Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Reading: Luke 24: 28-35

Verses 30-31: He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.

Jesus walked and talked with these two men.  Despite their personal time with Jesus and His amazing knowledge of the Scriptures, they did not yet recognize Him.  Many of us have been Christians for a long time.  We know the Scriptured pretty well and we have spent lots of time getting to know Jesus.  Yet at times we too fail to recognize Jesus.

As Jesus sits at the table with these two Emmaus travelers, He takes the most common element at meals in that day: bread.  Bread was both a common element and a precious one – it sustained life.  It was manna in the desert; it was what the widow made for Elijah to survive; and it was what fed the thousands.  Even in our world today, bread is an integral part of many people’s diets.  As food, bread is a necessity for life.

At the table, Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him”.  There is something about this ritual that triggers the opening of the two men’s eyes.  They recognize Jesus as He shares the bread with them.  In the church we too celebrate this practice that Jesus himself initiated.  Every time we break the bread of communion, we remember what Jesus did on the cross and we give thanks for His act that brings us forgiveness and redemption.  In doing so, our eyes are opened.  Our eyes are opened to our brokenness and this leads us to see our own need for Jesus in our lives.  This draws us in and helps us to see Jesus in our midst.

The breaking and sharing of bread can also open us up to see Jesus in other ways.  When we share bread with those in need, whether by inviting them in or by going to them, it allows us to invite Jesus to be there.  Every time we extend welcome to the stranger, regardless of color, ethnicity, or whatever, we​ are opening the door for Jesus to be present.  Through the bread we are able to find common ground and to meet others where they are at.  In these moments, Jesus is always present.  It is an opportunity to share Jesus and sometimes we are even blessed to see Jesus Christ in the face of another.  May we ever have willing hearts to share our bread and the Bread of Life.

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Be in the Word.

Reading: Luke 24: 22-27

Verse 27: … He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Jesus has just been present to these two followers as they expressed their emotions concerning what has taken place over the last few days.  In today’s section, a still ‘hidden’ Jesus gives these two a great study that arches through and over the scriptures that make up our Old Testament and brings them right to the current moment.  Jesus begins this great teaching with what is almost an admonishing: “How foolish you are and how slow of heart”.  Just as He was often with the disciples, so too is He with these two: saddened with their lack of understanding and insight.  Jesus spent three years teaching and being with the disciples and His followers and…

Jesus does not linger long here though.  He jumps right into the Scriptures and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself”.  As they walked along the remainder of the seven mile journey to Emmaus, Jesus unpacks the Scriptures for them and connects all the Law and prophets to the Messiah, to himself.  It had to be amazing to experience how the whole Bible connects both to the Messiah and to itself.  It must have been wonderful to see how all of those individual books were part of one large story.  These two must have been astounded at this stranger’s teaching ability and knowledge.

And just think – all of this is available to you and I as well.  We have the Scriptures available to us – probably several copies.  It sits on the table or on our desk or on the nightstand.  We carry it with us and have instant access to it via our cell phones.  There are a ba-zillion reading plans, commentaries, studies, … out there to help us navigate through and to understand the Word of God.  When we regularly make the time to spend with the Word and when we invest in meditating on the Word, then we will be like these two walking along the road: we will encounter the risen Christ.  He is alive.  When we spend time with the Word of God, we encounter the risen Jesus there.  Be in the Word.  Encounter Jesus.

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Reading: Luke 24: 13-21

Verse 21: We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Two followers of Jesus are walking along the road to Emmaus.  The events of the last three days must have dominated the conversation.  They had passed through the dark days of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  They had sat through the ‘now what?’ of Saturday.  They have heard the women tell of an empty tomb and of angels saying Jesus is alive.  But no one has seen Jesus at this point in their minds.  It is just a story at this point and much of their minds are caught up in the events of the past few days.

Instead of appearing as Jesus to these men, his identity is hidden.  He invites them to share their story and emotions and recent experience with Him.  He invites them into sharing the hopes they had, the disappointment they felt, and the desire to believe again.  All of these things are part of life.  We go through them as well.  For the disciples and followers of Jesus, these things must have been swirling around in their heads.  In this little part of the road to Emmaus story, Jesus draws out of these two men all that they are feeling and what is in their hearts.

At times our trials and disappointments can ‘here’ Jesus from our eyes as well.  The grief or anger can blind us or be a barrier that gets in the way.  These parts of life that we’d rather avoid are unavoidable.  Life brings us all the good as well as all the bad.  Jesus desires to walk along through it all with us as well.  Jesus wants to be our constant.  Jesus wants to hear it all.  He wants to hear our joys and our sorrows, our dreams and our disappointments, our requests and our thanksgivings.  He wants our joyous choruses and our angry rants.  He wants it all because He wants all of us.

The men confided their ultimate hope in Jesus, saying, “We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.  Soon they would better understand all that has recently transpired and soon they would know that indeed their hope has been realized.  Their eyes would be opened and they would recognize their Lord and their Savior.  Jesus wants to be the same for each of us: Lord and Savior, ever present help and ever present peace.  Thank you Jesus!

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Reading: 1 Peter 1: 17-23

Verses 18-19: It was not with perishable things such as gold or silver that you were redeemed… but with the prescious blood of Christ.

Today’s text plays with the contrast between the perishable and the imperishable.  Peter calls us to pursue the imperishable and to strive for the things of God.  This is in contrast to the world’s view of what matters and what is worthy of our efforts.  Peter encourages the believers to set aside the ways passed down by their fathers and to not follow in pursuing an “empty way of life”.  The chasing after the gold and silver leads to emptiness.  This is a lesson we all eventually learn.  To be rich in things most often leaves one pour in the soul.  At some point all people look in the mirror and come to realize that money and things and status do not bring true happiness.  Living a full life cannot rest on the perishable but must instead be founded on the imperishable.

Peter calls on Christians to “live your lives as strangers in reverant fear”.  To live as strangers means to live not of this world and its cares.  Another phrase that parallels this idea is “in the world but not of the world”.  Our true citizenship is in heaven.  To have ‘reverant fear’ is to have holy respect for God.  It is to be aware that the world’s choices lead to death and destruction.

This passage reminds us that we were bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  This sacrifice made in love calls us to love our brothers and sisters with a deep and sincere love.  Jesus demonstrated what this love looks like and He calls us to follow after Him and to love like He loved.  Verses 18 and 19 capture this love: “It was not with perishable things such as gold or silver that you were redeemed… but with the prescious blood of Christ”.  The blood and love that made it flow so that you and I can be redeemed are imperishable.  This love of God that was poured out on the cross can never be lost.  There is nothing we can do to find ourselves outside of God’s love.  Nothing.  This is why God is our only hope in this world.  This is why God alone provides for our salvation.  He is our eternity.  It is not founded on our fickle love for God but upon God’s unfailing love for us.  It is a gift far more precious than any gold or silver and it is far more enduring.  For the imperishable love of God that we have in Jesus Christ, this day let us offer our praise and thanksgiving.

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Love and God

Reading: Psalm 116:15

Verse 15: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.

Most translations of this verse use the word “precious”.  It is a unique word choice in an odd little verse stuck in the middle of a Psalm that otherwise rejoices over God’s presence to us and His hand at work in blessing our lives.  A better word might be “weighty” – as in, death is weighty.  This word better conveys how the death of His saints must feel to God.  After all, God gives us life – He breathes physical life into us at birth and then later God breathes the Holy Spirit into us when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  When God pours so much into us, then maybe death would be a little weighty for God.

This little line is also a good reminder for us.  Yes, God is always present to us.  Yes, God rescued us from our sins.  Yes, God loves us dearly.  All are reasons to rejoice.  But death is also a reality of life.  In a way, this line reminds us that we need to be aware that in the midst of our rejoicing there are always others mourning.  It calls us to be congnizant of and attentive to them.  It also tempers our joy with a dash of reality.

This little line also reminds us that God’s love never fails.  God’s love for us is always there.  We are His dear children, both in life and in death.  In turn, this reminds us to be steadfast in our love of God.  We certainly find it easy to love God in the joyous times when all seems blessed by God.  It can be harder to love God when we feel beset or when we are suffering.  But we are called to love God despite the bad too.  We are called to love God through the trials and suffering.  God does not love us more sometimes and less other times.  May our love of God reflect this as well.

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God Story

Reading: Psalm 116: 1-4 and 12-19

Verse 12: How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?

The psalmist begins by declaring his love for God because God heard his voice.  Because of God turning His ear to him, the psalmist commits to call on the Lord as long as he lives.  If only we were so steadfast in our relationship with God.  Sometimes we are more likely to coast in our relationship with God and then to ramp it up when trial or suffering set in on us.

I began my working career as a teacher.  I soon added ‘coach’ to my titles.  Shortly thereafter I added middle school Sunday school teacher.  That was the beginning of a long transition in my life.  Eventually I taught high school Sunday school and that led to working with the youth program.  God continued to work on my heart.  Almost seven years ago I left coaching and went to work serving part time as the youth director at my church.  Almost five years ago I left teaching and became a pastor.  God blessed my path in life and opened many doors for me.  This is one story.  While it is all true, it is not the whole story.

Eleven years and nine years ago I applied for the youth director’s job.  Twice I was not selected as the church hired someone else.  Rejection is always hard.  But perseverance is part of who I am.  And God’s call helped me to continue to be a part of the youths’ lives, He kept me engaged.  Those four years were a part of shaping me, a part of preparing me to do the job when God decided I was ready.  God’s timing is excellent.  It is perfect.

The first part of my story tells how God was at work in my life, slowly drawing me in.  The second part involves some trial and a little suffering, but it too is an essential part of my story.  Like the psalmist, I too must ask, “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me”?  The first response is to tell my story of what God has done in my life.  The second is to do what the psalmist did: praise the Lord!  What is your God story?  How can you tell it?  And what is your responsive praise to God?

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Good News

Acts 2: 14a and 36-41

Verse 41: About 3,000 were added to their number that day.

Peter opens this section of scripture with these words: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Savior”.  Peter speaks with authority and power that comes from two things: he has personally seen the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit now dwells within him.  Those gathered around him must have perked up and paid attention.  They all knew the facts of Jesus’ life and His crucifixion.  They also must sense both the unquestionable truth of Peter’s words and the guilt they feel over what has happened to Jesus.  They are ‘cut to the heart’ and ask Peter and friends, “Brothers, what shall we do”?  Although the Holy Spirit has not yet come to dwell in them, they are certainly feeling the conviction of the Spirit.

Peter responds with an altar call.  He says step up, admit and repent of your sins, and be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ.  Again the people respond to the nudge of God.  We too live with this nudge guiding us.  At times the Holy Spirit leads, at times it whispers, at times it convicts, and at times it nudges.  In all of these ways, the Holy Spirit propmts us to action.  When we are faithful, like the 3,000 in today’s passage, then God responds.  God gives the people the forgiveness of sins and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  This is the essence of the good news.

The same good news exists today.  God still pursues mankind with a love that is unquenchable and undeniable.  It is a love that is offered to one and all.  It is offered equally to sinners and to saints.  No matter where we are on the sinner-saint continuum, may we each realize and accept the good news this day: God loves us, Jesus saves us.  All we have to do is profess Jesus as Lord and we receive the gift of eternal life and the daily presence of the Spirit.  Thanks be to God for this wonderful and incredible gift.

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Hope, Peace

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 26: Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you”!

The disciples are hiding in fear.  The Jews just engineered Jesus’ death and they fear for their own lives.  Jesus appears to them twice in today’s passage and both times begins with, “Peace be with you”!  In the times of worry and fear and doubt, peace is a great gift.  It is a gift we all treasure in the midst of the trial or in the storms of life.  In faith we can release our fears… to God and His peace will replace all of those emotions and thoughts.

As Jesus offers the disciples peace, He also breathes the Holy Spirit on them.  With the presence of the Spirit, the disciples will go forth into the world to spread the goods news of the resurrected and risen Jesus.  We too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.  With that confession we also receive the same charge to share the good news.

Jesus also empowers the disciples with the power to forgive people their sins.  In this gift, followers of His can release people from all that entangles and hold them down.  It is similar to releasing our fears… to God and allowing His peace to flow in instead.  In sharing the hope and faith we find in Jesus, we are opening others up to feel the freeing power that comes when we accept the One who conquered sin and death as our personal Savior.  We are not offering atonement for their sins through us, but we are inviting the lost and broken to come to Jesus so He can do that.  He died on the cross to offer us all freedom from sin by paying for or atoning for our sins with His blood.  The freedom of releasing our sins is also a way Jesus brings peace.

The hope and peace we find when we rest in Christ is a wonderful and amazing gift.  May we offer Christ to all we meet so that they too may rest in His peace.

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Share the Breath

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verses 21 and 22: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.  And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.

We live by faith and not by sight.  Our faith, like the faith of Christians for the past 2,000 years, is built upon the witness of others and on our own experiences with God in our lives.  Faith is not fact so we grow in our faith as we interact with God, others, and the world.

Jesus’ disciples knew for a fact that Jesus had been crucified.  At least one, John, had stood with the women and saw Jesus draw his last breath.  Maybe some were still there when the body was taken down or when it was laid in the tomb.  This experience was in stark contrast to the miracles they had been there to see.  Bling men saw, lepers were healed, the dead came back to life.  They saw and believed even though they could not explain how these things happened in human terms.

Their witness is partly what we build our faith upon.  We have also done things and observed people do things that are difficult to explain in human terms.  We see the couple who takes in the homeless man to help him get back on his feet.  We observe God at work in his life as he becomes an active member of passing God’s love on to others.  We have felt God’s presence there with us when life both draws it’s first breath and it’s last breath.  We have been a part of surrounding the surviving spouse with a community of love and support.  In these ways we too are becoming part of another’s faith story as we build our own.

“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.  And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.  He comes and stands among us too.  As the Holy Spirit lives and breathes in us, may we ever share the breath of life with others, so that they too may be filled with the Holy Spirit.

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Living and Eternal Hope

Reading: 1 Peter 1: 3-9

Verses 4 and 5: In His great mercy, God has given us new birth into a living hope… and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.

This short passage has so much power.  Peter opens by praising God and then jumps right in to explain why.  In verses four and five Peter writes, “In His great mercy, God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you”.  Our hope is a hope not only for eternal life, but also for a living hope in our life here on earth.  Yes, the gift of the resurrection is a wonderful promise.  But our time with God in the eternal will be a time of no more tears, no more pain, …  If there was ever a time when we needed hope, it is in the realities of this world.

After reassuring us of God’s power shielding us, Peter does acknowledge that this life will bring testing.  He writes that we may have to “suffer griefs in all kinds of trials”.  Yes, even though we have faith and even though God shields our gift of salvation, yes, this life will bring trials.  Just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust, so too do trials and “life” come to all peoples.  But there is a great difference in the affect of the trails.  Those without faith get through; they endure until the trial passes and emotions dull.  The believer, on the other hand, has a trusted and loving companion to walk beside us.  God brings us peace and comfort and strength in the trial.  God walks with us and in the end leads us to rejoice as our faith has grown, has been refined; this leads us to praise the God who is faithful and is a real presence in our time of need.

Our experience with God deepens our faith.  As Peter writes, “though you have not seen Him, you love Him”.  It is true that we do not physically see God, but we do tangibly experience God and His presence in Spirit.  This is what fills us with an “inexpressible and glorious joy”.  Peter returns to the eternal as this section draws to a close.  He reminds us that we are receiving the salvation of our souls as well.  For both of these gifts – presence now and hope in the life to come – we shout thanks be to God!!  To Him be all the glory and power, both now and forevermore.