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Discovering Jesus in Our Midst

One of my favorite post-resurrection stories is when two of the disciples were walking to Emmaus and Jesus joined them, but they were unable to recognize him. That is until he revealed himself when they sat down together to share a meal.

outdoor cafe with mismatched chairs with quotation of Luke 24:35, NLT

Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.

Luke 24:35, New Living Translation

This is a very rich story, full of symbolism, allusion, and illustration. Today, I just want to share an encouragement from this miraculous moment at the end of this story. They discovered Jesus in their midst when they sat down to eat.

God is everywhere always and can be most easily found in the simple things of life when our hearts are open to being surprised by Christ’s presence in all circumstances. My prayer for us is that as we continue to walk with Jesus daily, we would encounter the Lord’s presence often in the specific and the mundane parts of life.

Grace and peace,

Living Again in God’s Heart for Us

woman praying in a park at sunrise with quotation of Ephesians 2:4-5, NIV

Our Lenten journey is coming to a close by celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ this Sunday. I have enjoyed exploring the different ways we can encounter God’s heart for us. We will conclude this series with the promise of the new life we have in Christ.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ … —it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)

We began our Lenten journey with Psalm 25:4-5 from The Passion Translation. In this version, they translated verse 5 like this.

Escort me along the way; take me by the hand and teach me.
For you are the God of my increasing salvation;
I have wrapped my heart into yours!

Psalm 25:5 (TPT)

This passage is fresh in my mind as I reflect on God’s saving power through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is true that we experience a singular salvation event when we come alive to God’s unconditional love and the new life trajectory the Lord leads us into when we are saved by faith. It is also true that the Lord leads us daily and is always available as our savior. If we embrace the prayer in the Psalm above, “take me by the hand and teach me,” our hearts will understand that we will need the Lord’s saving grace often as follow Jesus into new areas of growth in our lives.

My prayer for us this Easter is that as we experience God’s daily grace of salvation, we would remember when the Lord first saved us. Celebrating what God has done for us in Christ is a perfect opportunity to share God’s great love with those who have yet to receive God’s gift of salvation.

Grace and peace,

Rejoicing in God’s Heart for Us

sunflowers at sunrise with quotation of Matthew 21:5, 9 – NLT

Our Lenten journey began with seeking the Lord’s direction and embracing God’s heart for us, trusting that God would accompany us along the journey and lead us not only through the darkest valleys but also into salvation and newness of life. I chose the phrase, “God’s Heart for Us,” from the last line of Psalm 25:5 (TPT), “I have wrapped my heart into yours!” The NIV and other versions translate this as “my hope is in you all day long.

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
… Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Matthew 21:5, 9; New Living Translation

This Sunday is traditionally called Palm Sunday when Jesus enters into Jerusalem on a kingly procession riding a donkey’s colt. As he does this, multitudes come out and praise him as their king and savior. This is to fulfill the prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. The people were placing their hope in Jesus to deliver them from the Roman occupation. What they failed to realize is that he was riding on a donkey, not a warhorse.

Jesus was demonstrating that God’s authority is established not by a show of force, but by honoring and empowering one another by lifting each other up in the name of the Lord. We can rejoice in God’s heart for us knowing that when we hope in the Lord we will be met with love and grace and embraced as one belonging to God.

Humbling ourselves is not an easy thing to do, but God promises empowering grace to those who seek to lift others up. My heart is filled with hope, knowing that our community embodies this reality.

Grace and peace,

Living in God’s Heart for Us

multi-color mural of open hands with quotation of Colossians 3:14, NLT

As we get closer to Easter, our calendar begins to sync up with the events in Jesus’ life as he made his way to the cross. Sometime next week, Jesus would have “set his face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, NIV) where he would celebrate Passover and begin his Passion week. This is what Jesus was called to do with his life. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that “for the joy set before him he endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)  Jesus had such integral faith in God’s heart for humanity that, even though he knew he would die, he unwaveringly committed himself to this calling. Jesus was living in God’s heart for us.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:14, NLT

Of course, we do not have the same calling as Jesus did, to die for the sin of the world. We are called, though, to “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us.” (Ephesians 5:2, NIV)  I know that the directive to love one another can get nebulous at times. In my reading this week, I came across these passages of scripture. “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26, NIV)  “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel…” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33, NIV)  What I took from them is that if we are to be a people called to love as God loves, then we need to have tender hearts, full of compassion, longing for God’s love to bring us together as one people for God’s glory. This is not a one-time event for us. It is a daily commitment to live in God’s heart for us by loving one another as/and ourselves. 

As we move closer to Easter this year, let’s find ourselves living in God’s heart by clothing ourselves with love.

Grace and peace,

Following God’s Heart for Us

grass covered with dew at sunrise with quotation of Psalm 23:1, NLT

We are midway through our Lenten journey toward Easter. As a matter of context, all journeys have their ups and downs. Right now, you may or may not be experiencing a lull. If so, we all go through times like this. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, it’s usually a product of perspective. Fortunately, the Lord has not left us to sort this out by our own resources.

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.

Psalm 23:1, NLT

Reading through this Psalm, we see that the writer is identifying as a sheep belonging to the Lord and is on a journey along with his shepherd. There are times of peace and tranquility and times of distress and darkness. The refrain throughout is that the Lord is with him. As I reflect on this Psalm, I see the sheep walking alongside the shepherd. In order for the sheep to see the shepherd, it must look up, and in so doing is able to receive the comfort and reassurance needed to continue along this journey. This may not change the reality of our situation, but when we trust God’s heart for us, we find the strength to endure as we follow the Lord in our daily lives.

If you chose a Lenten practice this year, how are you doing? Are you hitting a lull? If so, I encourage you to change your perspective by looking up toward the Lord, our shepherd. God’s heart is to lead us with unconditional love and unending companionship so that we may know the fullness of all that God desires for us.

Grace and peace,

Aligning with God’s Heart for Us

Woman sitting at a table with a journal and a cup of coffee with quotation of Psalm 19:14, TLB

On this Lenten journey toward Easter, we have explored embracing and discovering God’s heart for us. As we see God’s unconditional love and unending companionship in this life, it is fitting for us to continue to direct our hearts in ways that please the Lord.

May my spoken words and unspoken thoughts be pleasing even to you, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalms 19:14 (TLB)

On every journey, we need to course-correct periodically and in every relationship, we need to realign our hearts with those we love. The prayer from the Psalms above speaks of David’s desire to please the Lord. It is from this place of openness that we can discern if and how we need to come into alignment with God. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we won’t know until we ask.

My goal for the end of this Lenten journey is to have a deeper connection to the Lord’s heart for those around me at each relational level. I want to love God by loving my neighbor with Jesus as my example and guide. My prayer for us this week is that we present our hearts to the Lord and seek the Holy Spirit for direction in aligning our hearts with God’s heart for us.

Grace and peace,

Discovering God’s Heart for Us

Boy looking through telescope at the Empire State Building with quotation of Jeremiah 29:11-13, NIV

This Sunday is the second Sunday of Lent. Last week, I introduced the idea of Lent being a journey toward God’s heart for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The first step of embarking on this journey is to embrace God’s heart for us. The Lord is calling us and will accompany us along the way.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV)

We start on a journey to reach a destination, but we often make discoveries as we continue along the path set before us. Sometimes these discoveries are serendipities, other times they are specifically sought after. One thing is certain, though, we need to have a heart that is open and willing to see what the Lord wants to reveal to us.

I pray that as we seek the Lord with all our heart and discover God’s unconditional love and empowering grace, we will lean into our Lenten journey, aligning ourselves with the Lord’s plans for us and trusting that we will find God’s heart.

Grace and peace,

Embracing God’s Heart for Us

We are on our way towards Easter! Last Wednesday, February 17, was Ash Wednesday and began the season of Lent, which is the 40 days prior to Easter and is typically a season of prayer, fasting, and devotion in preparation for the celebration of God resurrecting Jesus from the dead. It might even be a season of discipline by which new spiritual practices can become a regular expression of faith. As I was considering Lent this year, I saw it as a journey, exploring our faith and experiencing God’s grace, which continually leads to newness of life in Christ.

Lord, direct me throughout my journey
so I can experience your plans for my life.
Reveal the life-paths that are pleasing to you.
Escort me along the way; take me by the hand and teach me.
For you are the God of my increasing salvation;
I have wrapped my heart into yours!

Psalm 25:4-5, The Passion Translation

This passage in the Psalms is David’s prayer for God’s direction and companionship in life’s journey. The last line in this passage is usually translated, “I wait or hope in the Lord.” The Hebrew word for wait/hope expresses an active awareness in our daily relationship with the Lord. This is why I chose The Passion Translation for our verse this week.

As we embark on this Lenten journey, I pray that we pursue the Lord’s heart along with the Spirit’s direction so that we can experience all that God has for us in this current season.

Grace and peace,

Clothing Ourselves with Love

As I’m sure you’re aware, this Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Even though it’s a day that we mark to celebrate love, it’s the daily expressions of love that make the day worth celebrating. The verse below came across in my reading this week and as I was reflecting on it, the idea of clothing ourselves with love really stood out.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:14 (NLT)

We all want to live in perfect harmony with the people we know and love and also to see that harmony reaching out to our communities and beyond. Living in harmony, though, starts with us by choosing to clothe ourselves with love.

What, then, does it mean to clothe ourselves with love? We recently discussed in our Sunday Worship Gathering at Valley Life Church what love looks like.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 12:9-10 (NIV)

Simply, this means to love one another as we desire to be loved, walking in daily communion with the Holy Spirit so that the fruits of the Spirit are evident in our lives.

I know that there is so much here that could be unpacked. My encouragement for us this Valentine’s weekend is to take a few moments to think about those we love. How can we interact with them in a way that communicates love to them? (We all have a specific love language.) Then look for opportunities show them how much they are loved.

Let’s choose love daily and love deeply those God has placed in our lives.

Grace and peace,

Finding Joy in God’s Presence

I can’t believe that it’s already February. Even though it feels like the year is racing along, I was reminded in my reading this week that not every moment needs to feel that way.

In the morning, long before sunrise, Jesus went to a place where he could be alone to pray.
Mark 1:35 (GW)

This passage takes place not too long after the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. His popularity was surging and pressure began to increase for him to heal and deliver those who were brought before him. He knew that the only time he could spend refreshing his spirit was early in the morning. He chose to pause the rush of the day, even before it began, and enjoy spending time in God’s presence.

Not many of us experience the pressures that Jesus did, but being human we do go through stressful times just like he did. We can take a page out of Jesus’ playbook and find time to spend with the Lord. I’m not here to make prescriptions, but if we understand the “why,” the “how” will become apparent. I was encouraged by Leonard’s story during our Sacred Reading this last Sunday about how he was feeling disconnected from the Lord and so he decided to take a prayer walk. Since he made time to present himself before God, he was later able to hear a message of love and grace from the Lord to him.

We all need regular encounters with the Lord. I pray that as we open our hearts to experience God’s presence, the Holy Spirit will show us what it is we need to do to connect with the Lord in a way that speaks love, imparts grace, and strengthens us to continue in our walk of faith with Jesus.

If you set spiritual New Year’s resolutions this year, I hope you’ve been able to keep them up. If not, or if you would like to infuse your spiritual life with a challenge, Lent begins on February 17. Lent is the 40 days prior to Easter and is typically a season of prayer, fasting, and devotion in preparation for the celebration of God resurrecting Jesus from the dead. It might even be a season of discipline by which new spiritual practices can become a regular expression of faith.

Let’s put a pause on the rush of the day and take time to enjoy God’s presence.

Grace and peace,