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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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Acts 17:16-21 // Where Concern Leads

“16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, ‘What is this pseudo- intellectual trying to say?’

Others replied, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities’ — because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection.

19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, ‘May we learn about this new teaching youre speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.”

Acts 17:16-21

Verse 16 allows us a glimpse into the heart of Paul, and in turn into the heart of an evangelist. But not only that, we see the heart of a man who understands the heart of Christ and what his priority ought to be as He walks with Him. Paul is troubled in his spirit. And why? Because this great city, Athens, is full of people who are lost, wandering and who are spiritually bankrupt. Faith of any kind had first become an intellectual exercise for them, then it was part of their cultural identity, but it was lacking in their hearts. Add to that the fact that what faith they may have possessed was wasted on dead, stone idols and we see a picture painted of a city that is in the grip of moral and spiritual poverty.

Now, the Athenians would have still thought themselves to be something great, mayeb not at their peak anymore, but still they lived in Athens, and how many cities could contend with the grandeur of Athens? They were still riding the wave of where they had been before the Romans came through and thought themselves something important. This is pretty obvious when we look at how they respond to Paul, insulting him with the term “pseudo-intellectual.” But because what they heard from him was novel, they decided to grant him an audience. 

In Western culture today, there are many, many people who think that they are intellectually above faith of any kind. They look down on people to cling to their Bibles and gather each week in churches. They see faith as a crutch for the ignorant, maybe even something that preys on the poor and weak-minded. I’ve heard all the arguments and talking points. They want nothing to do with faith, because, in thier mind, it is an unreasonable dependence on something that has no emperical evidence. They can’t see it, quantify it, catalog it and examine it the way they want, and so it is pushed aside. 

Religious apathy, pride and a worship of self-intellectualization are at the center of this mindset. It’s all about what you know and how well you can express yourself, and faith cannot play a part in the process. Most of us know people who think themselves to be fairly intellegent, and they are always leaning on that faith in their intellegence to carry them through. As we GoLove them in the Name of Jesus, we are going to find hard packed soil and hardened hearts many times. But that is where our own preparedness to speak of Gospel things, and to present evidence of the truth of Christ is so important. We must pray before we engage with them (as we should with any opportunity to witness) and we should still have that heart that Paul had, the heart that had compassion on the lost. The heart that hurts for those who are so wrapped up in their own ideas and philospohies that they cannot see hope, who cannot know love (only ever examining it) and who don’t know the peace that faith offers when we come to God in Christ. These people are not impossible to talk with, and you don’t have to have your doctorate to do so (although a good dose of hard-headedness doesn’t hurt.) But we speak the truth in love, standing firm as we do so, and present the hope that only Christ can bring. The heart that hurts for them is the heart that will continue going back to present the hope of Christ.

  

Acts 7:37-43 // Jesus and the story of redemption (pt 4)

“37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, “God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers.” 38 He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him, but pushed him away, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron:

“Make us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him.”

41 They even made a calf in those days, offered sacrifice to the idol, and were celebrating what their hands had made. 42 Then God turned away and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“House of Israel, did you bring Me offerings and sacrifices

40 years in the wilderness?

43 No, you took up the tent of Moloch

and the star of your god Rephan,

the images that you made to worship.

So I will deport you beyond Babylon!”

Acts 7:37-43

Stephen is really on fire here at this point in his sermon. He is opening old cultural wounds and identifying embarassing things feom their collective history. Some of the religious leaders were behaving as if they had never done anything wrong in their service to God, and they turned a blind eye to the faults and patterns of their ancestors that they themselves were engaged in currently. 

Just like the Israelites rebelled and rejected God in the wilderness, they were now rebelling and rejecting Jesus in exchange for what they wanted to do and how they wanted to worship. They ignored the obvious signs and wonders and truths that He taught and performed and so they remained in their religion that they had crafted for themselves. It had become their idol, just like Molech & Rephan. They hadn’t been worshipping God, but their own system of belief. There may not have been a physical idol, but there doesn’t have to be one. It was simply a rejection of the truth for something homemade & ‘comfortable.’

As we walk with Jesus, we must be mindful to keep our worship focused on Him, on God, and not on a system or a religion that we craft for ourselves. It’s tempting to have a self-crafted religion, pulling bits and pieces from wherever we choose. But we must have our foundation in the truth, being held accountable by the Word of God, not by society or by some personal expectation or desire. Worship that is made for anything other than God Himself, as HE has revelaed Himself, is idolatry and we cannot pretend otherwise. 

We all have patterns of behavior that we fall back into, old comfortable sins, foibles and lies that we hae either scultped on our own or adopted from somewhere else, and we cannot pretend that God is pleased when we slip back into those old ways and habits. We must abide in Him, living & dwelling in His truth & presence. Again, to do otherwise is a misrepresentation of Him to others, and He will not honor those efforts or the lives behinds them. And So, as we GoLove others, we must do so in spirit and in truth, wholly worshipping God, properly, reverently and not in any way that we have devised for ourselves, spiritually compromised and corrupted by sin. 

I’m so thankful for the grace that God offers to us in Christ, because we are incapable of doing everything right all the time. So, even when we do slip up, even when we do begin to sculpt our own little idols, God is always there whispering in our ear, speaking to our hearts, communicating through His Word, ready to bring us back as we humbly repent. A daily dying to self and taking up of our cross is the best way to point our hearts in the right direction as we read His Word, seek Him out in prayer and follow in the rhythms of grace that Jesus taught us.
  

Numbers 21 // Saved from the poison, not the bite

“4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!” 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.
7 The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that He will take the snakes away from us.” And Moses interceded for the people.
8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover. “9 So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.”
Numbers 21:4-9

Even with the patience of Job, Moses would still have a lot to put up with in dealing with his people. This just goes to show that in our sinful, sorry state, we can even tire of the daily miraculous provision of God. Manna, bread from heaven, readily at hand and tasting sweet like honey, provided with no effort or work has become ‘this wretched food’ in the sight of the Israelites, and the quail given to the camp, without need for hunting, has become a nuisance. Their constant comments, their lack of gratitude and their undying, unrelenting refusal to be content with the provision and care of God has become more than dissatisfaction based on repetition, but instead it has become an insult.

Given nothing to complain about, people will often find something to complain about. We are good at it, talented even, and the Israelites are no exception. They were converts to nomadism and even though Abraham never had a set home, they had grown accustomed to sedentary living in Egypt. They didn’t like wandering. They didn’t like what they interpreted to be ‘uncertainty’ but we would call it a lack of trust in God. They were missing the whole point of being led, personally, by God rather than just told to move north into Canaan on their own after the Exodus. They were missing the point of learning to rely on the provision of God. They were missing the point of learning to listen to His voice and obey. They were missing the point of being good examples to their children. They were missing the point of being separate from other peoples and their pagan/heathen beliefs. They were missing the point of pretty much everything God was trying to teach them. The were a stiff necked, unruly people, and so they received in their own bodies the due punishment for their sins.

And snakes were sent into the camp. Snakes with fangs. Snakes with venom. Physical illustrations for the toxins of their grumbling, biting, poisonous hearts. And when they asked Moses to pray to God to take away the snakes, God took away the punishment of the venom but not the bites or the snakes. The bronze serpent, pointing toward Christ, removed death from the punishment, but it did not remove the pain of the bite or the presence of the snakes. John 3:14-15 says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.” Jesus’ sacrifice took away the sting of death, but it did not remove sin, not yet. And where the Israelites still had to be wary of those looming bites, cautious of where they put their foot or rested their hand, they did not need to fear the results of the bite. As Christians, we still need to be wary of where we go and what we do, and we need to try really hard to avoid being bitten by sin, but we have confidence that when we do get bitten by our own sin, that we can look to Christ for healing, just as the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent.

Our daily testimony should do the same as we GoLove others for the sake of Christ. Our hurts and pains, lifted up to Christ, in a very transparent way are signs of the goodness and love and mercy of God at work in us, in our ‘camp.’ Our refusal to hang out with the snakes, and to live life differently than those who are constantly being bitten, will stand as a marker to them, and point them toward where we find our hope and instruction. We may not be finished being bitten, but we can at least point people toward the cure for the venom. Only by living in obedience to God and walking in the way of Christ can we learn to avoid the bites and dens of the snakes of sin, but until the day when He removes them all, we have hope that He will continue to restore and renew us according to His great love. We should never grow complacent to the bites, but rather seek the snake free paths. It’s what makes sense, and what will help us serve as effective witnesses in the Name of Christ. It all begins with the attitudes that we choose to adopt in our hearts, and the saving work of Christ in us.

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