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Archive for April, 2010

Follow Me

(My devotions this morning were from John 21:15-25 which you can read here.)

“Follow me.”

It was one of the first things Jesus had said to Peter and it was one of that last.  It is both an invitation and a command.

In the beginning the response would have been out of simple obedience, perhaps a curiosity and not really knowing what all the invitation would mean…

But that was before.  Before three years of dusty roads, hard teachings, people healed, demons scattering.  Before spending day in and day out with God in the flesh.  Now Peter had seen his mother-in-law healed, had been a leader among followers, had walked on water, had gotten rebuked, had seen & confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the very Son of God and had denied this Son, his friend and master… for now was after Jesus had been arrested, beaten, crucified, buried and resurrected.

Things were different now. “Do you really love me?” Jesus had asked him moments before.  “Others will lead you where you don’t want to go…” Jesus had spoken, hinting at the martyrdom Peter would face.

Now the road was known. The truth of God’s redemption plan. The commitment to be made.  The sacrifice required. The hope attained.

And Jesus said, “Follow Me.”

And Peter did.

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“Peace be with you.”

Jesus says it (or similar variations) several times throughout the gospels. Most of the time it’s when the disciples are frightened out of their minds…

…which is where I first encountered it today when reading John 20:19-23.  Just like Luke also records, after his resurrection when the disciples were freaking out and hiding out (and terribly confused, disoriented & frightened), Jesus came into their midst and says “Peace…”

But here is what caught my attention.  Jesus says “Peace be with you” twice in the passage.

The first time they were frightened.  The second they were rejoicing.

What?

They recognized him, saw his wounds and were rejoicing that the Lord had risen when he again says, “Peace…”

Only this time it was followed by a call.  “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”

Could it be that the peace of Jesus does more than calm our fears?  Could it be that peace is also given to us as a precursor to our call – to enable it even?

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believe…

In John 20:1-10 it says (speaking of John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”) that John “saw and believed.”  Peter and John had been told of an empty tomb and so they went to check it out.  Peter went into the emptiness and looked around.  But John saw and believed.

In verse 9 John admits that they didn’t really fully understand from the scriptures that Jesus had to rise again.

So what did John believe?  He believed something.

Something that should have been wasn’t and something wasn’t that should have been.

Could he feel it in his bones that same kind of mixed-up, upside-down in-breaking Kingdom-ness that Jesus was always teaching and doing and revealing?  Was there something deep down inside of him that said “I don’t know exactly what’s going on here – but I know it’s Jesus!”  John hadn’t yet seen Jesus, but he saw evidence of Jesus moving…

John saw the empty tomb and folded linens and believed.

Thomas had to see Jesus Himself for himself in order to believe.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe” (see v.29)

Lord, O that we would believe simply at Your Word and also at the evidence of Your movement and also in the reality of Your Presence.

I believe!  Help my unbelief!

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“God has a wonderful plan for your life!”

Have you ever had someone tell you that?  Have you ever said it yourself?  In what context?

That phrase came up today in Sunday School.  We’re talking about evangelism and how so many use that as a way to introduce the gospel.  (The series we’re doing, on the other hand, focuses on the call to righteousness, the reality of Hell and the need for salvation.)  On the video they asked us if we would say “God has a wonderful plan for your life” if speaking to a group of people we knew would experience a violent death within the next 24 hours.  That phrasing doesn’t work well for that situation, so why then would we think it’s what the gospel is all about?

But the thing is, we hear and say that line frequently.  When talking about the gospel, when talking about suffering or trial and in new phases of life.  Case in point: graduation.

For years it has been a pet peeve of mine how every May thousands of products suddenly show up on the market containing Jeremiah 29:11.  “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.”

It’s over-used.  It’s out of context.  And it’s become trite.

Now, am I saying that God doesn’t have wonderful plans?  No.  Am I saying God wants to bring us harm?  Absolutely not!  Am saying that God doesn’t give us hope or a future?  By no means!

But what I am saying is that in context these things look very different than how we tend to understand this verse.  We think of wonderful plans in terms of good education and good career and being well-paid and married and having good kids and a healthy body.  We tend to think “not to harm you” means nothing bad will ever happen to us.  Our hope tends to be centered on those “wonderful plans” and our future is limited to the here and now.

Go read Jeremiah 29.  Read the whole chapter.

Verse 11 was part of a letter written to the exiles in Babylon.  They had been captured by the enemy and their country (and their temple) was falling apart.  They were there because the nation was being punished.  And it wasn’t about to end any time soon.  70 years was the time set for their punishment.  70 years of exile.  There were “prophets” giving people a “health and wealth” gospel of sorts – that God would rise up in just a year or two and destroy their enemies and bring them all back and everything would be good and rosey again.  And in the midst of this comes verse 11.

God’s plans weren’t given for an individual, but for a nation.  The hope and future wasn’t immediate, but 70+ years out (and some of them would be dead before they saw it)!  And “not to harm” didn’t mean no suffering or shame, it meant that He wasn’t going to totally destroy them but that their punishment was for their good… so that they would call on and seek their God again.

God does have a wonderful plan for His people.  And it hinges on that unbelievable, incomprehensible moment when Jesus died for our sins so that we could be saved from Hell and have a relationship with Him!  And it includes bringing as many to Himself as will have it.  And it concludes (or does it then begin again) with making all wrongs right and making all things new – a future, eternal, hope!

And I will dare to say that God even has a wonderful plan for my life and for yours – and by that I mean full of wonder.  Wonder that God loves us and forgives us.  Wonder that we can go through beatings and stoning and shipwrecks like Paul and still live on to spread the Good News!  Wonder that we can be transformed into new creations.  Wonder that we have the courage to stand up for Him and face death like martyrs, past and present, have all over the world.  Wonder that in our sufferings He is with us, even when we cannot see Him.  Wonders.  Lots of wonders….

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A decade ago I read a book for my teaching class in college.  In it the author explained how one time he had made the comment that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” to which a tall West Texan had replied, “you’re wrong, son.  You can feed him salt.”

That has forever stuck with me.  I thought about it last week in Sunday School.  Before class started we were discussing our current book/curriculum (on evangelism) and how some people (who don’t believe in or follow Jesus) seem to have their lives so together that they don’t seem receptive to the message we are trying to tell them.  And I mentioned how too often we feel the pull to create a false need so that we can provide the answer.  Like we will dig around their lives for some bad aspect or look for bad news so we can share the “good news.”

And that metaphor of feeding salt to horses came to mind.  And I shuddered.  For to me, the metaphor was beautiful and wise.  And the thought of trying to create  a need in someone’s life so my “good news” can fill it is ugly and dishonest.  It did not sit well with me…

So today in Sunday School we were watching the video part of this next lesson.  And the guys were talking about how we wrongly focus on trying to share the good news by telling others how God has a wonderful plan for their lives and that if they say a prayer to receive Jesus they will be at peace and find contentment and be happier than they can imagine.  They pointed out how this doesn’t work because many people already feel at peace or content or happy.  Then they brought up that same metaphor I’d heard long before by suggesting we can “salt the oats” in order to get the horse to drink.

Oh, no! I thought. They’re not going there are they?  After the weeks they spent pounding into us that the “health and wealth” gospel is not the true Good News and that we tend to go about evangelism all wrong, I got a bit confused and concerned.

But they weren’t talking about happiness for salt, they were talking about righteousness!  See, it is true that knowing Jesus will bring us peace and joy and that in Jesus we can find contentment.  But it is also true that Jesus promised us trouble in this world and that those who really follow after Him not only frequently face similar struggles (losing jobs, getting sick, being hurt by others), we also can expect ridicule, persecution and even death for our beliefs!  So in addition to a true, deep peace (one that often doesn’t make sense) and a true, deep joy (that encompasses even suffering) we need to also remember that Jesus brings His presence and His righteousness and His justice to our lives and saves us from Hell and eternal separation from God!

And that’s when it really hit me.  Righteousness is salt.  Happiness is sugar.  Sugar will dehydrate the body and create a thirst, but pure water doesn’t seem to quench that.  It almost takes a sugar-water (kool-aid, fruit juices, soda, etc) to do that, but they then create more thirst and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Salt, on the other hand, can be quenched by water.  Salt is distinctive and, if nothing else, highlights the need for water.  It brings it to the fore and makes it obvious.  If we are trying to get people to see and understand the Good News, we need to be showing them the salt of righteousness and not the sugar of happiness!

Aren’t we as Christians, after all, supposed to be the salt of the earth?  But if the salt loses its saltiness – what good is it?

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My intention was to do the whole “road to Emmaus” passage today for my Lectio Divina. But I got stopped at verse 16….

See, it’s the Sunday Jesus rose from the dead. And these ladies came running back to the Eleven and other of Jesus’ followers who were together talking wild about empty tombs and angelic messages – and the disciples didn’t believe them. It was too much. So Cleopas and another guy take off for a 7-mile walk to the village of Emmaus. And while they’re going (and talking about all this), Jesus comes and joins them. Which is when we come to verse 16:
“But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”
Why?
That verse and that question stopped me in my tracks. Why didn’t they recognize Jesus? Was it their own disbelief or hardness of heart or simply the tears in their eyes? Maybe. But something about the wording here (and I’m in the NASB for any who care to know) makes it sound as if something other than themselves prevented recognition – something divine perhaps.
So why?
What happened on that road that would have been different had they recognized immediately that it was Jesus. I know the women clung to Him when they recognized Him. Did Jesus, perhaps, want these guys to hear what He had to say rather than clinging to Him or asking a hundred million questions of their own?
If you don’t know, the rest of the passage describes how Jesus opened up God’s Word to them by explaining stuff about Himself that was found in the Torah and Prophets and the like. And then they invited Him for dinner and when Jesus broke the bread they realized it was Him! They remarked how their hearts had been “burning within” as He walked with them and explained the truths to them…
So is it possible they wouldn’t have been receptive of His teaching and simply walking with them and being present with them if they had recognized Him right away?
And then my thoughts took another turn. You have to understand that I’ve been praying for a good many people lately and some of those people have had prayers answered in glorious ways. But others not so much. In fact, the greatest contrast came yesterday. One friend received almost miraculous, wonderful news from a doctor and the other friend received very bad news from a doctor (and is now facing the possibility of losing a spouse). Both went to the same college as I and both graduated the year after I. Both live in the same town. And I’ve been praying for both situations for about two months or so.
So that’s where my thoughts went. Because I began to wonder about why or how we today would be prevented from recognizing Jesus. When is God hard to see? Well, usually in those desert times, those “dark nights of the soul” and also, often, during times suffering. Times when the questions are deep valleys and the darkness is thick and tangible and it’s simply difficult to see God or what He’s up to.
And maybe, just maybe, it is at these times (and remember that those disciples would have been in a dark time of confusion and loss and questions and mourning) when Jesus comes up along beside us and walks with us. And maybe we can’t always recognize Him right away… And maybe He uses that to show us things…
And yet, if we would take notice of it, our hearts would be burning within because of the presence of the Lord – because our spirits know that He is indeed with us even when our eyes cannot perceive it. And so when we reach our destination and our eyes are once again able to recognize Jesus, we will also be able to look back and realize that He was indeed there all along. Walking with us and helping us to see the road even when we couldn’t see Him.
Thank you, Lord, for walking with us and for revealing Your Word and Your truths to us even on our darkest roads when we cannot recognize Your face. Help us to sense the burning within and know that You are present even though we cannot see You with our eyes.

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“And they remembered His words…” (Luke 24:8)

The scriptures recounting the resurrection events contain lots of questions. Some from the women like, “who will move the stone?” and “where have you taken him?”
But most of the questions seem to come from the angels (and even Jesus himself): “Who are you looking for? Why are you crying? Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Or, in other words, “What are you doing here? Don’t you remember what Jesus said?”
They say hindsight is 20/20. But sometimes it needs pointed out for us before we can see it.
“Don’t you remember? Jesus said he’s be arrested, crucified and that He would rise again!” (v. 7, paraphrased)
“And they remembered His words.”
O Lord, help me to remember Your words. The Truth you’ve spoken into my life throughout the years so far…. Truth from the scripture itself as well as from the songs, words of others and that “still small voice” (Your Holy Spirit) within which have pointed back to those scriptures! Help me to remember. And to not go among the dead in search of the living…

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