Faith, Salvation

Throwback Thursday ~ Making a U-turn on the Road to Emmaus

Originally published September 2, 2016

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That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Luke 24:13-35

It had been a long, confusing, emotional couple of days. Eventful? The word could hardly capture all that had taken place. As they made their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend rehearsed the trials, the scourging, the crucifixion, and the reports of the empty tomb, trying to make sense of it all.

How could this have happened? It just didn’t add up. Everything their beloved Jesus had done, taught, and said fairly screamed, “This is it! This is the Messiah!” Jesus was the one they had been waiting for. The one who would throw off the iron-heeled boot of Roman oppression, take the throne of His father, David, and reestablish Israel as a sovereign nation, restoring her former glory.

But…a crucifixion? His body missing? It didn’t fit the narrative they’d been weaned on. Maybe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all. Their hopes for the future, so recently a roaring flame, waned at the cross and dwindled to an ember at the tomb.

Try to put yourself in the sandals of Cleopas and his companion. Every day of your life has been lived shivering in the shadow of the evil Roman empire. Unclean Gentiles, pagans, haters of God and His people, who ruled with impunity and maintained pax romana by any means necessary. Crosses laden with the corpses of criminals and insurrectionists lined the road leading into town, lest there be any question as to the fate of those who dared rebel. There was no real right of redress. No true due process. And since Rome ruled the known world, virtually no way of escape.

“Someday,” Jewish boys and girls learned for hundreds of years at their mother’s knee, “Someday God’s promised Messiah will come and deliver us. This will all be over. We’ll be free.”

This was the Christ – the Messiah, or “anointed one” – most of God’s people hoped in. A Christ who would save them from earthly suffering. A Christ who would set things right and make their temporal circumstances better. No thought to their need for atonement. No concerns about eternity. Never mind the Bread of Life, just give us bread.

And Cleopas and his fellow disciple had found him. Maybe they were afraid to believe it at first. Could Jesus really be the one? But as they followed him for days, or months, or years, they began to believe. Finally, He was here. Finally, things would turn around for them. Everything was going great.

Until.

And just like that, in a matter of a few days, all hope was lost.

They stood still, looking sad.

Was it because Jesus had, in reality, failed to fulfill His mission? No. It was because they had poured every drop of their faith into a false Christ. A christ of their own imagination and design. An unbiblical christ who had been passed down to them over the years by false or misinformed teachers.

And, to this day, people are still placing their faith in that same false christ of their own imagination, promulgated by false or misinformed teachers. A christ who will solve all their earthly problems. A christ who will heal their diseases, fix their broken relationships, grant them power, imbue them with influence, and shower them with wealth.

Sure, their hope in this christ will burn brightly for a while, but just like that, in a matter of a few moments, hours, or days, that hope can be extinguished forever. A car accident. A house fire. An affair. A child gone prodigal. Wasn’t Christ supposed to make my life better?

But – thanks be to God – that’s not the end of the story. There’s a true Christ. The true Christ of Scripture. The Christ that Jesus showed the two disciples from Moses and the Prophets on the road to Emmaus. The Christ that God reveals to us today in the New Testament. The Christ that all of Scripture points to – not as a life enhancement genie – but as the spotless Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.

This is the Christ in whom we find the hope of sin forgiven. The peace of being made right with God. The joy of knowing He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Are you foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the Bible says about Christ, or does your heart burn within you as the true Christ of Scripture reveals Himself to you in God’s word?

A false christ promises hope, but brings only despair and discouragement when hard times come and his promises go unfulfilled. But all the promises of God find their fulfillment in the Christ of Scripture. He will never fail you nor disappoint you.

The road to Emmaus is a two-way street. Cleopas and his friend started their journey going the wrong direction, but they repented of their unbelief, turned around, and walked the other way. If you’ve been following a false christ, you can repent and trust the true Christ of Scripture today. He’s only a you-turn away.

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Evangelism, Faith

Throwback Thursday ~ An Open Letter to My Friends Who Are Struggling…

 Originally published September 10, 2008.

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Dear Friend,

I know you have been going through some rough times lately. Perhaps you have recently lost a loved one. Maybe you’re ill with a serious disease. You might struggle with depression. You could be watching a loved one battle cancer or another terminal condition. Your marriage may be close to breaking up. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re simply sick and tired of the way your everyday life is going. That the world is going to hell in a hand basket and you’re getting sucked right down with it.

I’ve listened as you’ve poured out your heart. I’ve walked with you as you’ve struggled. I’ve held your hand and prayed with you. And while my heart breaks for you because of the circumstances you’re going through, what crushes me even more is the despair, the hopelessness I hear in your voice. That there’s no way out. That it’s impossible to deal with the pain. That there’s no one who can really help you.

But there is. And that’s what I desperately need to tell you.

I haven’t told you before, because when everything was going fine for you, you didn’t want to hear it. But sometimes people just get to a point in their lives where things are so bad they’re willing to try anything.

And so, I’m asking you to try, just try, one more thing. If you’ve already tried everything else, and nothing’s working, what do you have to lose?

Please try Jesus.

Jesus loves you. He cares about your pain and your struggle. And He’s the only One powerful enough to actually do anything about it.

I’m not talking about simply bowing your head and asking Him to get you out of the horrible situation you’re in. I’m talking about bowing your life to Him. Giving up. Surrendering. Letting this King you’ve been doing battle with all your life conquer you for your own good, sit on the throne that rightfully belongs to Him, and set up His rulership over your life.

This King doesn’t desire to reign over you so that He can tyrannize you. He’s a freedom fighter. He has already made the ultimate sacrifice to set you free from the oppressive regime under which you’ve been living: you. All you have to do is renounce your throne and become one of His subjects.

What does this mean in practical terms? You set aside a little uninterrupted time to talk it out with God. You recognize that He is God and you are not. You admit to Him, and to yourself, that you have sinned.

“Sin” means to break God’s laws. You know the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), right? At least some of them? Have you ever lied, stolen something (even something small), dishonored your parents? Then you have sinned. And by the way, your opinion on whether or not something should be a sin doesn’t make a hill of beans of difference. When you can create the universe, heal the sick, walk on water, and rise from the dead, maybe you’ll get to make the rules. Until then: God’s turf, God’s rules. And you’ve broken them. All of us have.

What happens when you break a local, state, or federal law? Well, if you get caught, there’s supposed to be some kind of punishment. If you speed, you have to pay a fine. If you steal, you go to jail. If you murder somebody, depending on where you live and whether or not you can get the verdict overturned on a technicality, you get the death penalty.

There’s punishment for breaking God’s laws too. James 2:10 tells us:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

In other words, if you’ve broken one of God’s laws, you’ve broken them all. So, since we’ve all committed the same crime against God– breaking all of His laws –we’re all destined for the same punishment. Hell.

Yes, there is a hell just as surely as there is a heaven. Once again, your opinion on whether or not hell does exist or should exist matters about as much as your opinion on whether or not the sky is blue or whether or not it should be a different color. Your opinion does not change the facts.

The good news is that God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, has already taken the punishment for the crime that we committed. Have you ever heard of a completely innocent victim of a crime volunteering to take the death penalty for the perpetrator for no other reason than that he loves him? Me neither. But that’s exactly what Jesus did for you and for me. And believe me, it was cruel and unusual punishment.

But Jesus didn’t just die in our place. He did away with the eternal death of hell by coming back to life after three days in the grave. And He’s willing to share that victory over hell with anybody who wants it badly enough. It’ll only cost you your life. Not your physical life, of course, but your spiritual life.

After admitting to God that you’re a sinner, the next step is to believe with your whole heart that Jesus died and rose again to take the punishment for your sin (Romans 10:9-10). You gratefully tell God that you accept that Jesus did this for you. You ask Him to forgive you, and make a commitment to Him and to yourself that with His help you’re going to turn away from a life of sin and serving yourself and turn to a life of serving and obeying Him. (This turning away is called “repenting”.)

Finally, you put your money where your mouth is and act on what you’ve just committed to. You spend time reading your Bible and praying in order to get to know God better. When opportunities to sin arise, you turn away from them. As you grow in your relationship with God, you discover what He wants you to do with your life, and you follow that path.

This last step is a very important one that, all too frequently, gets left out. Simply mouthing a prayer and then going back to business as usual ain’t gonna cut it. In fact, if you are able to go back to living the way you always have, with no discernable change of heart or behavior, at least a gradual one, you probably aren’t a Christian. If you’ve truly given your life to Christ, you’re going to be a different person. You’re going to have an aversion to sin, and a love for God. Your attitudes towards others will change. Your priorities will change. Your beliefs about right and wrong will change.

Simply SAYING you’re a Christian doesn’t make you one. I could sit here all day long and tell you I’m a doctor. Sure, I’ve taken some biology classes, and I do have some medical knowledge, but I didn’t go through medical school, I’m not licensed, and I don’t treat patients. If I wanted to become a doctor, I’d have to submit myself to the things that are necessary for becoming a doctor. It’s the same way with Christianity. We have to submit ourselves to what God says is necessary for becoming a Christian: true repentance, and trust in Christ.

If you’ve stuck with me this far through this seemingly interminable article, you’re probably thinking back to my very first paragraph and saying to yourself, “This ‘giving your life to Jesus’ stuff is all well and good, but my husband is dying/I can’t find a job and my house is about to be foreclosed/my mother just died/I’m on the brink of divorce/etc. That’s all I care about, all I can think about right now.”

That’s precisely why I told you about Jesus. When (and ONLY when) you give your life to Him, He helps you through your problems. You want peace when you’re struggling with a rebellious child? Comfort after the death of a loved one? Strength when your body is in pain? Joy instead of sadness? These things, and many others, are just some of the “fringe benefits” you get from being a Christian. But you only get them as a result of giving your life to Christ. There is no other way.

Thanks for allowing me to get this off my chest, Friend. I just couldn’t go one more day telling you that I’m praying for you to have peace or strength or healing without telling you how to get those things. And so I’ll urge you just once more: try Jesus. Or as the Bible puts it (Psalm 34:8):

O taste and see that the LORD is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

Faith, Throwback Thursday, Trust

Throwback Thursday ~ Fear Not: 9 Biblical Ways to Trade Worry for Trust

Originally published April 24, 2015fear not

Did you have any fears as a child? Monsters? The dark? Dogs? When I was a little girl, I had this record of the story of Peter and the Wolf, and I was afraid of wolves at night (Look at the picture and listen to him growl. Can you blame me?). I just knew they were skulking around my bed in the dark, black as midnight, drooling rabidly, ready to shred me to ribbons should I stick so much as one toe out from under the covers. It was terrifying.

As adults, we look back on those childhood fears with some degree of smugness or embarrassment and think about how silly it was to be scared of something that was never a threat in the first place. But even if we don’t like to admit it, fear is something we grown ups still struggle with, at least from time to time. Finances, health, and our children’s futures may replace wolves, darkness, and the boogeyman, but fear is still fear, whether you’re four or forty.

And God is well aware of that fact.

In my Bible, the phrases “fear not,” “do not be afraid,” and other similar expressions appear over 75 times. Fear is a normal, God-given reaction that can be healthy and keep you safe in the event of a real threat. Fear is a blessing when it motivates you to jump out of the path of a speeding truck or stay away from a rattlesnake, but just like everything else affected by the Fall, fear can often be misdirected and thwart our growth in Christ.

Most of our fears as adults have nothing to do with tangible, imminent, life or limb danger. Usually, we are fearful of “what if’s.”

“What if I get a bad report from the doctor?”

“What if I get fired?”

“What if my teenage daughter gets pregnant?”

In other words, we worry about what might happen.

It’s really easy to sing “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” on Sunday, but much harder to actually do the work of trusting Him on Monday. Worry almost seems woven into the fiber of our DNA. In fact, worry has been such a common theme in the human experience that Jesus took time to address it during his Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:25-34

Clearly, it is not God’s will for us to worry. No matter how strangling our fear may feel, God wants us to trust Him in everything, from the most dire situation to the most mundane. But how?

1. Make sure the object of your trust is the right one.

A popular false teaching from the Word of Faith (prosperity gospel) camp these days is that it’s never God’s will for you to be sick, poor, or experience tragedy. If you just have enough faith, and decree and declare enough, you can yank whatever outcome you want right out of the hands of God. Do you know why that’s not true?

Arguably the mightiest men of faith in history, eleven of the twelve disciples were martyred. So was Paul. David, whom God said was “a man after His own heart” suffered tragedy after tragedy. Jesus Himself prayed in Gethsemane that God would keep Him from having to go to the cross, and God said no.

Like these godly men, as Christians, we do not place our faith in positive outcomes. We place our faith in Christ, and His sufficiency for us in all things, regardless of the outcome. Make sure you’re trusting Christ, not what you want Him to give you.

2. Get off the guilt train.

Sometimes we can fall into Satan’s trap of believing that if we’re really saved or really trusting the Lord or really have faith, we’ll never fear anything. Then, when those worries creep in, we start feeling guilty. We’re not supposed to have those feelings.

Have you ever read the story of Gideon? Gideon was one scared dude, and he had good reason to be. But even though he was scared and fumbling, he believed and obeyed the Lord. And the Lord commended him for being a man of great faith.

Trusting Christ doesn’t mean you’ll never be afraid of anything. Trusting Christ means you keep believing Him, keep loyal to Him, and keep obeying Him even when you are afraid.

3. Take reasonable precautions.

Trusting God doesn’t mean you should be careless. Eat healthy and exercise. Be frugal. Watch your children carefully. God gave us a whole book about using wisdom, and He gave us brains, so let’s use them.

4. You’re not in this by yourself.

God has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He has promised to give you the strength to deal with anything you come up against. He has promised you a way out of temptation. Trust that God is with you and will help you.

5. Rehearse your trust instead of your fear.

A lot of therapists will encourage you not to “repress” your fears but, rather, talk about them, write about them, examine them, etc. In other words, rehearse them (which only leads to more fear, because fear feeds off itself). But the Bible never says to do that. It says, “do not fear” and “trust in the Lord.” Period. No analysis required.

Those worries may start creeping in, but you don’t have to set the table and turn down the bed for them. Push them right out of your mind, slam the door behind them, and say (out loud is helpful), “No. I’m not going to worry. I’m going to trust the Lord.” You’ll still feel worried at first, but “fake it ’til you make it.” Your feelings will eventually follow.

6. Replace fearful thoughts with biblical thoughts.

After you’ve pushed those fearful thoughts out of your mind, consciously redirect your focus to trusting the Lord. Spend a few minutes in prayer asking God to help you trust Him. Put on some biblical worship music that focuses on the goodness of God, and sing along. Be thankful- start listing all the ways God is good and has blessed you. Recite and meditate on Scripture about trusting God. Some of my favorites are:

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm 56:3

For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112:6-7

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7

 7. Get your mind off it.

Watch a good movie. Have coffee with a friend. Better yet, serve someone who needs your help. Share the gospel with someone who’s lost. Get your mind off the worries and on to something better.

8. Get physical.

Go running or do some physical labor around the house or something like that. Either you’ll get some endorphins going and you’ll start feeling better or the shin splints and backache will completely erase any memory of whatever you were afraid of.

9. Repent and get a fresh start.

Sometimes (often, if you’re like me), you’re going to blow it. You’re going to give in to fear and let it control you instead of trusting God. You’re going to act on your fears and disobey God instead of trusting and obeying Him in spite of your fears. When that happens, don’t run away from the Lord. Run to Him. Repent and be forgiven. That’s what His mercy and grace are all about.

Worries are a normal part of life in a fallen world, but, in Christ, we are not to be enslaved by them. We have a Savior who is sovereign over all things. He clothes the grass with lilies. He feeds the wild birds. And He cares oh so much more for you. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and fear not.

How do you deal with worry in a godly way?

Faith, Second Coming, Suffering, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ In the Mean Time

Originally published August 21, 2014In the Mean Time

 

When I was a little girl, around three or four years old, my mother occasionally needed to drop me off at a daycare center so she could run errands or attend to other things you can’t take care of with a pre-schooler in tow.

I hated it.

Even 40+ years later, I remember being terrified. I wasn’t a regular, so I didn’t know any of the other kids or the teachers or the routine or where anything was located. I didn’t want to be there because I didn’t fit in. I wanted to go home. I felt completely uncomfortable the entire time I was there. In fact, I remember crying unconsolably. When would my mom come back and get me out of this God-forsaken place?

Don’t cry. Your mom’s coming back for you soon.

I’m sure some kind teacher whispered that in my ear as she put her arms around me, the same way I’ve whispered it in the ears of children I’ve comforted over the years.

And, finally, Mom would come back, take me away, and everything would be all right.

Today, I still feel like that tiny child sometimes.

There are days when the evil and sadness of this world overwhelm me. When problems in my own life terrify me.

I hate it.

You see, I don’t fit in here. This isn’t my home. I don’t want to be here. And sometimes, I cry inconsolably…

When, Lord? When will you come back and get me out of this God-forsaking place?

And that’s when the kind and precious Holy Spirit wraps the arms of the Word around me and whispers…

Don’t cry. Your Savior’s coming back for you soon.

Soon, little ones. Dry your tears. He’s coming back for us soon.


Out of honor to my mom, I just wanted to say that I totally understand why she had to take me to the daycare from time to time. I would have done the same thing with my child. I’m sure it was a fine daycare with loving teachers. I’m just the kind of person who never outgrew stranger anxiety. This was my brokenness, not anyone else’s unkindness.
Faith, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ Being Slaughtered by Terrorists Isn’t the Worst Thing that Can Happen To You

Originally published October 17, 2014

terrorists2Everybody seems to be walking around scared these days. I’m a little scared, myself. It’s understandable. There’s a lot of scary stuff happening. Boko Haram. Ebola. ISIS. The persecution of Christians abroad, and, increasingly, here at home.

Terrorism, suicide bombers, the seemingly daily acts of violence that take the lives of innocent bystanders– that all used to happen over there. Thousands of miles across the ocean. And all we had to do to make it go away was turn off the TV, click over to Farmville, or put down the paper. Problem solved. It was unfortunate, but didn’t really touch our lives in any meaningful way.

Until now.

Now we know that there are terrorists living among us right here in the United States, as well as those trying to infiltrate our country by stealthily crossing our borders. When will the next beheading or 9-11 take place on U.S. soil? Who will the next victim be? Will it be you? Will it be me? Will it be thousands of us in one fell swoop?

Any reasonable person would be afraid of that.

Don’t.

That’s what Jesus said. Just don’t.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

We’ve got bigger fish to fry in the fear department. Even though it would be awful, the worst thing that could happen to someone is not being killed or even tortured by a terrorist. The worst thing that could happen is for someone to spend an eternity in Hell because she has rejected Christ (which should tell you something about how horrific Hell is).

If you have never turned from your sin and placed your faith in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection as payment for the penalty for your sin, how you’re going to die is the least of your worries compared to what’s going to happen to you after you die. That should scare the living daylights out of you.

The good news is, Christ offers to forgive you today. His goodness for your badness. His purity for your sinfulness. His grace for your gross. He will set you free from your sin so you’ll no longer fear standing before Him on the day of judgment.

And, if you belong to Christ, you have nothing to fear in this life or the next. Take a look back at that verse. It says to “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  But if you’re in Christ, you no longer have to be afraid of him. And the first part of the verse says not to be afraid of people who can kill your body but not your soul. Nothing to fear now. Nothing to fear later.

So what’s left to fear? Nothing.