JESUS is Enough: Acts 15.1-35

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; the good news about Jesus had been accepted by those who didn’t even know the God of the Jewish Scriptures, the good news about Jesus had been rejected by most of those who did know the God of the Jewish Scriptures; Paul and Barnabas continued to teach new believers in Antioch that faith in Jesus is enough to know God, some claiming to know Christ continued to add requirements to faith in Christ; Paul and Barnabas wanted to make it simple to come to Jesus, some claiming to know Christ wanted to make it hard to come to Jesus. 

In short, it was an age like every other age God’s people have seen, in which we must ask the simple question: Is Jesus enough?

That’s the picture we find in Acts 15.1-35. There’s a threat! And it comes, not from outside the people of God, but from inside the church. And, as we see God’s people work toward resolution,  we’ll see them identify an issue that is just too big and important for compromise—call it a Truth Issue. We’ll also see them unify around less important matters—call them Unity Issues.

And, as we gather at Woodland this Sunday (and perhaps in small groups early next week) we’ll get to help each other with the truth and unity issues in our own cultural situation, all while we remember the one, big idea from Acts 15: JESUS IS ENOUGH.

Here’s some questions that, once we’ve read the passage, will help us do just that:

What is really being discussed in this passage? Why can’t they just “agree to disagree”? 

How are the “unity issues” of verse 19-20 different from the major “truth issue” (salvation by faith in Christ, not law-keeping)? 

What are some “truth issues” we encounter in our cultural situation? What are some “unity issues”? 

What are some takeaways from the way the apostles and elders handled this dispute? How might they become important for us? 

Have a great week. See you Sunday, at Woodland!

JESUS, in a New Place: Acts 14

Have you ever found yourself in a new situation? Starting a new school, maybe? Or a new job? Or a new city? What’s everybody’s idea of “the good life” here? you might have asked.

This week, in Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas continue their mission to the Galatian cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. And, like Dorothy in Oz said, they just as well might have said, “We’re not in Kansas anymore”.

Paul and Barnabas’s journey—there and back again—gives us insight in just how we’re to respond to cultural situations where we find ourselves among a people who don’t share the same assumptions about reality that we do. How do you serve God in that place? 

To serve in a new cultural situation … persist in the truth of Jesus (:1-7), help people question assumptions about reality (:8-20), and strengthen the gathered people of Jesus (:21-28). 

As we consider Acts 14 together, here’s some questions that can be considered—alone or with friends or family:

What is the truth about Jesus? Who is He, and what has He done? (:1-7)

When we find that we’re in the minority as a follower of Jesus, what obstacles do we encounter? (Consider, again, Acts 14.1-7 for some ideas.).

What assumptions about reality do people in our own culture hold without even thinking? (:8-20)

How might we help our friends in our own culture question these assumptions, and in a way that would have them consider the truth of who Jesus is? 

How does your view of the local church gathered change after reading about how Paul and Barnabas revisited those places where people had trusted Jesus, appointed leaders, and then celebrated with their sending church in Antioch? How central are local churches to God’s plan for this age? 

I’m so looking forward to seeing each of you this Sunday. See you at Woodland!

How about a bigger idea?

It’s been about a year since I posted. Did you miss me? Ah, it’s ok if you didn’t. We’re moving on …

I took time off, not because I didn’t want to connect with you in this way, but because I didn’t want to be another voice in the echo-chamber this last year has become. At last posting we at Woodland had just regathered after ten weeks of sheltering. We’d celebrated, hoping we’d all heal throughout the summer to enjoy a healthy fall and new year, 2021.

That didn’t happen, I think. Our culture continues to pull apart—positions on the vaccine, including government (and now corporate) mandates for vaccinations; the place of virtual education with the beginning of school at hand; masks, if you can believe it, again!

Our church has suffered too. While not many Woodlanders actually left, our losses pain us still. I believe I am fair in making the observation that all those who departed the church did so seeking another group of like-minded people, somewhere else. Those seeking more caution and distancing left to find those more cautious and distanced; those not pleased with the caution and distancing we did practice left to find others more like them. Neither group (polar-opposites, in some ways) wanted to find a bigger idea than those things that divide us in our cultural moment.

All this brings me to the book of Acts where we’ve spent the year in our Sunday morning teaching times, and where we’ve made it all the way to Acts 14. Have you noticed how the early church started out? They were pretty much like one another: Palestinian Jews from the homeland of Israel, many of them from the same families even—James and John, Peter and Andrew; James, the earthly brother of Jesus Himself.

By the time we get to chapter 6 we’ve added Hellenistic Jews—those like Barnabas, Phillip and Stephen who speak Greek and the local Aramaic with Greek accents. Pushing further into the book, we get Samaritans, in chapter 7, and the Ethiopian, who first converted to Judaism and then to Christ, in chapter 8. By the time we come to chapter 10, we’re dealing with rank, uncircumcised Gentiles. When Paul and Barnabas get sent off from Antioch, chapter 13, the leadership includes Manaen, from Herod’s own household (social standing), but also Simeon and Lucius of North Africa, probably black men (race). Later in that chapter the followers of Christ include Sergius Paulus, from the pagan culture of Cyprus.

Hey, question! Do you think this eclectic group, included in the church of Jesus through faith by the Spirit of God, had much of anything in common? I bet not. In fact, when we get to the chapter 15 the head honchos are going to have to have a big-time pow-wow to answer this question: WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA THAT HOLDS US TOGETHER? If not the time-honored practice of circumcision, then what? You know what they came up with? …

JESUS.

That’s Him. That’s all. Add anything to the perfect and complete work of Jesus received by faith in Him and you’ve got something other than the Gospel (See Galatians 2).

My point is this: The local church, Woodland in our case, is a place where we can talk about and even disagree about all kinds of things. We can disagree because Jesus is the “bigger idea,” the person we all have in common. 

So, at Woodland, there’s space for differing convictions about what “neighbor love” looks like for the whole rainbow of convictions we all have about our societal responses to the virus. There’s a place for discussion about the relationship between our societal responsibility to everybody outside the church and our concerns to keep God-ordained government in its proper sphere. My goodness, you can even be a Democrat or Republican (or independent), and at Woodland! But, the minute any of these categories become more important than Jesus the fabric starts to tear away, and we start to “go wild inside,” as C.S. Lewis wrote of those Narnian animals who turned from Aslan. Start adding to Jesus, and the first sign that we have is that we’ve turned on His people. After that, it’s probably sayonara, and I’m sure that’s what’s happened in lots of churches this year.

The year ahead of us can be a fantastic year. So much better than the year behind us! That will happen at Woodland, if God’s people rightly celebrate who we are in Jesus. All that joins us together. All we’ve inherited. All the bought-from-heaven by the deep plans and purposes of God through Christ DNA that binds us together.

And you know what else I think will happen? I think we’ll be patient with each other. We’ll give each other time to think. We won’t expect instant maturity from those who are just beginning to walk with Jesus.

I like that picture. It makes me want to be here at Woodland more than anywhere else in the world, and with the particular people God has put me and our Regier family together with. And, if you’re reading this outside our Woodland family, you can like that picture for your local church too!

I’m so looking forward to connecting with you regularly over this blog. Why don’t you hit “subscribe” at the side bar, so we can travel this year together?

See you soon!

 

The Ideal … and the Real

So, we’ve done it. We’ve kicked off, pulled the trigger, dropped the hammer … We’ve met as a church, in person.

That was Sunday. And it was a fine beginning to our regathering process—90 people at first (socially distanced) with a few more joining us as we went along; and that beautiful constellation of people catching the stream from home.

I’ve never done anything like that—addressed the scattered saints, gathered in person, and then loved and cared for that other group on the other side of that little black camera with the green light.

And here’s another thing I’ve never done … I’ve never led an in-person but also virtual communion service. And that’s what we’re planning for this next Sunday!

And that’s where the story of personal transformation in all this starts for me. I’m an idealist. I love (LOVE!) the idea of the church gathered. I’m not crazy about the multi-site movement. I don’t even want to have more than one service. I love the picture we make at Woodland when we gather (especially at the Lord’s Table) of one body of believers, resting in the finished work of Christ, pressing toward that future, in-person, meeting with Christ in the air (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17). And we do this united, all in one place, together.

But, I’m also a realist. And I see we’ve been blown asunder in these last months. Now we’ve begun to regather, but we aren’t all gathered yet. There’s that beautiful part of our fellowship that’s worshipping at home, every bit a part of the whole as those who come and share space and air.

The idealist in me would wait to go to the Table till we’ve ceased the stream and seen all gathered in. But the realist will win the day, and we’ll go to the Table Sunday.  The reason comes from two verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here’s the first:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11.26).

Did you get that last bit? … until he comes. The Table is given to us to remind us (among other truths) that the terminal point of our struggle in this world is our regathering with the Lord Jesus, in person. Until then, we’re kinda … we’re kinda “streaming”. We’re really, really with the Lord through the ministry of the Spirit, but we can’t touch him, be held by him, or feel His breath. To wait till we’re with the Lord to celebrate communion is to miss the point of the ordinance. The Table is our help for now … until he comes. It’s for His people in the process of being regathered. When we’ve finally arrived we won’t need the ordinance. We’ll have Him, Himself.

Now, I don’t want to blur the theology of the local church with the theology of the church invisible. (And don’t build your end times theology or your theology of the church on my meditation.) But do think with me about what we’re doing Sunday when we take the elements to proclaim the Lord’s death, united, together; some in-person, others streamed. We’re recognizing that we’re in the process of being gathered up. The regathering of our local church is a picture of the wider church universal that Jesus is gathering to Himself. And we’re to go to the Lord’s Table … until He comes.

The other verse is one that has long fascinated me: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face … (1 Corinthians 13.12a, KJV).

Paul is talking at the end of this chapter about love triumphant. While many gifts of the Spirit will cease at the great regathering of Jesus with His people, the reciprocal love of Jesus for His people and His people for Him (and one another) will endure. And, until we’re with Him, we’re living in a “stream” that grows ever stronger, sharper and clearer, until we see Him … face to face. Maybe the COVID-19 crisis with all its streaming and Zooming and virtual, but not quite satisfying, interaction can help us appreciate what it means to be … face to face. At least, I’m still thinking about this.

Whatever you take from my mid-week meditation, I hope you come to see the Lord’s Table we’ll celebrate Sunday as something we do to “remember” Jesus’ work (1 Corinthians 11.24-25); but also as something we do while we’re being “regathered” to Him, something we do till we’re in His presence. Until then, we’re in process, we struggle, we move together, we receive His grace.

That’s a big enough thought for one week, don’t you think? If you’re in our church family and you’re preparing for the Table Sunday, let me hear from you at [email protected]. Let me know what these recent months have taught you about God and His people.

And have a great week, in the Lord!

 

 

Bodies and Souls …

This past Monday our church team leaders met to discuss how to regather our people after two months of disembodied streaming and Zooming. The meeting in sum revealed that spectrum of postures and positions that every church is finding right now—some want to reopen, others prefer to wait for more certainty. Old news by now. (We’re going to meet this coming Sunday, so you know. We’re also going to unite through this and be fine.)

But what interested me most in the meeting proved to be one quick exchange—a crease in that rambling discussion, a kairos moment in my thinking that entered like the whir of a hummingbird, hovered for a moment, then vanished on invisible wings, taking my thoughts with it.

“Why do the elders want to regather now?” one of our team leaders wanted to know. An obvious but excellent question.

My instinctive answer, an instant later: “Because we NEED to” … I’ll stand by that answer. But just like I finish every preached message in the car on the way home, I’d like to complete it.

Our Present Worldview Crisis

Just as Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings described himself as “butter spread over too much bread,” we all feel instinctively that something is wrong in the world, and we’re all somehow wrong in it. There’s a moral and spiritual haze in our dispositions—a certain cast covering our every action. At different times and places none of us has been certain whether or not we’re within or outside the law of the land. Even when legality is defined, the spirit of the law defies simple explanation. What does social distancing say about how we value people? Do we love others by running toward them or hiding from them? Does meeting as a church family mean we’re careless, or that we care about our community? What is the relative value of safety verses, say, courage? And, above all, what does love look like?

We’re not helped by looking to public figures. Dr. Fauci, head of the Center for Disease Control and a household name by now, strikes me as a nice man I’d like to have for my own doctor. He describes himself as  “… a scientist [who] gives advice according to the best scientific evidence  .”  Our Wisconsin governor, before being overruled by the court, said, regarding models and case tracking,  “… we follow science” . Christian leaders in the blogosphere have largely and deferentially followed civil authorities, citing Scripture like 1 Timothy 2.1-2 and 1 Peter 2.13-14.

Fine and well. God has made a world that can be studied, and Christians should love science. God has put government in place to protect, and Christians should honor civil authorities. But what does defining the crisis and our proper response to it in purely material terms say about the human person? If I am no more than a physical, material being quantified by empirical evidence, then I am no more than a potential virus-carrier. I owe you the debt of keeping my potentially diseased self away from you, so you can enjoy what scant years you have left  in your own virus-free body—until we get a vaccine, or maybe forever.

Do you see what I mean by a worldview crisis? The virus is serious and bad, but it’s our truncated response that strikes most profoundly at the heart of what we believe ourselves to be as human persons.

So, what’s the right answer? What are we, exactly?

We are bodies and souls!

This answer is nothing new. It’s as old as Adam, really. But notice what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we are bodies OR souls, or that we’re bodies WITH souls, or that we’re souls that happen to have a body in tow. I’m not saying that either the body or the soul is more important than the other. Or that we have a body now and will get a soul later.

None of that. I’m saying that we each have a body and and a soul NOW. And that this self-understanding is crucial to our understanding of who we are as human persons. It’s in keeping the two together that we live. It’s in seeing the two separated that we die. It’s in this understanding of who we are as humans that we grasp what a big deal resurrection is—Jesus’ first, then ours eventually. And it’s in seizing the significance of our being bodies and souls that we understand why we need to meet as a church family.

We’re in a global crisis. We get the trickle-down effect locally. In our Northwoods community, crime is on the rise. A grown man I met with last week broke down mid-conversation and simply wept. Even as I write this a total stranger drove in from Highway 13 just to find “someone to talk to.” People are starting to do crazy things. All this provides “scientific,” if you want it, evidence that we are doing enormous damage to peoples’ souls, because we are treating them as bodies only … But, what do we do about it?

For starters, we meet together as a church family. Meeting itself is our manifesto to God’s design in creating us as His image-bearers. In doing so we celebrate God’s wisdom in creation, … then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. It’s not just an imago Christi (“image of Christ”) thing (as though that weren’t everything). It’s an imago Dei (“image of God”) thing. No human being is excluded from the need for ministry to her soul. The great thinkers (I call them “great souls”) of our civilization knew this—the Tolkiens, the Lewises, the Chestertons. It’s the narrow thinkers—the Freuds, the Marxes, and the Nietzches—who followed their dialectical reasoning to destruction in the last century.

Now, when we regather Sunday we don’t meet flippantly or defiantly. When we come together we’ll recognize our bodies with common-sensical practices. This is no time for the holy kiss (1 Thess 5.26). We’ll be careful and respectful. But, we’ll also recognize that “soul ministry” is every bit as “essential” as searching for a vaccine.

And that’s because people are bodies and souls …

Let me know what you think about the idea. I hang out at [email protected]. I’d like to chat more about what this response means for the robust care of human persons in their entirely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Productive Faith: James 1.1-4

This week begins a new season in the life of our church in the great Northwoods of Wisconsin. We’re one week away from the beginning of the process that will lead to regathering.

For reasons that everybody can imagine by now, that’s a big deal. And it’s because of the immensity of the project that I’m super happy we’re beginning a summer study in the Book of James.

James is about faith producing spiritual fruit. In the keynote verses that we’ll look at tomorrow (1.1-4), we’ll see that TESTING of our faith can result in either fruit or failure. A consistent pattern of ENDURANCE results in MATURITY that leads to JOY in trials. The whole book is about individual case studies of what that spiritual fruit leading to maturity and joy looks like.

James is just the place for us to be for our present test at Woodland Community Church!

Right along with our study, we’ll be doing what I call the James Projekt. Below is a sample of what that project will look like. We’ll see a great many of you on the stream tomorrow.

Have a blessed week in the Lord!

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Conspiracy Theories … “My Rights!” … and Civil Disobedience

This promises to be a big week for us in Wisconsin. Sheltered-in-place now for over seven weeks, and with no clear plans to reopen, people are restless. My family and I are restless!

Sometime this week (perhaps even before I hit “publish”) our Wisconsin Supreme Court will weigh in. But, depending on their decision, the situation might grow more tense. All of this is why—staring each Sunday morning into that little black camera with the green light—I’ve started to give little teaser messages about biblical principles to help us in our situation.

Now, these aren’t scholarly diatribes crafted from having read lots of books. (My routine hasn’t gotten easier with the crisis, so I’m plenty busy just keeping up.). They are, rather, quick statements of biblical truth. Let me know at [email protected], if you agree, disagree, or want to talk more. Here’s three quick thoughts. I referenced the first yesterday.

Conspiracy Theories

I don’t spend much time on Facebook, but I get on enough to see what people really think. And last week was the week for conspiracy theories! I didn’t see it among my own Facebook friends, but my favorite theory is that the Corona-crisis is caused by the millimeter wave spectrum related to 5G technology. (If true, just about everybody is a virus carrier, I guess.).

All of this is distracting, but not new. My wife pointed out to me last week that there were many conspiracies circulated around Jesus’ resurrection. That’s what the men on Emmaus Road were discussing, after all. And yet, none of these theories proved true. And all paled in comparison to the truth—that Jesus is alive!

So let’s be careful with the theories. Let’s keep our minds on the truth of the gospel, and eagerly anticipate what God is doing in us personally, in our families, in our church family, and in His church around the world. At the cross and tomb, Jesus cracked the great conspiracy of Satan against God. Let’s not forget it.

“My Rights!”

The present climate has us forgoing basic rights for an (un)specified period of time in the face of a global threat. What about these rights?

Not meaning to get outside my wheelhouse here, but my understanding is that our “rights” originate from our obligations to God. If God requires something of me, I have a right to respond to God. This basic premise forms the foundation of our law code. Take God out of this equation, and you have nothing left but the will to power. And the 20th century demonstrated in manifold cases what that looks like.

So, I have a right to worship … to work … to care for my family … to speak the truth of the gospel, among other responses to God. These rights are being violated, right? Well, not so fast …

Within His created order God has also created government. Civil government, which Scripture begins to reveal in Genesis 9.5-6, has the basic responsibility of preserving life. The New Testament goes on to describe this basic responsibility of civil governors in Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 1.1-4. These governors might or might not know God in a saving way, but they’ll be held accountable to God for carrying out their basic responsibility.

I’ll not share where I stand personally and politically in our present Wisconsin crisis. It doesn’t matter, for our present purpose. I do believe that our shelter-in-place order has the basic intention of preserving life. This is why I and the elders at Woodland are working so hard to honor our government and stay within the “letter of the law”. This is why we’re not leading our church back before the order is lawfully lifted. In Zooming with other pastors across Wisconsin, I’m not aware of a single pastor who is pressing to regather before lawfully permitted.

Both the church and the state are ordained by God. In our present situation, we’re living in the space occupied by both. That’s what’s so hard about our predicament. So, how long do we comply? What would change our practice at Woodland?

Civil Disobedience

Last week the blogosphere was abuzz with talk of civil disobedience. I read some and listened to a podcast put out by the guys at 9Marks. I appreciated a statement by theologian Bobby Jamieson, “Civil disobedience is warranted when civil government forbids what God commands or commands what God forbids.” He went on to discuss examples of both cases from the book of Daniel. And I’d add the example of Peter and John from Acts 4:20, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

We in our Wisconsin churches need to defer to government as long as possible. We aren’t being told not to worship. We are being told we can’t drink coffee and mingle in our church welcome area. The former is a right; the latter is a preference. Worship and fellowship can be carried out with some creativity, and that’s what we’re working on as we look at some kind of regathering in the month of June.

Finally, let’s not stray from asking ourselves what love looks like in each stage of our crisis. To date, love has looked liked social-distancing. There might come a time when love looks more like courage—running toward hurting people rather than caring for them from a distance.

But, that’s a topic for another day. Do let me know what you think. And have a blessed day …!

 

 

 

God’s Plan in Jesus’ Resurrection: Luke 24.36-49

I love the last chapter of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24. It’s like a great movie, a masterful symphony, a finely crafted novel. It depicts its original participants traveling through all the stages of despondency, disbelief, wonder and euphoria.

The chapter is really about God’s plan. How does God accomplish His plan? … How does God restore people to His purpose? … How does God put people back in the place He’s designed them for?

We join Jesus in the latter half of the chapter, 24.36-49. The two men from the Emmaus Road have rejoined the disciples, and Jesus appears. The passage deals with the reality of the resurrection and the results of Jesus having been raised.

Reality of Jesus’ Resurrection (:36-43). Peace to you! Jesus begins. And He means it, but the disciples are dismayed. To their fallen minds Jesus has blurred the distinction between the living and the dead. But Jesus isn’t either fallen pre-resurrection flesh or a disembodied spirit. He’s resurrected, and He offers them proofs.

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. I’m body and soul, undivided, Jesus is showing them. Resurrection is a new category for the disciples. Jesus’ body isn’t a different body. There’s continuity between this life and the next. And Jesus shows this by the scars in His hands and feet.

And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” And then He ate. Jesus is really asking them to measure Him against the material substance of the fish they hand Him. Believe that fish is real? He’s saying. Well, watch me eat it. Either the fish isn’t real, or you’re all seeing things together, or I’m resurrected and real.

Something has happened, and it changes everything. That’s what the resurrection is all about.

Results of Jesus’ Resurrection (:44-49). These amazing verses are about God’s plan and what the resurrection has to do with that plan … everything, in fact!

      1. Scripture is fulfilled (:44). The word used here means “something anticipated in God’s plan that has come to pass”. This includes everything pointing to Jesus in the “Law” (first five books of the Bible), “prophets” (including all the books we’d consider “histories”, like 1 and 2 Kings), and Psalms (the “writings” or wisdom books). The Old Testament. It all points to Jesus.
      2. The minds of Jesus’ followers are opened (:45). Jesus did this while in the Scriptures with His followers.
      3. God’s plan is made clear (:47-48). Jesus was to suffer … to be raised … and to be preached. This would be a message of repentance and forgiveness (Acts 2.38). And Jesus would be preached to the nations (Is 49.6; Acts 13.47).
      4. Finally, God’s Spirit will be sent to help (:48-49). The disciples’ job won’t be to serve as organizers, but as witnesses. Tell people what you’ve seen me do, Jesus is saying. Notice, we’ve just gotten a preview to the Book of Acts.

So, how does God accomplish His plan?

The way God accomplishes His plan is through the resurrection of Jesus. 

We today are much like those in this passage. For starters, we’re in quarantine. (Maybe not important, but it’s a curious point.) We’re despondent because our plans haven’t worked out. And, we need to recognize that something has happened … the resurrection of Jesus!

And that great work of God changes everything. Now we have a place in God’s plan. We’re witnesses to what Jesus has done. And, if you’ve trusted Jesus by faith, you have the Spirit of God who helps us.

First Corinthians 15.20-28 is Paul’s recasting of Luke 24. He begins in verses 20-22: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead …

So, if you’ve trusted in Jesus, keep trusting in Jesus. A million years from now we won’t be talking about the Coronavirus, but we will be talking about Jesus’ work of redemption punctuated by His resurrection.

And, if you’ve not trusted Jesus, do it. Receive that message of repentance and forgiveness. Enter God’s plan that is all held together by the fact that Jesus is alive!

Really finally, if you have interest in what we’re talking about here, why don’t you join us tomorrow at 9:00 on the Woodland livestream? We’ll look at this passage more in depth, and with a thought to where we are in our present situation as a nation and a people.

Have a great week in the Lord! …

Resurrection Life: Luke 24.13-35

While the turning seasons and longer days do much to lighten the mood, we have a long way to go before we emerge from our Coronavirus crisis. And, as I talk with different ones of you, I feel your strain from social isolation, your struggle for purpose in life, and your stress from financial burdens.

All this makes for a great time to return to our study of Luke where—after our Easter Sunday study in 24.1-12—Jesus is alive! Even so, in our gospel account, nobody has seen Jesus. Luke is crafting a cliffhanger, and by verse 12 of chapter 24, we’re left to wonder what difference resurrection makes, how Jesus will reveal Himself, and even how Jesus’ new life will affect our present purpose and place with God some millennia later.

Luke 24.13-35 finds two men walking to an unimportant village named Emmaus. On the surface the passage is about a walk, a conversation, a meal, and a community. But it’s about far more than that. We’re about to rediscover our present purpose and place with God. We’re about to trace the different stages in which we become acquainted with resurrection life.

Jesus unrecognized (:13-16). The passage opens with two men walking the three and a-half miles to Emmaus (the distance taken as a round number). They’re in intense discussion about Jesus. Suddenly, Jesus joins them. Only they don’t recognize Him. There’s something about resurrection life that we in our fallen state can’t grasp without help. (So Mary in John 20, the disciples in John 21). Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Cor 15.50).

Even so, none of us starts out recognizing Jesus. We have our notions of Jesus, don’t we? He’s an historical or religious figure, an idea, or a real person whom others have used to manipulate or shame us. But He’s anything but the risen Savior … when we start out.

Jesus revealed in Scripture (:17-27). Next follows the conversation. Jesus, unrecognized in His resurrection state, draws the men out. He wants to know what they’re discussing. At first they “stood still, looking sad”. They’re crestfallen, disappointed in their purpose, disillusioned about God’s plan and their proper place with Him.

Then one of the men, Cleopas by name, wants to know how his new companion couldn’t know about Jesus. Jesus draws the men out further. And Cleopas unloads with his account of recent events. In this description we see  Jesus described as a great leader on par (it was hoped) with Moses. Jesus was thought to be a prophet “mighty in word and deed”. It was hoped He would redeem Israel. But Jesus was killed, and now confounds everyone in the disappearance of His body, as reported by otherwise trustworthy women known to the two men.

And it’s in Jesus’ response to the men in verses 15-17 that we learn what the men (and us, if we’re honest) are missing. There’s suffering before glory. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (:26). And then Jesus starts from the beginning of what we’d call the Old Testament, and he interprets the entire Bible, showing the men how all of it pointed to Him, and can’t be made sense of without His work on the cross.

Like the two men, many of us grow in our understanding of Jesus but then somehow miss the cross. This won’t work. We’ll be disappointed in Jesus. We’ll blame Him for not being the Savior we’d expected. So it was with the men. And—crazy thing, even after hearing this first preaching of the gospel from Jesus Himself—they still haven’t recognized Jesus!

Jesus recognized in relationship (:28-32). Now the men invite Jesus home to lodge. They share a meal. And it’s in the act of being served by Jesus that they’re no longer “kept from” recognizing Jesus. They suddenly know Him in His resurrection body, just before Jesus vanishes. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him (:31a). The same language of “opening” is used twice more in the passage (verses 32 and 45) to describe Jesus revealing Himself to others in the Scriptures.

What do we gather from this about seeing Jesus? About resurrection life? The lesson is complex and profound. We know we can’t recognize Jesus without help. And, apparently, the bare facts of the gospel as recorded in Scripture don’t change us. There’s a work of God that needs to take place for our eyes to be “opened”. For the men, this work took place face-to-face with Jesus. But Jesus had talked about the Spirit’s future work (Jn 14.26, among other places). And Paul would later describe how God’s Spirit would interpret the Scriptures for us: Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us by God … (1 Cor 2.12a).

To really “recognize” Jesus we need the calling of God through His Spirit. This will take place entirely by God’s grace as we hear the gospel through God’s Word. And, when we respond by faith, we understand spiritual things—who Jesus is, the importance of the cross, our purpose in life, our place with God, and God’s purpose in the suffering of Jesus, as well as God’s purpose in our suffering.

Jesus revered by others (:33-35). It might seem at this point that the passage is over. But the men return to Jerusalem, and they join others who are celebrating the risen Lord. And, before they can tell their own story, they learn that Peter has seen Jesus too! God has provided a community for the men. They’ll share their experience of the risen Lord. They’ll proclaim the gospel together. They’ll study Scripture together. And they’ll be transformed by the Spirit and share resurrection life together. Even more, they now have a renewed purpose as they understand God’s plan for them. And they’ll share suffering with one another before entering into glory, even as Jesus did.

In the same way, we receive a new community when we trust Jesus. We’ll share resurrection life with others. This new life starts spiritually when we trust in Jesus and will be completed when we’re with Him at His return. As we go we’ll remember that Jesus is finished with His suffering, but we aren’t quite finished with ours. We’ll have opportunity to contend for the faith along with our new community, even as Paul did: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col 1.24).

So, here we are in our final month of the “sheltered in place” directive. I would venture that we struggle because we don’t really understand the place of suffering in resurrection life. Like the men on the road, we need to “recognize” Jesus and understand the place of suffering in relation to glory. With this comes a new appreciation for God’s purpose in our own suffering. Rather than view our present crisis as something to be gotten through, we need to see the Coronavirus as something God is using to prepare His church for Jesus. Cross first, then glory. Spiritual life with Jesus now, glory at Jesus’ return.

When we meet Jesus in the Scriptures and receive the promised help of the Spirit we have our eyes opened in this way. We recognize Jesus in all His past suffering and present glory. And, in our present situation, we see—along with Jesus’ companions in Luke 24— that resurrection life restores our purpose and place in Jesus. 

How’s that for some encouragement as you shelter in place a little while longer?

Now, have a great week in the Lord, and we’ll “be seen by you” tomorrow.

Dark and Desperate Days: Psalm 13

I feel it, don’t you? These are dark and desperate days. Five weeks of social distancing (by my reckoning), the curious hailstorm that passed through Westboro last week, the sixteen-inch snow earlier this week, the constant news cycle of fear and death nationally, and now, yesterday, our Wisconsin governor’s decision to lock us down till almost June. Gives off images of the apocalypse, doesn’t it?

In such dark and desperate times you and I just might be tempted to complain. How do you think God feels about that? 

Before you log out thinking I’m being too obvious, I’d like you to consider my provocative statement for the week: God wants you to complain! Belly-ache, no. But, biblically, Christianly, as one in relationship with Him, God wants you to tell Him exactly what’s going on and how you feel about it.

The word we need here is “lament,” and God wants you to do it!

In Psalm 13 David endures a painful situation. While we don’t know the circumstances, David begins in honest confusion, but ends in trust. My hope is that we at Woodland, and anybody else who travels with us through this time, might learn to do the same. And that by learning to lament we might grow up in our faith in Christ, and that in dark and desperate days.

In dark and desperate days believers must TURN TO GOD (:1-2). David begins his lament by addressing God. How long, O LORD? That’s Step #1 in any lament—ADDRESSING GOD.

It’s critical because there’s so many places we can turn when we hurt—to drugs or alcohol, to Netflix or Prime, to gossip or anything that makes us feel better. Addressing God in heart-wrenching agony isn’t wrong. In fact, in nearly 50 psalms that qualify as laments, God invites this of His people.

Step #2 in any lament is a COMPAINING ABOUT CIRCUMSTANCES. Looking through the psalms, these complaints will be specific and they will involve real situations about how the psalmists perceived God to be handling their trials.

So, in Psalm 13, we get: How long will you hide your face from me? … How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? … How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 

David hurts here because God is not acting in his pain. In fact, David poetically pictures God as one who hides his face and leaves him to figure things out on His own.

Most of us have a problem in that we’ve grown up thinking God wants us to suffer silently. Somehow we think God wants us to say “I’m o.k.” when we’re not o.k., to say “I’m good,” when we’re not good; to endure pain stoically with the stiff upper lip. Yet, when we do this we cut ourselves off from God, and God becomes practically irrelevant in our pain.

Mark Vroegop in his excellent book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy writes:”Giving God the silent treatment is the ultimate manifestation of unbelief … This silence is a soul killer.”

David and the other psalmists agree. Far better to complain to God out of belief.

In dark and desperate days believers must ASK GOD TO ACT according to His character (:3-4). 

This brings us to Step #3 in lament: APPEALING TO GOD ACCORDING TO HIS CHARACTER. David now asks God to act according to who God is. Consider and and answer me, O LORD God. Literally, “gaze intently on me”. Don’t hide your face. Talk to me. Then He asks of God (and this might be my favorite line!) light up my eyes. Literally that’s “brighten my eyes”.

Do this Lord, lest I sleep the sleep of death … lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him” … lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. David is saying that if you don’t act, my LORD God, Your character won’t be obvious. David is jealous for God’s reputation.

Now, as New Covenant believers living after the cross of Jesus, we’re not promised we won’t die of Coronavirus, or that we’ll be safe, or have jobs, or get to gather again soon as a church family, or get to live as free people. But we’re promised we’ll have everything we need in Christ. We’re promised nothing will prevail over the church of Jesus. We’re promised the heavens and earth will be restored at Jesus’ second coming.

These promises of God guide us in our prayers as we appeal to God according to His character.

In dark and desperate days believers must CHOOSE TO TRUST GOD (:5-6). We come now to the final step in lament. Lament step #4—CHOOSING TO TRUST GOD.

In most psalms this final step comes with a strong transition. In Psalm 13, we read: But I have trusted in your steadfast love. David worked his way through to the object of his trust. This is God’s covenantal, loyal love. God’s character guarantees the surety of David’s choice. And an emotional transition takes place: … my heart shall rejoice … I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. 

Do you see what’s happened. David has started out in anger, frustration and confusion. He has been honest through ADDRESSING GOD and COMPLAINING ABOUT CIRCUMSTANCES. Then, He’s APPEALED TO GOD, according to God’s character. And, finally, he’s made the CHOICE TO TRUST GOD.

We need to lament in our church family during these dark and desperate days. If we do, we’ll recognize where we’re starting from, so that we can start to grow. We’ll then move along a pathway that will take us to God’s character learning finally to trust.

This is “good” complaining, lament that is honest and dependent on God and His character.

So, this week, as we grow weary of more bad news, let’s turn to God through lament. Here’s a few projects you might try. You’ll need the following lament psalms listed in Appendix 2 of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: 3,4,5,7,10,13,17,22,25,26,28,31,39,42,43,54,55,56,57,59,61,64,71,77,86,120,141,142 (personal laments); 12,44,58,60,74,79,80,83,85,90,94,123,126 (corporate laments).

  1. Look up one of the psalms of lament and find the four steps in lament. The acronym ACAC will help you remember what they are.
  2. Go through the psalms listed and find the TRANSITIONS. This won’t always be perfectly obvious.
  3. Read through some of the lament psalms and then write your own lament using the ACAC steps.

But, above all, let the LORD hear you this week. Don’t be silent. Live in that pathway that travels from fear and frustration to intentional praise.

And have a great week in the LORD!