for those fears, too, and it is held in the hands of those who follow Jesus. 

Jesus told us he is the light of the world. That we can believe. He is true, right, and good. Then, he turned to his disciples (that includes those who follow him today) and said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). What? Me? You? Yes. He has entrusted us with the awesome and sometimes scary responsibility of bringing light to dark places.

Light reveals what’s hidden in the darkness and it shows a way out of the darkness.* Many people think they know how to deal with the darkness around us, but, Jesus says his followers are the ones who carry the light of this truth: The solutions to the most basic problems in this world are found in him.

How are we doing as lights of the world? We might be tempted to back away when we realize that many people don’t want the hidden things of darkness to be revealed. Jesus warns us not to hide our light. Instead, he says we must hold it high, ready to warn of the dangers lurking in the dark and eager to lead those who are willing directly to Jesus, the source of all light and truth.

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself”. – Erasmus

 

 

*Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Martino Publishing: Mansfield Centre, Connecticut,), 2011, p. 168.

Rest awhile.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” – Mark 6:31

Has your life changed because of the corona virus? Most of us have had events and activities canceled. Some have kids home on a prolonged break from school. Many have run into shortages at local stores. Some have been asked to work from home instead of coming in to the office. And our calendars are suddenly cleared!

The result? More time at home, less time on the run. So, let’s stop to assess our new normal and take a deep breath. We are now permitted to slow the hectic pace of our pre-quarantine lives and mellow out a little.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Maybe this world’s enforced slow-down is his invitation to rest, to spend time alone with him, and to let our minds stop the constant distraction of our old normal.

Let’s not overfill the extra time we may have. Instead, let’s live into it. Limit social media use, take soaking baths instead of quick showers, read a little longer to the kids at night, make mealtime last for an hour instead of minutes, take walks, read good books, talk to God, read his book, and enjoy being his kid. I think he has plans for us during the time apart.

If we listen to the Spirit and use this time well, we may emerge from the respite being more purposeful in our pursuits and less frenetic in our pace. We might find a renewed zest for life as we make more God-centered choices about time use than we did before this unsought slowing. Maybe it’s an opportunity to push the reset button!

“Converse less with man, and more with God.” – George Whitefield

He’s calling you.

. . . they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”– Mark 10:49

Imagine being blind in a world where there’s no economic safety net. Every day someone leads you to a spot on the road where people pass by. You call out when you hear them coming, just hoping someone will have mercy and give you a coin or two. Imagine that life day after day. No change. Nothing to look at. Unthinkable boredom. No hope. Then you hear of Jesus and his miracles. Maybe, just maybe, he would give you more than a coin and everything would change!

When blind Bartimaeus heard Jesus was on his way to Jericho, he was determined to get his attention. So, he shouted, begging Jesus to stop, to be merciful, to respond to his need. He was so obnoxious that people around him asked him to quiet down. But Jesus heard his cry and spoke to some who were nearby, “Call him.” They went over to Bartimaeus and gave him this amazing message, “Take heart. Get up. He is calling you.” 

Bartimaeus got to his feet and allowed the men to lead him to Jesus where his life was changed in an instant. He could see! No more need for someone to lead him by the hand. No more need to beg in order to survive. No more mind-numbing existence sitting alongside the road. New life began the moment he met Jesus.

Where are you in life today? Jesus hears your cry and he’s calling you. He asks that you take heart, get up, and come to him. Only he can change your life!

“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” – Augustine of Hippo

Reunion vs. Reconciliation

 

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14

Jacob had cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright more than 20 years earlier and now was bringing his large family and flocks and herds back to Canaan. As he prepared to meet his angry brother, he sent gifts ahead, tried to protect his family from attack, and prayed for God’s favor. Fortunately for Jacob, the reunion was one of rejoicing and celebration. Forgiveness seemed to abound and, at least on the surface, all seemed to be well.

Esau, with true Middle Eastern hospitality, invited Jacob to bring his family and herds to live near him in Seir. Jacob says, in essence, “OK, but we’re going to travel slowly because of the little ones and the animals.” So Esau goes on ahead, but Jacob never follows him to Seir. Why? I think there were too many differences remaining between them – cultural, religious, and maybe even some obvious animus from previous offenses.

Reunion is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

Maybe there is a person in your life you think of as toxic, or even dangerous to your physical or emotional well-being. Can you forgive that person? Yes. Forgiveness is for your benefit even more than it is for the person who has hurt you. And God requires his people to forgive.

Should you be in close relationship with him/her again? Most likely not, unless you see a true and long-lasting change of heart. It’s possible Jacob knew association with Esau would bring trouble. So he agreed to an amicable relationship, but not a close one. Sometimes distance is the best decision. Forgiveness is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

“It takes one person to forgive, two people to be reunited.” – Lewis Smedes

Do you know?

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. – James 2:23b

As we relate one-on-one to God, we learn things: how much he loves us, how deeply he teaches us, and how desperately we need to rely on him. We find the Bible coming alive as we read, – correcting, encouraging, directing. We gain so much by living in close connection with our Creator! But do you know how much he wants that connection, too?

God desires relationship with us as much as we do with him. Probably more. Think about Abraham, a mere human, called by God to leave the familiar and go into the unknown. James says Abraham was a “friend of God.” Or Moses, who was not a perfect man, yet we are told God communicated with him face-to-face. Then there were the disciples who lived in close proximity to Jesus for months. On the night he was arrested, Jesus said to them. “I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you friends , , , ” (from John 15:15).

Why would God want to be a friend to humans? I don’t know, but story after story in the Bible tells us it’s true. And the better we get to know him, the more we believe it. As I was beginning to understand how important our closeness was to both of us, God whispered “That’s something many of my children don’t know.”

Do you know? God loves having your attention. Relationship with him is what you were made for. He wants to be your Savior, your Lord, and your friend. I think he wanted me to tell you that today.

“Let’s dare to enter into an intimate relationship with God without fear, trusting that we will receive love and always more love.” – Henri Nouwen

Christian Privilege

“This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” – 1 John 2:5-6

We hear a lot these days about privilege, most frequently “white privilege”. We know it’s true, don’t we, that some of us grew up in more privileged circumstances than others? We had food to eat, decent clothes to wear. We had a safe place to live and got to go to school every day. 

We also know that with privilege comes responsibility. The Bible itself tells us that in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted much, much more will be asked.” It’s a biblical principal we must take seriously.

In light of that, think about this: As Christians, we have a far greater privilege than that which is afforded by our ethnicity, race, family stability, or the level of our education. We have the privilege of knowing and serving the living God! And with that comes greater responsibility than any social privilege might give us.

How do we live out that responsibility? We learn to yield to the Holy Spirit who will enable us to live as Jesus would if he were living our lives. We already know Jesus was confrontive with abusers, kind to children, compassionate toward the weak, patient with his followers, and enlightening to seekers of truth. His was the greatest privilege of all – after all he was the Son of God! He showed us how to live out privilege through humility and self-sacrifice.

The good news is that Christian privilege is available to all, no matter religion, race, gender, or intellect. If we know that, we have a responsibility to spread the word!

” . . . life’s joys are only joys if they can be shared.” – Ravi Zacharias