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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
You know something’s got to give
A change needs to be made
It’s not just bettering for better’s sake
It’s not sustainable anymore and without change, it will only get worse.
Even though things are good, better is coming sooner than later.
Things are going so well, that space needs to be made for the real growth that is happening.
Like a child outgrowing her shoes or a hermit crab outgrowing its shell, the way up is forcing its way out.
Stress and pressure are powerful motivators for change. Even though stress and pressure are uncomfortable, and even painful, it is not all bad either. The above examples are two ends of a spectrum. These ends represent the need for change due to negative or positive stimuli. Moving toward the middle, the stimuli reduces. It has been said that the only constant in life is change. Even in the middle of the spectrum where motivating stimuli is minimal, change is inevitable.
We all find ourselves somewhere along this spectrum. The thing to do is to get a bird’s eye view of your situation. Where are you along this spectrum? And, if you find yourself somewhere around the middle, are you experiencing a respite, the doldrums, or are you like the frog in the pot, unaware that the temperature is slowly rising?
With last weekend being Easter, I’m reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples during his last supper with them before his passion. “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7 (NASB) In this Jesus reveals that in order for his disciples to make the greatest impact, he would need to step aside and let them follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, just as he himself had done.
Where do you identify in this story? With Jesus, realizing that he was the bottleneck for his followers’ development as leaders? Or, with the disciples, understanding that growth only comes when we push our limits, explore other paths, and follow the Spirit’s lead (John 16:13)? The way up is out.
As a personal example, my attention to this blog has been intermittent at best. I have been preoccupied, and at times even overwhelmed, by other more pressing things. This has led to a lack of output, which leads to a sense of stagnation. Yet, not a day goes by where I feel I have got to write something. I miss this. I miss writing for you and for me. My heart tells me that in order to get beyond this stuck, plateaued, and stagnate feeling, I need to put myself out there, start writing again, and open myself again to the flow of thought, creativity, composition, and correspondence. The way up is out.
Of course, this is only one of many areas in my life that need me to be brave and find the way out that leads up.
Enacting change doesn’t have to be drastic. The idea I’m trying to share is to be proactive. Evaluate, make a plan, and start. Start small, but start. The key is that the change we make takes us out of our old patterns that weren’t working and onto a new path with new goals and new outcomes. We can allow change to happen to us, or we can gain a bit of perspective and enact the change for ourselves. It’s all up to you, and it’s all unto me. My hope is that as we examine our situation, we find the areas that need change and the pathway out that will eventually lead up.
While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:6-7, CEB
Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in his humble birthplace, may we too care for Jesus by caring for those closest to us. I pray as well that our reflections on the Nativity story will open our hearts, and our guestrooms, for Jesus to be borne into our daily life experiences.
This reminds me of the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was written about the days of celebration following Christmas, and not Advent, the days leading up to Christmas. This means that the entire Christmas observance could last about six and a half weeks. That’s a long time!
The length of the season seems fitting since the Christmas story contains many journeys and periods of waiting. If we consider Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth, they traveled just over 100 miles.
In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:1-7, CEB
The beauty of the Christmas story is that it’s rooted in the reality of human experience. We can look at the journey Joseph and Mary took and find some parallel in our personal lives. For me, I have been on a long journey with depression. God has helped me to experience the high places and met me in the lowest valleys. Even though I deal with depression daily, the Lord has filled my heart with hope that one day I will walk truly free. The key for me is keeping my heart open, along with my hands and mind, to see Jesus, the promised deliverer, present in my situation through people and practice, family and faithfulness, community and commitment.
The encouragement I have received from the Christmas story and want to share with you is that God is no stranger to our humanity and is not adverse to meeting us where we are right now. Emmanuel, God with us. This is God’s gift to me this Christmas. I pray it is yours as well.
Recently I have been watching prior seasons of the reality show Survivor. One scenario that is in the back of everyone’s mind, both contestant and viewer, is the blindside. A blindside is where contestants work together to get a player voted off the island, except the targeted player is usually clueless of what’s coming. From the recipient’s perspective, blindsides are never good, unless God is orchestrating the blindside. Let me briefly share my “God blindside” that happened this morning.
My day probably couldn’t have started any more off than it did, outside of some major tragedy. When I came into the office, a faithful friend and co-worker, sensed I wasn’t doing well, so he asked if I was ok. All I could verbalize was that I wasn’t ok. He gave me a gentle encouragement to trust that God is at work in whatever is going on.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)
What I referred to as a “God blindside” is nothing more than being surprised by God’s proactive lovingkindness on my behalf. God’s benevolence intersected my path and drew me into the present moment, where God’s presence fully dwells and the only place where God’s love can be fully recognized and experienced.
As I reflected on the passage above, the phrase that stood out to me was “in all things.” I realized that up until this point, I was asking “why” questions regarding my situation. This passage helped me to see that I needed to be asking “how” and “what” questions. For instance, “How can I participate with God not only for my benefit, but for the benefit and benevolence of those who are walking with me in these painful times.” (You can read “for my benefit” as submitting myself to God’s presence to learn and grow with openness, graciousness, and love.) Another question is, “What can I do to become and remain mindful of God’s active presence in all things, moment by moment?” These are the questions that came to me as I reflected on God at work in all things.
If you are questioning, struggling, or needing an encouragement of God’s love for you and yours, please know that God is at work in all things, and that we can trust that God has our best at heart.
May the promise of God’s active presence and lovingkindness lead you to the experience and trust of God’s goodness and love.
In preparation for and ever since our worship gathering last Sunday at Valley Life Church, I have not been able to stop thinking about the first line of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” This passage has never really meant much to me besides a sappy, “Christianese” sentiment, but this week it came alive to me.
‘Shepherd and Sheep’ by Anton Mauve
To start out with, this is a Psalm of David, who was raised to be a shepherd. Those in his family that cared for him were shepherds. To him a shepherd was one that cares for others, human and animal, with a sense of deep commitment and personal investment. A shepherd uses more that his staff. He uses his hands, knees, back, and head (his smarts) to make sure that the ones under his charge we well cared for and protected.
In the ancient world, a shepherd was looked down upon as an unfortunate profession. It was a necessary role, but not a sought after career path. In fact, shepherds were not able to worship God where everyone else gathered, because they were deemed unclean. It is interesting, though, that the major spiritual leaders in the Bible were shepherds. It is likewise noteworthy that God is revealed to God’s people as a shepherd, their shepherd.
What this speaks to me is that if the Lord is our shepherd, then our God has dirty knees. God is not put out with the fact that we need help, real help, the kind of help that gets messy. The Lord is not only willing, but already knee deep in it with us. What more could you ask for? The God of the universe caring and dwelling with us, wherever we find ourselves, and with the strength and love to help and save us.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. (John 10:11) He fulfilled in the flesh the promise received in Psalm 23, and continues to do so until the end of the age. “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” (Revelation 21:3-4, CEB)
So, when I remember that the Lord is my shepherd, it’s no longer a sentimental trope. It is an affirmation of the life surrendering and life giving love of God through Jesus Christ. I am confident that my God has dirty knees and that my God loves me. I am confident of the same for you.
I trust you’ve had a good week and are enjoying the ever changing spring weather! (Well, that’ what it’s been like here in the Silicon Valley.) It kind of reminds me of that famous quote from the movie Forrest Gump. “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” One day it might be hot, and the next quite cool. One day it might rain, and an other will be clear and breezy. All of this also reminds me of a very familiar chapter in the Bible, Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley, (Or, the dark valley of death)
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever. Psalm 23, NLT
Within this poem, David declares that throughout all life’s circumstances the Lord will be with him, meeting every need according to God’s will. There is so much to learn and wisdom to be gained by sitting with this passage and letting the Holy Spirit show us what is best for the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. May we always remember that God is good, the Spirit’s words to us are true, and the Lord is forever faithful and always with us.
The smile of a child and the laughter of children as they play make the world go around day after day.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” Matthew 21:16, NIV