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On the Road to Emmaus

Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him… Luke 24:31

This verse marks Jesus’ climactic revelation in the story of the Walk to Emmaus. This story strikes a chord with me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s odd; the resurrected Jesus walks along with his former disciples and they don’t even recognize him. Second, it speaks to our moment, this period between Easter and Pentecost, as well as the current situation we’re facing.

As it opens, the disciples are expressing their regrets. Their hopes are dashed. Their lives had been turned upside down overnight. As they walked along, they were struggling to pick up the pieces, trying to make sense of their experience and move on. The amazing thing is that they were expressing their disappointment to the one who had already accomplished what their wildest imagination couldn’t begin to comprehend.

They were dealing with death:

  • The death of their political messiah. Jesus had been on their side, and, just the week before, he had been riding into Jerusalem. All that was left, they thought, was to determine who would sit on his right and left.
  • The death of their professional status. As Jesus’ disciples, they had access to resources: funds, houses, front row seats to all of the exclusive events. The shameful death of their leader had turned the tables on them. They were now the accomplices of a condemned criminal. There was only one sensible thing to do: get out of town.
  • The death of their personal savior. When Jesus was with them, he was calming the storms, healing their sick relatives, and providing their food. Now, it seems, they would have to fend for themselves.

The cross had killed their messiah. The amazing thing was, he was standing right in front of them, and they didn’t even recognize him! We ask ourselves how could they have been so blind? Yet perhaps this moment shows us to be more like them than we’ve realized. 

As I reflect on Jesus’ activity during this Coronavirus pandemic, I can’t help but think of a scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In that particular scene, Indy saves his father who had been held prisoner inside a tank. Just as he succeeds in getting his dad off the tank and fighting off his attackers, the tank goes over the cliff. As it crashes on the rocks below, we wait with bated breath, thinking that he’s gone over with it. At that point, Indy’s father and their friends gather at the edge of the cliff, straining to see a glimpse of his dead body among the wreckage. We think he’s been killed. But, just as his father stands to eulogize him, the camera pans out and Indy appears, standing there looking at the same wreckage.

We’ve been asking, “where is God in all of this?” wondering if we’ll see him tangled amidst the disaster that is the Coronavirus. We stand, looking out over the wreckage, only to conclude that the Coronavirus has killed our messiah.

  • It’s killed our personal savior, the one who we thought was at our beck and call.
  • It’s taken away our ticket to professional status, the one who made us look good when he “showed up” at our events and worked on our behalf.
  • It’s overthrown our political messiah, the one that supported our American exceptionalism and partisanship.

Or at least it’s killed what we thought was our messiah. In reality, he’s here standing before us.

There’s a song that our MKs know fairly well: ‘Little white box”

“If I had a little white box
to put my Jesus in,
I’d take him out and kiss his face
and put him back again.”

While I understand the intention of the song, I’m not a fan. Whenever I hear it I ask myself, “what kind of Jesus is this one that we can put in a box?”

  • He’s one that’s decidedly small, one that’s our very own, personal, even miniaturized to meet our needs.
  • He’s one that acts the way we expect.
  • He’s one that we can take out and put away when we decide.

Perhaps that Jesus is similar to the messiah that the disciples had created: one after their own image, one they expected to save Israel. It should be no wonder, then, that they failed to recognize the risen Lord. It should be no wonder, then, that we too may find ourselves looking for our Lord when he is standing right here with us.

And so, there on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explains the necessity of the cross to his disciples:

  • It was necessary to remove our sin and our shame from us.
  • It was necessary to restore our relationship as a corrupted people with a holy God
  • But it was also necessary to destroy the misconceptions both past and present of a God limited by race, nationality, political persuasion, professional aspiration, or personal expectation.
  • As they said of Aslan, “He’s not a tame lion.”

Yet that same Jesus arose. He stands now before us. And as he reveals himself to us anew, we are left asking, who is this one that now greets us on the way? How do we recognize him?

  • He’s still our personal savior, but instead of working for us, we find he’s working through us.
  • He’s still granting us professional status, but instead of leaning on him to prop up our self-esteem, we find he’s redefining our purpose.
  • He’s still our political messiah, but instead of believing that he’s on our side, we set aside our prejudices to work with him in his program to redeem the world.

Instead of trying to bend his ear to agree to our plans, we bow our knee to submit to his command.

In this Eastertide 2020, we walk with the disciples, identifying with their sense of loss, but my prayer is that we too might discover their wonder as we see Jesus truly risen, having conquered death and the grave and perhaps even our preconceived notions of who he was to us before this Coronavirus pandemic. I believe that, if we seek him, we’ll find him, like they did, to be far more powerful and far more capable than we’d ever imagined him to be.

These words are simply a devotional. There isn’t a lot of opportunity in this type of media to develop some of the ideas that I’ve brought up, but I welcome your questions or comments in the upcoming days and weeks. Maybe we can pursue some of these arguments to their logical conclusion or perhaps discover some new ones.

Still, I know, I’ve besmirched what some might consider a beloved song of their youth, and far be it from me to leave you without a proper replacement.

Here’s one I’ve heard, some 25 years ago. If I remember the title correctly it’s called “God in a Box.”:

“You can have a big box,
you can have a small box,
but if your god is in a box,
your god is very small.
You can have a plain box,
you can have a fancy box,
but if your god is in a box,
he isn’t God at all
he isn’t God at all.

Photo Credit: Neil Alexander McKee on Flickr.com

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#RallyHope: Our Mexico Missionaries pray for those sick with COVID-19

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

These words from Philippians 4:12-13, some of the first verses that we memorized in Spanish, have gained much more meaning in these last weeks:

  • A month ago, we had plenty of funds, having needed just $150 of monthly support to finish our itineration.
  • A month ago we had plenty of plans, having weekends full of services and upcoming trips to participate in strategic ministry and important meetings.
  • A month ago we had plenty of confidence, thinking that we were prepared to face any eventuality. But then came the disease called COVID-19.

Now, because of a virus so small that it is invisible to the naked eye, everything has changed.

  • Our itineration has been suspended.
  • Our travel plans have been canceled.
  • And any confidence in ourselves that we had to handle the crisis has disappeared in the face of a situation that continues to change minute by minute.
All travel, like our recent trip to Mexico for the Evangelism Conference, has been canceled.

Let’s face it, we do not have the strength to carry on in the face of the challenge of this disease.

  • We are active in prayer, but we do not have the power to see our companions, Greg Mundis and Thomas Carpenter, who fight against the coronavirus in their bodies, healed.
  • Being Mexico Area Directors, coordinating the ministry and movements of 24 families, we meet almost daily with our companions to help them, but we do not have in us the wisdom to guide them in the decisions they have to make in the midst of this crisis.

But we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength.

In the same way that we had thanked him for what we enjoyed in moments of abundance, we trust him now for what we need, the resources, the power, and the wisdom to overcome this situation.

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week, “Unbelievable?,” a Christian/Skeptic discussion show. Recently, they’ve switched format to focus on the new reality that we are all facing. In this particular podcast, the show host, Justin Briley, interviewed John Lennox, a renowned mathematician and Christian apologist. When talking about the grief related to the current pandemic, Lennox referenced the passage in John 11 of the death and resurrection of Lazarus (at the 5:30 mark in the podcast). In that passage, he states that Martha expressed her disappointment to Jesus upon his arrival. “Lord, if only you had been here,” she said, “my brother would not have died.” Jesus then made a statement that was difficult for her to accept. He said, “Your brother will rise again.” She had enough theology, said Lennox, to know of a coming resurrection, but she was unprepared for Jesus’s response: “I am the resurrection and the life.” He goes on to say that he suspected that Martha then expected something big was going to happen. We, of course, know the rest of the story.

We have lost much in this pandemic: money, plans, a clear path forward, emotional stability, even friends and loved ones, and for that loss, we grieve, but Christ remains our hope. Even as we look to an Easter Sunday under stay-at-home orders, he remains our resurrection and our life.

Our prayer is that you and your loved ones have access to that hope and that strength that only Christ can give us.

We conclude with this well-known prayer: ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)’

Para los que hablan español, he subido un video con la mayoria de este contenido. Se lo puede ver en YouTube.

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As we face the crisis related to the coronavirus and the effects of the COVID-19 disease, we wanted to update you on our situation and offer you our support. Please, take a few moments to watch this video that we’ve prepared from our home in Springfield, MO where we are serving our 8th day of self-quarantine. You can do so by simply hitting the photo above. We hope that it’s an encouragement to you.

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With Thanksgiving approaching, I’m sure you remember what it was like to sit at the “little table.” It was the one in the corner, or, worse yet, in a completely different room of the house. There, you’d groan, doomed to spend another meal dealing with the shenanigans of your little cousins, all the while wondering what kinds of mature conversations were happening at the “Big Table.”

But then, all of a sudden, you’d graduated. Maybe you went away to college and returned, or you’d gotten married and, without warning or preparation, you’d been given a seat at the big table. Are those your palms sweating, or is it just the condensation from the bowl of mashed potatoes? Is that a lump in your throat, or have you just forgotten to chew your food? Maybe, you think, you’d be more comfortable back at the little table. It’s funny, though, in the same way we’d always wanted to be at the Big Table, when the time came, we found that those who were there to receive us were truly glad to have us.

That holiday analogy was a bit of what our experience was like as we took part in first our Area Directors’ meeting in Colorado Springs, CO. In a room where over 400 years of combined missions service was present, we certainly felt the junior members. All the same, we were received during those sessions as part of the team, encouraged to take part and affirmed as we did. What a joy it was to hear and be able to weigh in on the strategic conversations taking place to ensure the increasing number as well as the security and effectiveness of our missionary colleagues throughout Latin America.

So, if you’re finding yourself on the threshold of increasing responsibility and wondering if you’re ready to take your service to the next level, be encouraged. Chances are, others have been looking forward to your contribution. Needing a bit more convincing? Check out this article.

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Have your kids ever gotten a clothing gift from a relative that was a bit too big?  Was your advice that they would “grow into it?” My own kids cringe at that snippet of wisdom, desiring it to fit now!  I believe that concept with clothing can apply just as aptly to our roles in life and ministry.

Arriving on the field, I felt my primary role was to provide stability and safety for my children as I, personally, engaged in ministry that fit well with their young ages.  Dave might be traveling and teaching, but I was content to support him and the kids with my role at home and with local church kids’ ministry.

The following term, the need arose for a new Mexico field treasurer due to the restructuring of our field fellowship.  Having been a former high school math teacher, I had the ability and the desire to step into this new “behind the scenes,” yet key, leadership role.  It took a bit of courage, but with our kids getting older,  I found it to be a perfect fit for that particular season.

Now that we have a daughter in college and two sons in high school, I find myself “testing the fit.” Continuing in the treasurer position, I now also feel the freedom to do more alongside Dave – taking trips, assisting in conferences and classes, and participating with teams, both translating and getting my “hands dirty” with some of the physical work that they do. My latest opportunity came through one of those team experiences – hosting our district superintendent Don Miller and his wife, Vicki, here in Mexico.  The connection I made with Vicki opened the door for me to participate in, and now lead, one of the SOMO District’s online small groups, which bring women ministers together for prayer, mutual encouragement and spiritual growth.  That role has since expanded to include helping to administrate the website, mailings, and social media that facilitate that ministry. 

I’ll never stop being a mom, but I see how permitting myself to flex as my kids grow has opened doors of increased involvement in other areas of ministry.  So, as I reflect on my time in Mexico, it’s clear to see I’ve “grown into it,” and I expect that I’ll continue to do so for years to come.

Thanks for taking a moment to read a bit of my story. While you’re here, could I ask you the favor of taking a moment to pray for us? You can find our list of requests here

We’ve paused our consideration of the Disciplines for a time, in part because of an increased experience of the Discipline of Service to my boys while Kelly was away in Oaxaca (You can read about that experience in our most recent newsletterPDF.), and in part because of the frenetic pace that accompanies the final weeks before Christmas vacation. Still, though our forward progress has been slowed, the practice of the disciplines considered, especially those of prayer, study, solitude, service, and submission have been constant companions, a means to orient my life toward the grace that, I have become increasingly aware, God longs to lavish on each one of his children.

However, as I traveled to ACLAME meetings in Springfield, MO. My need to switch to airplane mode to disconnect with the Internet and all of the urgency and distraction that it generates, became another opportunity for me to connect with the Disciplines and, with them, the God who has so generously provided them as a means to align us with his divine nature. Today we move forward into the Discipline of Worship.

While, as with the other Disciplines, I’ll look to define the Discipline of Worship and seek to record my personal experience with it, I felt the need to stop at a declaration of the author, Richard Foster: “God is actively seeking worshipers.” Jesus declares, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him” (John 4:23, [italics added]).” When I’ve read this scripture in the past I’ve always pictured God as waiting for those who would worship him in “spirit and in truth,” as though it was something to be found within us, something which we would generate from ourselves as we applied the right songs, the right postures, or the right words to convey that spiritual worship. But Foster goes on to talk about the God who seeks, looks for, and evokes reaction from those with whom he interacts.

He provides a list of examples: God looking for Adam in the garden, Jesus, drawing all humanity to himself on the cross, the Father running to the prodigal. Each one shows us a God who initiates the worship that he seeks from his children, who shows himself to them, who gives them every reason to exult in praise and adoration. And so we turn to the Discipline of Worship with a new understanding: even as the Scriptures call for a sacrifice of praise, we recognize that it is God who grants us the reasons and the resources that we need to present to him that sacrifice that he requests.

Like the father who receives with gratitude the gift that his child has purchased for him although the money for that gift came from the father’s own pocket, such is the expectation and subsequent joy of our Heavenly Father when we respond in worship although, in fact, it is a worship that he himself has made possible. May we then enter into to this Discipline knowing that we have divine aid ensuring our success. What a Good, Good Father he is indeed!

Before we go on in our study, let’s talk about this idea

What’s your take on John 4:23?
As we close out this year of 2018, can you remember instances when God has sought you out to worship him? Share it with us.

Photo credits: Nazarene General Assembly 2013 by Jake Guild used in accordance with a Creative Commons license.

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“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” Isaiah 9:2 NLT

As we approach the celebration of Christmas, it is important to understand what, in essence, occurred on the day of Christ’s birth. John 1 speaks of the event as the incarnation of the Word (1:14). To explain it, however, he uses two other ideas: life and light. Life, in that His was the active force of the creation that which brought into being all things and, as Colossians 1:15-17 states, that which sustains it. Light, referring to the revelation of this truth, the hope and direction that a belief in this creating and sustaining power and submission to it brings.

What strikes me about the nature of Christ’s birth, which is consistent with this concept of light and life, is its pervasiveness; it refused to be contained. From the announcement of the angels to the shepherds and their subsequent testimony of the event (Luke 2:8-20), to the star that led the wise men to announce and seek out the “king” who had been born (Matthew 2:1-12), the news spread far and wide. No one, not even those in the loftiest places of power and influence or the holiest places of worship were immune to its effect or exempt from a response to this revelation, this breaking in, this invasion.

John the Baptist, the witness to the light, illustrates its effect on the society of the day. His testimony of that light had created such a ruckus, making honest men out of tax collectors and moving Roman soldiers to repentance (Luke 3:7-14), that even the religious elite of the day were forced to deal with him (John 1:19-28).

It is that light of Christ and the example of his light bearers that we desire to emulate here in the Yucatan. As we continue with our efforts to see the Yucatan full of churches, our prayer is that that pervasive quality of the light of Christ would again be felt. Since September, we’ve held five major events calling on both leaders and laity to plant churches. It is our desire that the more than seventy individuals registered to start works in the coming months, the fruit of those events would be but the beginning trickle of the flood that will pour forth from the four walls of the church to proclaim the message of Immanuel, God with us, and that society again would be moved.

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This week, we’ve been working through the Spiritual Discipline of Confession as explained in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. Yesterday, I talked about my preparation for the actual practice of the confession. Today, I recount the experience. My hope is that, as others read of my account they will be encouraged to walk through their own exercise of confession.

I found, first of all, that the anticipation of the event of giving my confession was in itself a motivation towards the deep work of reflection. The Greek Philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Paul tells us to “test ourselves to see if we are in the faith.” Nevertheless, we tend to rush ahead into our days, weeks, months, and even years, barely pausing to catch our breath, so wrapped up in what’s coming, that we rarely, if ever, reflect on what we have done or the effect it may have had on others.

The preparation for the practice of confession caused me to think deeply about my experiences and ask the Lord to reveal that which needed to be recalled, mourned, confessed and forgiven. He did not fail me in this exercise. As I spent the time to recall what I had done, he was faithful to bring to mind the sins both of comission and omission that needed to be addressed in my time of confession.

But the time of confession was not simply an exercise of writing out my past sins as one would write out a list of chores to accomplish or groceries to buy. It was, as well an exercise of comprehension, of understanding of what those sins had meant, not only in the in the moment when they occurred, but also how they had affected my life as a whole and my relationships both with God and others. In that, I found confession to be a catalyst for the production of genuine sorrow. The tears flowed on more than one occasion, both as I prepared and as I shared as I came to understand the profound effect of my failures, shortcomings, and willful disobedience.

Still, my time of confession was more than simply a time for tears, it was for me a pathway for the achievement of true relief. As I spent the hour with my confessor, my first and only act of confession so far as an Evangelical Christian, there was a comfort that I felt as I shared with him what the Lord had revealed to me during my time of preparation. Although I am sure that I had confessed each one of those sins privately prior to our meeting, sharing what I had done with another human being made the confession more tangible, more concrete. The activity of my confessor was truly priestly. He served as an intermediary physically listening, understanding, and responding to the words that I spoke audibly which were previously only confessed in my mind or in whispers.

In the act, I was comforted by the seriousness and respect with which he took up the matter. He gave me his full attention. He listened and commented appropriately as I spoke of the my failures along the pathway of life, be them the routine selfish actions or the isolated incidents that the Spirit had brought to my remembrance over the past 3 days of reflection. His questions were not to pry but to clarify, helping me to reveal that which had been burdening my heart. He brought grace to the meeting by not rushing my response, waiting for me to compose myself when the tears flowed. By the time that he spoke the words of 1 John 1:9, It had become more than a cathartic experience with a stranger behind a curtain, it was the embrace of a brother, loving me in all my imperfection and granting me the assurance that Christ’s work was more than sufficient to cover even the sins I had been unable to recall.

In the end, my time of confession was more than a time of reckoning with the past, it was also a reorientation toward the future. The act of confession and the confirmation of my forgiveness gave me a liberty to embrace radical repentance. With nothing to hide or repress, I am now free to engage fully in my relationship with God and others. With the pardon spoken and received, I am able to live openly, no longer hiding myself from scrutiny, no longer telling myself, “If they truly knew me, they would think differently about me.” If my true self has already been revealed, evaluated confessed and forgiven by God, why do I need to fear from the criticism of others?

This, of course was a personal experience, one informed by the other disciplines in which I have already engaged. My own future experiences may not be nearly so special. Yours may not have the profound effect that mine has had due to your own prior experience in spiritual formation. Still, as I move on from here, I feel convinced that personal evaluation, continued accountability, and corporate confession is worth adding to my routine spiritual hygiene. I hope your experience with confession might at least leave you with the feeling that it was worth it to made the effort to complete the exercise.

Do you have a question about my experience or an experience of your own to share? Perhaps you’d like to make a comment about the Discipline of Confession. Why not leave one in the section below. I’d love to hear it.

Photo credit: “Confessions about confessionl” from pallottines.ie utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

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For the past two months we’ve been walking through an experiential study of the Spiritual Disciplines as laid out in Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. This week, we’re going through the Corporate Discipline of Confession. If you’ve missed my introductory post on this topic, I encourage you to go back and review it.

As we turn from its justification to its practice, I felt it helpful to use Foster’s “Diary of a Confession” section as a guide. During the past three days in which I’ve been silent in this space, I’ve been preparing, selecting setting up and appointment with my confessor and spending time in reflection, in the evaluation my past as I prepare to give my own confession.

The reflection consisted of dividing my life, as did Foster into three sections. In my case I chose adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood as my sections, effectively separating my life into my post conversion experience, my time of ministerial formation, and my life as a minister. I then spent time in focused meditation over the course of three days allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the past sins that came to the fore. My goal was not to explain or justify those memories, simply to write them down as I that which I believed necessary for me to share in the upcoming session.

Of course, the benefits that I’ve already received from this time of preparation led me to reflect on why I hadn’t taken the initiative to go through this process before or why I had never received an invitation to do so from the Christian communities of which I’d been a part. My search for reasons brought me to an article on CovenantEyes.com, the website of company that produces the accountability software that we use on our electronic devices.

In the article entitled, “Shame-Killing Churches: A Vision of Real Accountability” the author, Traylor Lovvorn, explains why so few Christian communities are able to operate at the level of the trasnformative community that it should be. He cites a Dr. David Powlison when talking about the problem of shame:

Shame [is] “a sense of failure before the eyes of someone else.” When this “someone else” is a perfect and holy Creator and our perspective is vertical in nature, this sense of failure is healthy in that it opens the door to the Gospel and allows us to see our desperate need for a Savior. But when our perspective is horizontal and we are comparing ourselves to peers and fellow believers, shame turns toxic and leads to a deep-seated unease with who we are that causes us to withdraw and hide.

Any attempts to establish community and accountability that do not account for and address this underlying issue of toxic shame only piles on a deeper sense of failure and drives men further into isolation and away from genuine community.

I invite you to read the rest of the article for his description of, what to me is, a far too common problem in our Christian community. Although his struggle was related to the sexual, I believe that his experience is a specific experience of an all too universal problem.

How do we escape this isolationism, the popular cliché that our private, hidden, relationship with Jesus is enough? I feel even more strongly now that it is by becoming vulnerable through confession. It’s by breaking down the facade that we’ve worn before others and showing them the radical nature of the redemptive work, a work that continues to the present day in every believer, and it’s by offering grace for those who are walking that same road with us.

As I write this, I’m readying for my own scheduled time of confession. To tell the truth, the preparation has already had a profound effect. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to living out the experience. After these last two posts, I hope you might be as well.

Photo credit: “Soderledskyran brick wall/a>” by Håkan Svensson utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

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