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Seeking Peace Along a Hard Road

Blessed Father, we desire to break bread with You, to walk with You & enjoy Your company. Make our hearts burn within us as we meet with You, unfolding Your Word in our hearts. Help us to see, hear & gain wisdom. Prepare us for the difficulties & joys of the day, so we may rely on You & give You glory no matter what may come. We seek You out for these blessings of faith & for the sake of Your glory being shown through us.
We pray this in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 24: 13-35
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I long for these moments & experiences. As Christians, we long for the Lord’s presence, we desire to walk with Him, listen to Him & experience what these two experienced along the road to Emmaus. There is no greater joy than to be able to give our whole selves over to the will & mystery of the Lord, to be bundled up in His arms & to close out every sound but the sweetness of His voice. Swift & powerful, His tongue comforts & convicts, He cuts to the root of our sin & draws us up into the highest heaven. It is almost indescribable. But we long for these moments. We want every weekend worship gathering to be a place where we meet with Him like this, every moment spent in the Word like this, every encounter with a stranger, friend or family member like this when we share our faith with them.

But we must also be reminded of these two on the road. They were consumed, troubled & sad. They had expectations, desires for redemption & they wanted to see God’s hand move in a mighty & powerful way. And it took Jesus’ presence to bring them comfort. His Words, His presence, His laughter, teaching & prayer to open their eyes to what God had done & was continuing to do.

If we would feel His presence, then we must draw near & listen. We must hear what He says, and leave behind what fills our mind, giving it all over to Him in these moments where we need to draw near. While Jesus spoke, they were silent. They listened. They didn’t interrupt every third word, they weren’t engrossed in another activity. Their focus was undivided & therefore laser focused on everything He had to say. It was time spent just with Jesus. Unrushed, untouched, unadulterated. Just them & just Him.

If we want to feel the comforting presence of Jesus, then we need to give Him our attention. We need to listen & remove distractions. If we are broken & hurting inside, if life’s events are too much to handle & understand, then we need to trust Him with those moments & draw near to Him & Him alone.

Praise God for His Holy Spirit who can & does walk with us, even within us, through these moments of our day-to-day life. What a precious gift to know He is with us, moving, present & speaking to us. We simply need to seek Him out for peace & be still, trusting in His footsteps along the way.

Father, we bless Your holy Name! We praise the movement of Your Word in our hearts!
Teach us to listen & be still. remind us of Your presence & may we feel that sweet stillness in our spirits as we draw near to You along life’s road. Again, we pray in Jesus’ Name, amen.

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Poor Contributions

Father, humble hearts are precious to You. Healthy perspective of the limitations of human effort & our brokenness, an understanding of our deep & unending dependence on You, & a faith that reflects both seem to go a long way in Your eyes. It isn’t big gestures that win You over, but the small daily obediences that come from this faith. Grant us eyes to see & hearts to comprehend this measure of faith. Give us the grace of Your strength to measure to the stature of the generous & faithful widow in Luke 21. We should all depend on You so freely, trust in You so deeply as we walk in these precious rhythms of grace in Your Spirit. Let us abide this deeply with You today. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 21:1-4
1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,
and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Self-promotion & humility rarely seem to go together, do they? When we see people who claim to honor God with their life constantly drawing attention to their piety, naming things after themselves, building stadiums and lavish homes for themselves, it can be difficult to take them seriously. I was blessed to grow up with a preacher who had an obvious God-given talent for drawing people to Jesus. His ministry flourished, the membership grew & the buildings did, too. But all the way through, he was also gifted by God to do something amazing, he remained humble. He refused a lavish salary. He stayed in the same unassuming house for years & he never bought himself a fancy car.

And God honored his humility & the primacy of the Gospel in His life. It was obvious. He was a wonderful example (and still is) of what it means to serve faithfully and humbly, despite the evidence to the contrary that said he should have had more attention & accolades.

This day in the temple, Jesus looked. He saw what people were doing as they came into the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem. God notices who we are. He knows what we do & He has no issue discerning the intentions of our hearts. We come to Him with all manner of motivations, our hearts & minds crowded with thoughts, worries & concerns. We hurt for someone who is hurting. We are stressed over income. We long for a friend or family member to leave addiction behind, to find help in their struggle with drugs or pornography. We grieve with the weeping mother & father who lost their days-old infant. We carry guilt from our own sins. And with these burdens we come to God.

You would think that concerns like these would keep us on our knees, humble before God as we approach Him. The messes of our life, the lives of our friends & family, the brokenness we struggle within this world…these things should bring us to a place of open, honest reflection as we come before the King of Creation. He is holy, righteous & perfect. We are so obviously not. He needs nothing. Apart from Him, we are nothing. Humility & perspective shouldn’t be a problem.

But these rich people enter into the Temple complex with pomp & ceremony. They bring along their entourage, a porter to carry their gifts in front of them. They make a big show & blow horns as they give their ‘gift’ to God & draw more attention to their self than to Him. The show matters to them. They want to be seen. They want to be impressive. They want things their way. They want people to want to know them, to desire their company. They make idols of their own façade & shrines to their ego. They do not understand humility, at least not publicly, and so they over compensate with inglorious displays.

The offering box sat in the doorway of the Temple. It was there for ease of use as you came in & went out. It was placed in a location where you didn’t have to come in, walk up to the front & draw attention to yourself. Rich & poor, men & women, young & old would all pass by it & there was no preference, position or power honored above another as people came in to worship God. The focus was on Him.

So, in stark contrast, the widow drops in two very small, very thin copper coins. They would make no noise when they fell into the box. They would draw no attention to her status or income level. She had no entourage, no pomp. So, Jesus looked & saw her heart.

He had no words to praise the rich that day. But He stopped what He was doing to pay attention to & praise the heart of this nameless widow. No husband, no job, no family entering in with her. She comes to God, an impoverished, undervalued individual. But she knows her God. She understands His faithfulness. She has full confidence in His provision & His love over her & so she gives Him all she has. No reservation, no ego to block the intent. She loves God, trusts God & allows Him to be the one who cares for her even if no one else can or will. There is beauty in this humble love, this complete trust & Jesus cannot let this moment pass.

Giving from abundance is still acceptable. God blesses some people to have much in this life. They have been entrusted with a gift that spreads & blesses others. They can give to multiple charities, employ large numbers of people & surprise those in need with gifts from the Lord. Being rich is not a crime. Being rich does not constitute a lack of favor in God’s eyes. But Jesus did say it as easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Wealth isn’t all advantages. Stewardship does matter. Humility & an understanding of God’s place in what we have is an absolute imperative. Otherwise we fall into the traps of wealth, and the pits of arrogance.

Giving from poverty isn’t always a guarantee of God’s favor, either. You can be poor & have a terrible attitude toward God or generosity. You can make a big deal about the $2 you put in this month & talk to people about how proud you are that you remembered to give two weeks in a row. You can talk about the struggles of giving & generosity, drawing attention to your situation, seeking pity for yourself & admiration for being able to give anything at all.

I’ve seen both sides of both of these coins over the years and there is one thing that remains through every situation, every heart:

God loves a heart that gives cheerfully, freely & humbly.

Generosity that matters comes from faith & trust in Him. Generosity that makes an impact comes from trust in Him. Generosity that speaks to the heart of God is generosity that lays everything else aside & reveals an unfettered reliance on Him & a seeking of His glory as the first-fruits of our life. Time, talent & treasure all belong to Him. They are given to us by Him for His glory & we give them back as gifts & tithes & offerings for the exact same reason. John the Baptist has it right: He must become greater, I must become less. Humility matters. Generosity matters. The two go hand-in-hand every time.

Acts 10:9-16 // Open doors

“9 The next day, as they were traveling and nearing the city, Peter went up to pray on the housetop about noon. 10 Then he became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he went into a visionary state. 11 He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. 12 In it were all the four- footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!”

14 “No, Lord!” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything common and ritually unclean!”

15 Again, a second time, a voice said to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into heaven.”

Acts 10:9-16

Peter was just being honest & working from his undertanding of God’s expectations, and was following the Law as it was laid out from Moses, who had received it from God. He was trying to be obedient. He was trying to be good & live properly, desiring to honor God in his body. God had given the Israelite people a different diet as a part of their being ‘called out’ from the other nations. They had to wear certain things, do certain things and eat certain things as a part of their national, cultural, spiritual identity. There were certain things that a Jew just did not do, eat or partake in. These are the things that idenitifed them as belonging to God. 

So, when Peter heard, “Get up, kill and eat.” what he heard was “Defy every part of who you are, and leave behind what God has called you to be.” and so his natural response was, “No!” Again, he was trying to be who he thought God wanted him to be. There were rules and expectations, laws, statutes and decrees to follow. They were just as much a part of him as the hair on his head & the toes on his feet.

But God had a plan to open doors for them and to grow His church through them, and that meant that it was time to look beyond just their Jewish neighbors and to expand into the Gentile nations surrounding them. Cornelius had just received a vision to unlock and turn the knob on his side of the door, and now Peter was receiving the vision to unlock & turn the knob on his. God was opening doors.

Again, Peter, being a ‘good Jew’ wouldn’t have even considered going into Cornelius’ house if God hadn’t done this, it was a part of his personal wiring. But God desired for Peter to make a personal connection with Cornelius and his family and that couldn’t happen from being standoff-ish and remaining on the front step. There had to be an open door and a collision between these two cultural worlds. The distinctiveness between the world and those who followed God were not going to be on a racial line anymore, but drawn on a line of love for all and an obedience to the heart & will of God. There was going to be a called-out-ness to them, but not through diet or dress anymore. This was going to be based on the heart, and so for Peter, the one with the barriers, God had to directly address those old habits, teachings and concerns. There was noting really spiritually wrong with not eating pork, iguana or beetle meat. Those animals were not evil or corrupt. Those laws were simply a part of their separated lives, and those doors were opened now.

We have a tendency today to draw lines and close doors that God never desired to be drawn or closed. “I won’t go into that part of town.” or “I don’t associate with those kind of people.” are things that shouldn’t come out of the mouth of a Christian. The only people that we are told to disaccoiate with are those who have been taught & know God’s expectations & have instead chosen to live in defiance of Him, people who are undergoing discipline by the elders of the church. Even then, that is for the purpose of restoration and a desire for them to understand what they are missing and how they have stepped outside of HIs will. But no social group, racial group or any other human separation should keep us from sharing the Gospel with anyone walking this earth. 

If tomorrow, you meet a homosexual, gluttonous member of ISIS who is a habitual liar and gossip…they need to hear about Jesus & God’s redeeming grace through Him. Even if that person represents everything that you cannot stand, whatever their combination of sins may be, there cannot be a locked door in the way that you have set up. God desires that they would have their hearts changed and that they would follow Him. He deisres to give them His mercy and grace and to offer them forgiveness…and He wants to communcate that through you and through me. If we are going to GoLove people, this cannot just be a mental acknowledgement that this needs to be done, but we must take it to heart and live it out personally. God has opened the doors for the Gospel message to spread to anyone and everyone, it is not for us to close them because we are uncomfortable. We must trust in His heart and do as He says. We cannot refuse for someone else what we have been afforded in Christ. That is not our desicion to make. The doors are open. W emust scatter seed and live in obedience to out Master’s call. 

  

Mark 15:33-41 // It is finished

“33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lemá sabachtháni?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

35 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “Look, He’s calling for Elijah!” 36 Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, fixed it on a reed, offered Him a drink, and said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take Him down!”

37 But Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed His last. 38 Then the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom. 39 When the centurion, who was standing opposite Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “This man really was God’s Son!”

40 There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When He was in Galilee, they would follow Him and help Him. Many other women had come up with Him to Jerusalem.”

Mark 15:33-41

There were many witnesses to the death of Jesus. The city was buzzing at fever pitch because of the holiday of Passover, the occupying Roman force was undoubtedly doubled for the occasion. Vendors and merchants from all around surely filled every nook and cranny where they could set up shops and stalls to feed the needs and wants of the thronging crowds. If you’ve ever been to a supermarket the morning of  holiday, or out shopping the day before Christmas, you know what chaos these situations bring. Add in the fact that executions like this were done in high-traffic areas to stand as an example to others, mixed in with the morbid fascination of the dawdler and on-looker, and you find a very visible and public death happening here for our Master. 

There couldn’t have been a busier day for this to happen. God had designed this moment, He had perfectly plotted out the timing. This highly visible moment of excruiating pain was in no way accidental or coincidental. God chose to finish things in this way, with maximum effectiveness. 

Visitors to Jerusalem would be here for days and experience the full measure of the situation. They would all know about the executions, they would all hear about the oddity of a tomb being guarded and they would hear from the apostles and others about this now vacant tomb in the days that followed. Three hours of darkness at midday are hard to ignore. The story of Jesus would have been thick in their air, and it would travel home with them wherever they were going. 

 God made this finishing stroke happen in a way that would not be quickly or easily denied. Those looking to ritual in the temple, instead of to the sacrifice that God offered on Calvary, could not ignore the impossible tearing of the curtain and the exposure of the Holy of Holies. They couldn’t ignore the earthquake or the darkness. God was speaking through the blood of His own sacrificial Lamb, and He would have their attention. 
This finishing move, His checkmate on death and sin, would get full press. 

And Jesus, faithful in every way, would continue in His pain to fulfill Scripture. Quoting the prophetic Psalm 22, receiving the vinegar wine, and yelling out the victorious statement that completed the whole, Jesus pointed faithfully to the Father, fulfilling His labors and then gave up His Spirit. In His moment of death, He provided a witness that even a Roman solider couldn’t deny, truly He was God’s Son. 

His life, ministry and witness to God’s glory inspired this group of women to faithfulness, along with the Apostle John, to stand and keep watch over Him and to mourn His suffering at the cruel hands of the Romans and the cruel hearts of the Jewish leaders. 

As we remember what Jesus di, we cannot forget that God did everything to make sure people would know the extent of His love. As we GoLove, then, in His Name, we must be sure to be just as visible, just as open and just as vocal about what He has done so that all eyes, hearts and minds are drawn to Him. The work of Christ was finished on the cross, but the work of the empty tomb is not finished until He returns and completes His victory. 

We do not rest until that moment. 

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