Tuesday, August 1, 2017

2 guys...walking home

Today we are going to walk through an amazing piece of Scripture. We will be working through Luke 14:13-35, learning about 2 guys who had their lives flipped upside down, then back over, then upside down again. Sound anything like your life sometimes?!

2 guys, walking home...for 5 hours.

Luke 24:13-14. 2 guys are walking home, talking as they go. A lot has happened in the past few days and this duo has seen it all. These 2 men were probably a little skeptical and may have had some doubts about what it all meant. Imagine you’ve seen a terrible car accident take place in front of you. Even if you didn’t know anyone involved, the sheer sight of tragedy can affect you in weird ways. In this situation, these two men had spent some serious time with Jesus and had witnessed His death. Even though they had heard rumblings of an empty tomb, the sheer sight of what they had seen just a few days earlier would have shaken them both.

Here’s a recap: In the last 3 days alone, they saw Jesus get crucified and die. All their friends scattered, including them, as they sought refuge from Jews who wanted them dead. These 2 were headed to Emmaus and it is believed they were on their way home. Were they escaping to safety? Were they fleeing because there were threats on their lives? Think about it, there had to have been countless questions and concerns in their minds. Can you imagine the conversation? The hushed voices that spoke with urgency and possibly fear? The furrowed brows, the looks of desperation?

2 guys, walking home, lots to talk about, lots to worry about.

Everything they had witnessed had been so dramatic, how could they not talk about it?! Further, there might have even been some conversation regarding what they were going to do if Jesus was indeed gone. What’s next?

Think about this for a moment. Try and relate to the shock and grief and confusion and crazy emotions that these 2 were going through. Before they had left on this journey they had heard that Peter, among others, had discovered the empty tomb. In fact, in verse 10 of Luke 24, it says that Mary Magdalene and other women had seen the empty tomb and had reported what they had seen to the apostles. These 2 men were apostles, so they were aware of the empty tomb. They had to have been so confused!

2 guys, walking home...hoping for hope.

And yet even with the confusion and drama of the moment, these two men headed home along this road that would take them to Emmaus. The trip took roughly 5 hours and had probably been made dozens of times by these two. They knew what they were in for. Realistically, they started their trip just after the sun came up that day. However, can you imagine a 5 hour trip made on foot? I think that’s the modern day equivalent of following your kids around Disneyland for a day.

In verse 15 it says that while these 2 were walking along, Jesus walks up and joins them on their journey. Jesus, being Jesus, gets right to the heart of the matter and boldly asks them what they are talking about. At the end of verse 17 it says that they stood still, looking sad.

2 guys, walking home...hope walks up.

Okay, so they’re walking along, Jesus walks up alongside and inserts Himself in the conversation and wants to know what’s up and these 2 guys stop walking and look at Jesus with what must have been an amazing and yet dumbfounded look (demonstrated through action). I can picture these 2 standing there with their hands in their pockets, scraping the ground with their feet, a single tear streaming down their faces, like 2 lost puppies, as they attempt to tell Jesus what happened to Jesus.

Our 2 heroes were so caught up in their own pity party, they didn’t even realize it was Jesus. Have you ever been there? Have you ever been so focused on what you were doing that you didn’t even realize the obvious? OK, show of hands, who here has hunted for their glasses only to discover they were on top of your head the whole time? Making matters worse is the person who points them out for you, as they laugh hysterically at you.
2 guys, walking home...hope is with them, even though they didn’t know it.

Fortunately, there is no written Scripture of Jesus laughing at these 2 men. Instead, they tell Jesus about Jesus and about all that had taken place over at least the past 2 years. About the crucifixion, the resurrection and about how there were those who had witnessed the empty tomb. In verses 22-24, we see the proof of the eyewitness testimony of the empty tomb and how these 2 men knew, but clearly they had massive doubt swirling inside because then Jesus hits them verse 25 and 26.

2 guys, walking home...hope builds.

Jesus may not have laughed at them but He certainly called them foolish and called their faith out on the carpet. These 2 guys were about to get the greatest history lesson of their lives, all while walking for 5 hours. Eventually, they get to where they were headed and even after being called dumb, our 2 gentlemen invited Jesus in for a meal. In verse 30, as Jesus is blessing the meal and breaking the bread to serve them, it says that their eyes are opened and they realize it was Jesus. This might be the world’s greatest AHA moment! Probably a little more special than when you reach up and grab those glasses from atop your head. You may have had an AHA moment but I’m sure you weren’t nearly as excited as these two were.

2 guys, walking home...hope arrives.

How many of us can honestly say that we recognize when God is right there with us? At moments of doubt and fear, don’t we usually turn inwards and focus on getting out of the hole we’re in? Think about it, you lose your job and what happens next? Within 5 minutes, the social media world knows everything and the “woe is me” party is on! We “travel” through life for the next several days adjusting to the new normal. Things are no longer the way they were and we immediately focus on ourselves. Why? Because it’s self-preservation! We freak out, we mope around, we complain about it, we rant a little and then we dust ourselves off and walk home!

Philippians 4:6-7 - “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

2 guys, walking home...it doesn’t have to be this way.

These 2 guys had lost a lot and now they were walking home, not sure what to do next. Jesus walks up and immediately shakes these guys up. In fact, it’s like Lucy walking up to Charlie Brown and calling him a blockhead for doing something dumb. Jesus had spent some amazing quality time with these 2 men and now here they were, completely turned inward, focused on a life without Him. They were in fear, they were moping, they would have posted it on Facebook but, you know. The “woe is me” party was in full swing for a 5 hour walk!!

2 Timothy 1:7 - “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 guys, walking home...there is a better way!

Remember that feeling of realizing your glasses were on top of your head the whole time? Did you feel a little dumb? A little sheepish? A little embarrassed? Our eyes may have been kept from recognizing that our glasses were right there the whole time and yet it doesn’t change the fact they were there anyway, we had never lost them.

Matthew 28:20b - “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Here’s a bit of good news: We don’t know how long these 2 guys walked along before Jesus walked up but we know this, He did. And while Jesus was not immediately apparent for these 2 men to see, Jesus knew what these 2 guys needed, which was to be encouraged, educated a little, walked with, talked with and brought into a relationship. Jesus did all of this in just a few hours of walking.

Look, you and I are the 2 guys walking along the road. There are going to be times when bad things happen and we lose sight of our commission. We will get focused on the immediate and we will be fearful. In fact, we might even lose hope. Our 2 friends in Luke sure did. But here’s the beauty of it all...Jesus comes along and restores our hope. He restores our faith. He takes away our fears.

Isaiah 41:10 - “So do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

We are all walking home, each of us on a journey to one day dance with Jesus in heaven, singing the praises of our savior and our God forevermore!

I want all of us to consider this story for another moment. It took these two guys about 5 hours to walk to Emmaus. They were probably not in an exceptional hurry and walked as you and I might walk if were out for a hike. Now imagine you get to where you’re headed while being encouraged and educated along the way, by Jesus. Your eyes are opened to who He is. You go from being terribly depressed and edgy to enthralled and captivated and then finally you are full blown excited, ready to burst out of your own skin...what do you do?

You run back to tell the rest of your friends about what you have just seen and heard. I’m going to hazard a guess here but I think it took these 2 guys about an hour and a half to two hours to get back to Jerusalem!! They may have been motivated! But their hope had been renewed. They realized that Jesus was with them. They weren’t alone.

Joshua 1:9 - “Be strong. Be brave. Be fearless. You are never alone.”

2 guys, walking home...they were never alone.

We are not alone, even when we might think we are. Our God has promised us that He will always be with us. As we move towards a time of response, you may find yourself feeling as if you are walking this road alone. With every head bowed and every eye closed, as the worship team comes forward, if you are feeling like God is no where near you and everything good in your life has suddenly vanished; If you feel fearful, scared about what’s going to happen next and you don’t know what to do; If you felt that God was close to you but now you don’t know where He is in your life; come and find an altar. There, be renewed by the presence of a living God. Our prayer team will come and pray with you. Let us respond.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The art of marriage

We live in a world of convenience, more now than ever before. Nearly everything can be had with minimal to no effort, which has only spoiled mankind in such a way that we don't even try anymore. Consider this... you can get gas, get coffee, pick up your prescription, grab a movie, grab dinner, get your oil changed and your car washed, all without getting out of your car! What does this mean? It means that we have separated ourselves from each other and have sought conveniences for the sake of so called self-preservation.

In a nutshell, we're lazy.

When it comes to relationships, our laziness is even more pronounced. The reason we seek conveniences is supposedly based on being more efficient with our time but it has turned into a way to get what we want, when we want it, with minimal effort on our part. How many times have you watched the marriage of someone you know fall apart? Maybe a few times? We often hear the stories of fall-out from infidelity, abuse, addiction, etc. But we never get clear answers on what led to the fall-out. We speculate, but truthfully people don't sit down and lay out the events that led to the demise of a relationship. Instead, they pick up pieces, pluck out chunks of shrapnel and move on, often times while lobbing verbal grenades for years to come. So what happened?

To be sure, we're needy.

We all like a little affirmation from time to time. Some of us might need it a little more than others but it doesn't change the fact that we all want to know how we're doing from time to time. That's not what I'm talking about. It really comes down to feelings. At our core, we want to feel good. This can be feeling loved and appreciated, feeling victorious and confident, feeling accomplished and successful, feeling wanted and desired, feeling significant and necessary, feeling useful and helpful and feeling honored and respected. These are legitimate feelings that each of us has periodically throughout each day. There is nothing wrong with any of them, until we reach a point where we can no longer function unless our needs are being met. This is where we get to the art of marriage, because trust me, it's an art, among other things. And in determining our needs, we recognize that we might not function very well if our needs aren't met regularly. Frankly, that truism is not pretty.

I'm not going to lie, we're greedy.

When we meet someone special who makes us feel all those wonderful feelings I mentioned above (and more), we stop at nothing to love on and dote on that other person. What's interesting is that a relationship starts with our own needs being met, which in turn makes us want to take care of (meet the needs of) someone else. This is good. In fact, this is AWESOME! But let's back up a second. We're needy, remember? It doesn't take long for our innate needs to creep back to the surface and before long, we go in search of the meeting of our own needs, especially when they are no longer being met by our significant other. We get greedy. We start seeking ways to please ourselves because we no longer find contentment in our mate. And maybe there was something missing from the beginning... have we considered that? Maybe we're a little more messed up than we would like to admit.

The truth is, we're broken.
(To be continued)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On ethics

Let me provide a definition for ethics before we go any further. "Ethics is a disciplined reflection on the formation of a healthy character and its relationship to virtuous action." (from Living Ethical Lives - lesson 1 - NW Nazarene University COS)

Let's break this down. Firstly, ethics is a disciplined reflection. This tells me I need to be reflective on a consistent basis, suggesting there are routine moments in my day to be reflective about my life, faith, or perspective. As I think about the idea of such reflection, I wonder what the goal would be. In short order, it becomes clear that we are to "be of the mind of Christ" on a daily basis, if not a moment by moment one.

That idea alone helped me to understand why such reflection might be difficult. How many of us work full time? Do we have the opportunities to reflect on the nature of God in the middle of our shift? How is it that we go from saying yes to Jesus, admitting we need Him in our lives, to having a disciplined reflection where all our thoughts are on Christ?

Further examining our definition of ethics, I see that our reflection is on the formation of a healthy character. So it is that as we dwell on the mind of Christ, our very character should change and in fact, it should be "transformed by the renewing of our minds." Therefore, I am regularly thinking about Jesus and as I do so, my character changes, that is to say my words, thoughts and my demeanor.

To me, those around us should begin to see a difference as we think less about the things of this world and begin to think more about the things of eternity. Who we are is going to change, right in front of those who know us best.

Lastly, it is our character that becomes related to our behavior. A healthy character is related to virtuous actions. If I am thinking about Jesus all day and my character changes because of those thoughts, my actions are going to change as well. The idea here is that if I dwell on Christ, I will begin to think like Christ and then in turn I will act like Christ. It all sounds so simple!

It starts with a disciplined reflection. Actually, it starts with allowing the Holy Spirit to begin a work in us that we are not capable of on our own. From there, understanding ethics and its definition seems approachable. The troubles come when we let the distractions of this world sidetrack us from the work that God has called us to do. Soon, being reflective becomes a spotty affair, where we rarely take the time to reflect on the healthy character of Christ as it should be evidenced in our own lives.

Part of the word disciplined is disciple. For us to be disciplined, we have to find ourselves at the feet of Jesus as we learn to follow Him. It may take a few years to learn the shepherd's voice, but when we do, we will not get lost as easily as we did when we were younger. But I think we also have to remember not to purposely pull ourselves away from the flock either.

I have often wondered about the methodology of monasticism for such aims, only to step back and realize that we were meant to live in concert with each other. Our 21st century lives do not allow for much disciplined reflection and it will take a monumental effort to get people to buy into such an idea. But oh how our lives would truly change if we were willing to fully follow Him, dwell on Him and become like Him. Our ethics would be His ethics.