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"House with garden for sale by owner."

#Advent16 — Missed it?

A reading from the Gospel According to Matthew.

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”

Matthew 11:2-6 (NLT)

This is the Word of the Lord.

This passage is among my favorites in the entirety of Scripture, and is one that I talk about often. In fact, I mentioned it in Monday’s post.

John the Baptist is in prison.

Jesus is not. He’s out doing Jesus things.

John is quite confused.

The Messiah that the Jews were in search of was a military leader. He was the One who was going to once-and-for-all liberate the Jewish people from their oppressors. Hittites, Philistines, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and now Romans had all been in control of this tiny nation for the majority of its history. The Messiah was going to change all of that. He was going to raise up an army, plot a military strategy unequaled in history, and make his nation great again.

But, that wasn’t happening.

And, John was in prison.

John. The forerunner of the Messiah.

John. The voice in the wilderness proclaiming that Messiah was here.

But, the One he thought was the Messiah wasn’t acting like he thought Messiah should ask.

Had he missed it?

There.

Isn’t that the question that we all come to time and time again: “Have we missed it?”

Those of you who read our newsletter know that we’re changing cities. Moving a bit further inland, closer to the rail and the airport, and into the city where another John (the Apostle) is buried. We knew that this was going to be happening in the month of December. We were expecting. Hoping. Trusting that by 15 December we would have a lease signed on a new apartment, and would be packing the old one up.

Well, hello 15 December.

We’ve been searching since 1 December. We’ve looked at about 12 different places. Some, we knew as soon as the door opened that it wasn’t the place. Some, we thought we might could make it work, but it would be challenging. One was perfect, but the owner elected not to rent to us.

We will see more places today.

"House with garden for sale by owner."

“House with garden for sale by owner.”

The other day, at the prompting of a friend, we went to a house for sale and inquired with the neighbor about it. “Would they be willing to rent?” We asked. We are waiting for that answer now, and if they do rent it, we would probably take it. It would be a dream come true kind of place.

There’s another place that we’ve been asking to see for a week now. “I must talk to the owner, who is s a farmer and is in the fields.” Still waiting.

More than one time in the past two weeks I have stopped and asked, “Have we missed it?”

John, in prison and in desperation, sends his people to see Jesus.

“Are you the Messiah?”

If not, we need to rethink our strategy. If so, then when is this army going to be built. The Romans are terrible. They’re destroying the country. They’re stealing our gold. They’re terrorizing our neighborhoods.

We need a rescuer. We need the Messiah!

Jesus does what Jesus usually does—He answers without answering.

Look around you and see what’s happening. That’s was Jesus’ answer. Look around and see.

Look around.

Jesus points out that there are blind people who can now see. Lame people who can now walk. Good News is being preached to the poor. Even the dead are raised.

Look around.

A moment of honesty here. If I am one of John’s disciples I would be tempted to respond something like, “But, Jesus, my friend’s 5 year old son is dead.”

Or, “But, Jesus, a young man who I really like is in a hospital bed with a heart thing.”

Or, “But, Jesus, a man who loves you a ton is still in prison.”

Or, “But, Jesus, I’m still looking for a place to live.”

We’ve talked about this before on the blog. I struggle with the now but not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven. I really want Jesus to just fix all the problems all at once. I want him to heal all the sick. Raise all the dead. Rescue all the oppressed. Conquer poverty. And, find me a house.

Now would be good. But, that isn’t Jesus’ way. And it frustrates me.

Have we missed it?

“Go tell John,” Jesus says, “what you see.” In other words, stop thinking that I’m about to raise up and army and go kick some Roman butt. That’s not the way this works.

Jesus comes not to restore our Kingdoms. Jesus comes to institute his Kingdom.

And, then, leaves it with us to keep that institution going. He leaves it to us to keep bringing healing to those who need healing. He leaves it to us to keep bringing life in the face of death. He leaves it to us to conquer poverty.

His Kingdom does not lead us to overthrow governments. It leads us to operate within them to make life better for all.

So, yeah, we miss it when we put Jesus in the place of some militarily minded government leader. And, we miss it when we think that Jesus will set all things right—right now. And, we miss it when our response to the crises in the world is “Jesus is coming back soon, so you better get ready.”

Advent is all about waiting. It’s all about longing. It’s all about wondering. It’s all about something that will happen soon—someday.

The other night, I was on the phone with a trusted friend. We were talking about the housing struggle. He told me in a not-really-joking way that our housing search was a bit like Advent. Waiting for the right thing. Waiting for the promised place. The appointed time.

Advent is all about waiting.

In the meantime, we go and tell what Jesus is doing. We proclaim a Messiah that is very different than what we think he should be.

So, no, we haven’t missed it when we keep proclaiming good news to the poor. Or, bring healing  to the sick. Or, bread to the hungry. Or, blankets to the cold.

Refugee Camp

#Advent16 — The Olivet Discourse

A Reading from the Gospel According to Matthew:

“But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

“The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

“The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have bene there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.”

Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Today’s Advent reading has us looking beyond the manger, past the cross, beyond the Ascension and even beyond today. It has us looking for the King to return in fullness. It takes us to the top of the Mount of Olives into one of Jesus’ most often quoted (and most often misunderstood) discourses—The Olivet Discourse.

Let’s begin here: The Olivet Discourse was not given for us to speculate about who is in and who is out, or about dates and times, or even to scare us into living right. Jesus’ purpose in this discourse is to encourage His Followers that even in the midst of the ugliness and mess of the world (after all, He is largely predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and ultimately Israel as they knew it), He is still the King. Further, He seeks to use this encouragement for us to live our lives to bring His Kingdom even in the middle of these messes and uglinesses. He challenges us to align our lives with Him and His Kingdom. So that when He returns in the fulfillment of His Kingdom, we will see it and know it and embrace it.

When we read these “end-times” passages in the scriptures, it is important that we remember four key points as we read.

First, Jesus wins. He is the King. He is the One whose coming was foretold from the beginning of time itself. He is the one who sets all things right. He is the One who will return to bring heaven (in all of it’s splendor and glory) to earth.

Second, suffering and pain are still present in the world. Jesus came to set all things right, but not all things are yet set right. We, as His followers, are called to continue this partner with Him i this work of setting things right. Yet, because not all things are set right, there is still pain. There is still suffering. Death still happens. Divorces still occur. Far too many children still get cancer. Too many elderly people face dementia. These things still happen.

Let me pause here. I will be the first to admit that I have no good answers to the problem of suffering. I don’t.

Refugee Camp

Refugee Camp

I live in a land where there are more than 3 million people who have fled their own homeland due to war and violence. I see them in town begging for bread. I seem them on the bow of the coast guard boats that enter the harbor below our front window after they’ve been rescued from the cold waters where their makeshift boats sank as they sought a new and better life in Europe.

I don’t know why a friend has to watch as his parents suffer with dementia.

I have no explanation for why dear friends had to sit helplessly through surgery after surgery and then ultimately bury their five-year-old son.

I struggle to understand cancer.

I don’t have answers for these questions.

But, here’s what I do know. We are called to do something about pain and suffering. We are called to cry with those who are crying. We’re not called to offer up hollow platitudes about “God being in charge” or “God wanting another angel.” We’re called to suffer with those who suffer. To cry with those who cry. To listen to those who need to yell and scream and cuss. To sit silently and hold a hand. To mourn with those who mourn.

Suffering and pain are as real today as they were when Jesus sat on that mountain and delivered the discourse from which today’s text is drawn. I don’t know why he didn’t heal every sick person that crossed his path. But, I do know that when his friend Lazarus was in the grave, before he raised him from the dead, Jesus stood alongside his friends and neighbors and wept.

Third, evil is real. Even though Christ has come. Even though the Kingdom has begun. Even though for two thousand years men and women have worked tirelessly to bring more and more of the Kingdom to bear. Evil still exists. Evil is still a reality with which we must deal.

Fourth, we must struggle against evil. We are called to stand in opposition to the things that are not as they should be. We stand in opposition to people being mistreated—even if it is by their own government. When children go to bed hungry, we stand in opposition by bringing food. When cities are overran by evil people, we do all we can to share the overwhelming love of Jesus—even at the risk of our own life.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

And, that is what Kingdom people have done for centuries.

When the ancient Romans used the horrible practice of exposure as a means of birth control, it was the Kingdom people who took these unwanted babies and gave them new life.

When a lady was told to change seats in a bus simply because of her skin color, it was the Kingdom people who peacefully protested until she was allowed to sit wherever she wanted.

When young girls and boys are kidnapped and sold for sex, it is the Kingdom people who find them and rescue them.

When poor people were left out in the streets to die alone, it was Kingdom people who took them in and cleaned them and nursed them and loved them and then buried them.

When millions were being taken away from their homes and interned in camps, it was Kingdom people who hid them from the authorities.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

We work to bring the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed into its fulfillment. Knowing that there will come a day, when Jesus will return and say “Well done, you good and faithful servant” to those who have feed the hungry, and sheltered the homeless, and spent time with the widow, and fathered the orphan.

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Book Review: Jesus Called by Ray Johnston

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back is the latest volume from author Ray Johnston. In this book, Johnston outlines for us the state of the American church, and prophetically urges us to think  and act differently as modern-day followers of Jesus. He begins with one of the better overviews of the various worldviews that are impacting the church today. He also presents us with the counter-cultural view that Jesus taught.

The primary argument that Johnston makes in the book is that Christians are willing to follow Jesus up until the point of it changing their worldviews. He says:

One of the main problems undermining American Christianity is this: people become Christians, join the church, put Christian bumper stickers on their cars–but stop short of letting Jesus make a fundamental change in their foundational beliefs, their worldviews. Their lives don’t reflect the values taught and lived by the Jesus they claim to follow. — Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 58).

This is an important point. Until we are willing to relinquish our worldview and embrace the Kingdom Worldview that Jesus taught, we will never be able to follow Jesus with “all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.”

The remainder of the book is a call for the American Christian to release those things that have become a part of our faith that are more American than Christian. Johnston calls us to examine the church, and realign it with the call of Jesus to “Follow Him.” He does a great job at presenting the reality that Jesus’ call to us is not an easy one to follow. That there is great sacrifice required from us.

Finally, he presents us with ways to walk out the call of Christ. He gives us practical ways to reject the cultural demands around us, and accept the counter-cultural life to which Jesus calls us. Near the end of the book, Johnston talks about sharing our faith with others. Good news is never meant to be kept to oneself. It is intended to be shared.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). He didn’t say, “You will be my prosecuting attorney.” “You will be my defender.” “You will be my slick salesperson.” He simply said, “You get to be a witness of really great news.” – Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 313)


 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

Following Jesus: 153

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.”

John 21:1-11 ESV

“I’m going fishing,” Peter said.

This was more than a statement about a weekend getaway. This was Peter-code for “I’m done.”

What do you do when your plans and dreams and hopes die?

This is the question that Peter and the others are confronted with. Even though Jesus had been raised. Even though hope was alive again. Even though he had already seen Jesus in the Upper Room. Peter goes fishing.

And, truth be told, I totally understand where he’s coming from. When things aren’t lining up the way that I think they should, I often want to escape into what I knew before. Like Peter, there are days where I feel out of my element. I know business. I don’t know cross-cultural living. I know Project Management. I don’t know how to handle getting only one-thing-per-day accomplished.

The disciples aren’t yet sure what to think about this whole death and resurrection thing. They don’t know how to process that. They just know that the ideas that they had about Jesus’ Kingdom weren’t lining up with their plans.

Jesus’ plan for His Kingdom wasn’t lining up with the disciples plan for His Kingdom.

And, so, Peter responds in the only way that makes sense to him. “I’m going fishing,” he said. The underlying message in this statement is “I don’t know what to do with this, so I’m going back to what I know–fishing

How do you respond when Jesus’ plans for His Kingdom doesn’t line up with your plan?

In my mind, the Kingdom should come rapidly. Immediate fixes to the world’s problems. Rapid results. Yet, Jesus doesn’t work that way. He healed the blind beggar, and probably passed five others along the way. He raised Lazarus, but probably walked past ten tombs to get to Lazarus’. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand the now but not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven. And, frankly, sometimes that bothers me.

My plans for His Kingdom doesn’t always line up with His plan for His Kingdom.

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

And, I just want to go “fishing”.

Thankfully, Jesus understood Peter’s fishing trip. And, Jesus understands our fishing trips.

Jesus’ response was to meet Peter where he was. Jesus shows up on the shore after a night of unsuccessful fishing (Peter must be really disappointed at this point), and asks what is probably the hardest question that Peter ever had to answer: “How’d the fishing go?”

This question is much harder than the three questions that follow later in this chapter. This is the moment where Peter must decide if he is a fisherman or a fisher of men. For Peter to admit that the nets were in fact empty is to admit defeat. It is to relinquish his pride.

It is to let go of his kingdom in hopes of embracing a new one.

And, to make matters worse, this isn’t the first time that Peter has been asked this question. Some years earlier, when Jesus first called Peter to follow him, this same story happens. In this moment, Peter has to know that this is not just another Galilean standing on the shore.

Peter answers, “It was the worse night of fishing in my life.” And, maybe under his breath he adds “except for that one time, a few years ago.”

This interaction is instructive for us. Jesus speaks to us in ways that we know to listen for him. He wants us to hear the message, and he isn’t going to hide the message. If we’re used to hearing Jesus in a certain way, He’s not going to suddenly change it up on us. Jesus speaks to us in ways that we will hear.

So, Peter follows Jesus’ suggestion. “Go deeper and try the other side.”

Just like before.

And, just like before, they catch more fish than they can handle. 153 to be exact.

When you relinquish your plan for His Kingdom, and embrace His Plan for His Kingdom, the fishing gets better. It still won’t all make sense, but it will be memorable.

John, now an old man, writes the story and remembers exactly the number of fish that were caught.

153.

 

Syrians in Turkey

#Advent15: The Faces of Jesus

I’ve seen lots of faces.

Faces full of fear.

Faces full of joy.

Faces full of anxiety.

Faces full of grace.

Faces full of hopelessness.

Faces full of hope.

And, in many of these faces, I find myself looking into the eyes that belong to a different face.

The face of a baby.

The face of a King.

If you want to know what Jesus looks like, then I urge you to talk to a refugee.

Talk to one who has been forced to leave everything behind. To travel a great distance. To go hungry. To go without shelter, or a bed, or warmth.

It’s not hard to see Jesus, when you stand in the midst of a refugee encampment.

He’s all over the place.

In the face of the young child. Too young to know what’s happening, but old enough to know that life isn’t what it was just a few short weeks ago.

In the face of the old man. Weather-worn from years of farming or shepherding or bread making or bazaar trading. Old enough to know that the world is painful, yet longing to return to the comfort and peace of his own living room.

In the face of the young mother. Caught somewhere between joy and euphoria at the new baby in her arms and the fear of it dying for lack of proper nutrition.

In the face of the teenaged boy. Ready to take on the world, but afraid of what might lie ahead. Hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears.

In the face of those who serve these precious people. Hands and feet forsaking home and family. Leaving behind comfort. Leaving behind safety.

As Jesus was preparing to die, he told his disciples about the judgement (Matthew 25:31-46). Nations, he said, would be gathered together. Some would be sent to his right hand, and others to his left. Sheep and goats. To those the right, he would grant an inheritance of the Kingdom fulfilled. To those on the left, no inheritance.

The difference? How they treated the hungry and the poor and the destitute and the refugee and the immigrant and the thirsty and the naked.

Those who had met the needs, given the inheritance of the Kingdom.

Those who had not met the needs, cast away forever.

Both groups called Jesus Lord. But, only one group had taken the time to see his face.

And, the judgment isn’t against individuals. It’s against nations.

Jesus-followers should take pause when those who claim Jesus try to keep those in need at bay.

“When I was hungry,” Jesus said, “you fed me.”

Will you feed him?

Will you welcome him?

Will you look at the faces and see his face?

A Syrian Man

A Syrian Man

Resurrection Diaries: Thomas

Dinner was awfully different tonight.  The food was the same: lamb, flatbread, cucumbers, olives.  But, what a strange occurrence.

We were in the main room of the house.  The table had been laid out as always.  All of us in our usual seats.  For fear of someone wandering in, we had the doors locked.  Still not sure what the authorities—Jewish or Roman—are thinking about us.

As we talked about the events of the last few days, and wondering if the stories of our friends having seen Jesus were really true, Thomas made the most outrageous statement.

“I’ll believe it when I see it.  When I can push my finger through the holes in his hands and feet, and can shove my hand into his side, then—and only then—will I believe it.”

Well, finally, someone said what most of us were thinking.

And, then, Jesus showed up.  In the room.  With us.  Door was still locked—I checked it myself.  But, there stood Jesus.

“Hey, Thomas,” he said.  “Come over here, put your hand here.”  He pulled back his robe to reveal the spot where they had shoved the spear into His side.

Thomas did, and then let out a holler unlike any I’d ever heard.

“It’s Him!”

“Really, guys, it’s HIM!”

———

Aren’t we all a bit like Thomas?

Others had seen Jesus.  The women, some of the men, Cleopas and his friend had seen Jesus.  Eyewitnesses to the resurrection.  Yet, Thomas isn’t so sure.

Maybe it was a vision.  Maybe a dream.  Maybe a hallucination.  But, actually Jesus?  Not sure.

He challenges the others.  Maybe they’re even growing a bit tired of Thomas’ verbal doubts.  And, then, Jesus shows up.

Can you hear the laughter of the others?  “See, Thomas, we told you!  We told you that He was alive!  You didn’t believe us, but I guess you do now!”

But, I can relate to Thomas.  At some point in all of our lives, we will doubt.  We’ll doubt the trustworthiness of God.  We’ll doubt the promises.  We’ll stand on the edge of the road, looking at the empty—but blood-stained—cross where our dreams were killed, and there we will doubt.  We’ll be forced to admit that our hopes and dreams are dead, and our prayers will go unanswered.

And, then, into the room, walks Jesus.  Smiling.  Laughing.  Comforting.  And, gently scolding.  Jesus.

In that moment, our doubts are erased.  Our fears are calmed.  Our hope is restored.  The trustworthiness of our God is proved.

Yet, doubt isn’t a good thing.  It’s a real thing, but it’s not good.  Doubt says that our God isn’t big enough to overcome our problem.  To doubt is to deny the goodness and grace of God.  It’s to deny the very resurrection.  To doubt is to say, “God, You can’t handle this.”

To doubt is to make you the lord of your life.  It’s worshiping at the altar of self.  It’s idolatry.

So, what do we do?

I’m reminded of the story of the Israelites.  Time and time and time and time again throughout the Old Testament, God’s chosen people are given the command: “REMEMBER.”  Read the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and count the number of times this command is given.  Read the Psalms and see how often remembering is a part of the worship of the Israelite people.  Read the Proverbs and see the wisdom in remembering.

Remember!

This command isn’t meant to be taken in a philosophical, “Yep, God is good all the time” kind of way.  It’s a command to write down what God has done for you.  It’s a command to write them down.  To recite them to your family.  To teach them to your children.  To talk about them on your way to school and work and church and Wal-Mart.  To listen as your children recite them back to you.

“Hey, Dad, remember that time that God…”

Remembering only works when you are an active participant in the process of remembering.  You have to say it out loud.  You have to repeat it.  You have to write the story.  You have to tweet the good news.

You have to be aware of the miracle.  Don’t write things off to coincidence.  Quit calling it fate.   Stop ignoring the miracle within the mundane.  God is working.  He is moving.  He cares about the big things and the little things.

A couple of years ago, we were in Colorado Springs doing our Discipleship Training School with Youth With A Mission.  One particular Tuesday, I was craving a hamburger.  I could almost taste the meat and the cheese and the mustard and the pickle.  I remember driving my friends crazy because I kept talking about how good a hamburger would taste.  The next day at lunch, we had hamburgers.  Now, I had no idea what was on the menu.  I just knew that the day before I told God that hamburgers sounded really good.  I could call that a coincidence.  But, to do so would be to assume that God doesn’t care about hamburgers, and He doesn’t care about me.  So, to this day, we talk about the day that God cared enough to provide hamburgers.  And, friends, these weren’t just frozen patties.  These were hand-crafted, flame-broiled, with bacon, thick and juicy hamburgers.

Because, God cares about my wanting hamburgers, and He cares about Thomas’ doubts.  He cares enough to provide hamburgers, so I can trust Him with things like airfare, and my kid’s health, and beds to sleep in.

And, so, we remember.  We write it down.  We talk about it.  We rehearse it.  We tell each other the story.  And, we remember the goodness of God.

Thomas, we are told from Church tradition, travelled to India.  It is believed that he baptized several people in the town of Muziris, India, and served as a missionary to the people of India.  He is known as the Patron Saint of India.

Thomas’ response to seeing the wounds of Jesus was to proclaim boldly that he was no longer the lord of his life.  Instead, he trusted God’s goodness to restore and renew and resurrect.  And, he went about the rest of his life proclaiming that message of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

You can read the full story of Jesus revealing Himself to Thomas in John 20:19-29.

Resurrection Diaries: Cleopas

Cleopas and his friend from Emmaus came running in yesterday afternoon.  Excited would be an understatement.  It took nearly an hour for us to get the story out of them.

“…walking…”

“…home…”

“…Jesus!”

“…broke bread…”

IT’s HIM!  He’s really alive!

Finally, as we heard the whole story, our hearts burned within us as theirs had within them.  They said that as soon as the Mystery Man picked up the bread they knew it was Him.  “Just like last Thursday,” they said.

He took it, blessed it, and broke it.

“And, we knew.”

———

Two men.  Followers of Jesus.  They’d been in Jerusalem.  They had seen Him die.  “It’s over,” they thought.

I wonder if they wouldn’t have rather made the walk back home to Emmaus on Saturday.  After all, with Jesus dead, why should they hang out in Jerusalem and mourn?  They could do that at home.

Besides, if the Romans were worried about insurrection, then the eleven remaining Disciples would be the next one’s arrested.  Being close by that isn’t what you want to do.

Yet, they wait until Sunday to head back to Emmaus.  Even though they’d heard the rumors that the tomb was empty, they turn for home.

Isn’t that like us?  Our dream dies and is buried.  We’ve given up completely on it.  Then, we begin to hear that maybe it’s not totally dead.  As an old movie line goes, “it’s only nearly-dead.”  Yet, instead of waiting around to see if there is any life in the dream, we tuck our tails and head for home.

The beauty of the Emmaus Road story is that even in our heading for home, Jesus can still show up.  He doesn’t need for us to be sitting around the room with a bunch of other folks whose dream has died.  He can—and does—meet us where we are.  Wherever, we are.  No matter where “where we are” happens to be.

So, our friends—us—take the road back to the house.  And, Jesus shows up.  And, often, like our friends, we don’t know that it’s Him.  Yet, patiently, Jesus reminds us of the larger story.  He reminds us of who He is and what He does.

And, then, we eat.  We take the bread and the wine.  We take the Body and the Blood.  Resurrected.  Restored.  Renewed.

We know little else about Cleopas after this.  The tradition of the church tells that he is the brother of Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, and that it is his son, Simeon, that assumes leadership of the church at Jerusalem after James is martyred.

Cleopas is one of the first eye-witnesses of the resurrection.  One of the first to see His Savior face-to-face.  And, oh, the joy it brings him!  He, and his companion, run the seven miles back to Jerusalem.  Hopping.  Skipping.  Laughing.

“Can you believe…”

“Ha! It was really Him!”

And, they tell their story to the other Disciples.  They recount their journey back to Emmaus, and into the house.  They talk about all that Jesus had shared with them.  And, then, they live their life.

Differently.

Because, an encounter with Jesus will forever change you.  It will resurrect the dreams.  It will restore the hope.  It will bring joy into the very midst of death.  And, it will turn your life into one that can be well-lived.

The story of the Emmaus Road can be found in Luke 24:13-35

The road to Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park, Arkansas

The road to Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park, Arkansas

#Lent14: Dinner With Jesus — Mark Foster

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

In this week’s #Lent14 posts, we are departing from the Lectionary and are turning instead to events during the life of Jesus that involved Dinner Parties.  As we travel in Central Asia, one of the things that we are continually struck by is the amount of life that happens around the dinner table.  In fact, in one Central Asian nation, we were told, “If I invite you for tea, we’re friends.  Yet, when I invite you for food, we become family.”  This week we are joined by four dear friends and pastors to our ministry who have agreed to offer a meditation for us.

Today, we are excited to once again have a special guest post from Rev. Mark Foster. Pastor Mark is the Founding Pastor of Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. He married his wife Chantelle in August 1991. They have two sons, John Mark and Noah. Pastor Mark is led by the Spirit and is passionate about seeing people come to know Jesus. We met Pastor Mark in October of last year when we began to attend Acts 2 UMC. We are blessed to have him as both a Pastor and a friend, and are honored that he has written today’s guest post.

Rev. Mark Foster

Rev. Mark Foster

UNTIL JESUS

Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death…

Luke 22:1-2 (NRSV)

Passover is the quintessential story of Judaism. Israel’s identity is tied to the covenant of land as promised by God. To get to this promised-land, Moses would need to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt to the land which was promised. However, the ruler of Egypt would not let them go until plague after plague decimated everything the Egyptians loved and held dear.

The final plague was a spirit of death that killed the first born of the Egyptians but “Passed Over” the homes of faithful Israelites who had followed the Lord’s instruction to paint their doorposts red with the blood of a spotless lamb. Each year, the families would gather and remember God’s faithfulness. In America, our Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey would be similar remembering God’s provision to the pilgrims. Passover was the same story every year on the same month in the spring for the same people for roughly 1300 years. It was and is the story of how God saved the Jews over and against the Egyptians, ultimately drowning both the Egyptian charioteers and their horses in the Red Sea. And that was Passover, until Jesus… Those two words, “until Jesus” are perhaps the most powerful words in anyone’s life.

I was lost… I had no hope… Despair had overtaken me… Life was meaningless… My addiction had me by the neck… Anger ruled my home… My appetites left me eternally hungry, cold, and lonely… Unforgiveness was killing me… Death had won… until Jesus.

These words were and are so powerful in fact, that it threatened and threatens anyone who made or makes the rules, enforced or enforces proper behavior, was or is responsible for fairness and the Roman way or American way. Until Jesus, might made right. Until Jesus, tax collectors, prostitutes, and children were clearly outsiders. What do you do with someone who blesses, sets free, and welcomes those you have just cursed, imprisoned, and sent away? You kill him.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

Luke 22:3-6 (NRSV)

So what do you do when someone is out to kill you? You prepare Thanksgiving Dinner with your family and closest friends. You invite the betrayer to dinner, bless those around you, thank God for the meal and God’s faithfulness, and do the dirty work of washing feet.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John…

…they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Luke 22:7-8, 13 19 (NRSV)

For more than one thousand years, the wording describing the Passover meal was about bitter herbs, salt water, and unleavened bread… until Jesus. Now Jesus was speaking about “my body.” Jesus was breaking from the traditional language used at the meal each year since the time of Moses.

 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luke 22:20 (NRSV)

The disciples were confused at this point. The covenant was not new, but dated back to the 19th Dynasty about 1350-1200 B.C. And, the blood was of a lamb, not human! The blood Passover covenant was understood as between God and God’s chosen people the Jews… until Jesus. What had been an animal sacrifice to save one people, Jesus changed to His sacrifice for ALL people. All people. Even betrayers?

But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.

Luke 22:21 (NRSV)

Rev. Adam Hamilton points out that for Judas to dip his hand in the bowl with Jesus at the table (as the scriptures indicate) would have seated Judas both in a place of honor at the table and closest to our Lord reclining intimately next to him. This is how Jesus treats those who would do him harm. He blesses. The world had not seen anything like this…until Jesus.

Later, Judas leaves and betrays, Peter protests and denies, the rest run and hide.

The women weep and mourn. Blood and water flow, breath stops, the tomb is sealed. The world shakes, goes dark, and waits. And waits. And waits. Until Jesus… on the road to Emmaus…

… was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:30-35 (NRSV)

It was just another day and another stranger on the road, another meal, another loaf of bread… until Jesus.

#Lent14: Dinner With Jesus — Charla Gwartney

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

In this week’s #Lent14 posts, we are departing from the Lectionary and are turning instead to events during the life of Jesus that involved Dinner Parties.  As we travel in Central Asia, one of the things that we are continually struck by is the amount of life that happens around the dinner table.  In fact, in one Central Asian nation, we were told, “If I invite you for tea, we’re friends.  Yet, when I invite you for food, we become family.”  This week we are joined by four dear friends and pastors to our ministry who have agreed to offer a meditation for us.

Our guest blogger today is our dear friend, Charla Gwartney.  Rev. Gwartney is currently serving as Senior Pastor at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Her family is a great blessing to her…husband, Kurt and daughter, Elizabeth.

Rev. Charla Gwartney with husband, Curt, and daughter Elizabeth

Rev. Charla Gwartney with husband, Kurt, and daughter Elizabeth

A Reading from the Gospel of John

There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:2-8 (NRSV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Anything can happen at the table. Have you noticed that? When people want to really visit, they go to a coffee shop to sit at a table together. When people know the conversation will be difficult, they go to dinner hoping the conversation will be less charged with conflict. When people want to celebrate, they invite people to the table where conversation often leads far into the night and where glasses are raised in toast after toast. I have seen relationships mended around a table. I’ve also seen words flow too freely and feelings get hurt around a table. I’ve seen life-changing announcements made around a table. And, I’ve experienced the everyday ordinary stuff of life become holy around a table. I’m telling you, anything can happen at the table.

What happens around the table in John 12:2-8, however, is absolutely the most extraordinary table event I’ve ever known about, save what happens around the table of the last supper. Lazarus and his two sisters invite Jesus to their home for dinner. In the preceding chapter, we find the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and learn that Jesus loves this family very much. They were important friends and followers. So, an invitation from this family would have been received with joy. Jesus knew that dinner here would include laughter, love and true fellowship. After all, Lazarus had just been raised from the dead and there would be lots to celebrate.

As the story begins in verse two, all feels normal. Lazarus was around the table with Jesus and Martha was serving. So far, this is exactly what we would expect. The men would enjoy a meal together around the table and the women would be gathered in the kitchen preparing and serving the food. But, where is Mary? She enters in verse three and turns this table scene upside down. The scripture says she took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard. Did you know that nard had to be imported from the Himalayas? Who knows what this family was saving this stuff for, but it had to have been one of their greatest treasures – to be doled out one little bit a at a time. It probably was being saved for their family burials and had been brought out when Lazarus was thought to be dead.

Mary takes it all, every last bit of it, and anoints Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. This is an act of over-the-top extravagance and the scripture tells you that by stating that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Oh yes, the women would’ve known about this too, even from another room. For just a moment, take a breath and imagine how shocking this whole scene would be. Mary isn’t supposed to be anywhere near this table. She is supposed to be serving with the other women. And, she sure isn’t supposed to be squandering the family treasure on someone who isn’t even dead yet. I would imagine that every single person around that dinner table is absolutely speechless, their jaws are hanging open to the floor. And then, the aroma hangs in the air so thick they can think of nothing else. Even if they had wanted to lighten the mood – change the subject – there can be none of that. They can still smell the evidence of Mary’s actions!

I’m hunching on this. I have absolutely no evidence to support it. But, I’m hunching Jesus was just as shocked as every other man around that table when Mary walked into the room. I think, though, when Jesus saw her face, he saw a love that must have said even more than the nard. She couldn’t help herself. She risked a public shaming (which she did indeed receive in verse five). She risked her family’s disappointment realizing their treasure was gone. She risked Jesus’ rejection – he didn’t have to respond the way he did in verse seven. But, I’ll say it again, she couldn’t help herself.

This love that can push us to risk everything – that is extraordinary. I wonder, when is the last time you saw that kind of love around a table? I think the table draws out the best in us. I know it drew out the best in Mary. I’m so grateful she threw caution to the wind and showed me what it means to love with abandon. I wonder if Jesus thought about this kind of love when he shared that last meal with his disciples in the next chapter…when he washed their feet? I’m hunching he still remembered the smell of sweet perfume as he washed those dirty feet and reminded them, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” I’ll say it again…anything can happen at the table.

#Lent14 — Resurrection People

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Gospel of John.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him…

John 11:1-45 (ESV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Today’s blog comes in video form.

#Lent14 — Resurrection People from Led By The Word on Vimeo.