Stranger or Lord?

The setting – Three days had passed. Jesus had just been crucified. Two men were on the road to a village called Emmaus. The story unfolds in Luke 24:13-35

On the road to Emmaus, the men were grieved. They were reasoning and conversing when Jesus drew near to them. Jesus draws near in suffering and sadness and searching, but in this grief they couldn’t recognize him. Jesus was a stranger to them. We often are clouded by our own feelings. As a result, we cannot see the reality and truth.

The stranger asked “What are you discussing?” They explained, are you the only one who doesn’t know these things that have happened; the tragedy, the grief? He answers “What things?” Jesus presents the questions so they can talk it out and search it out and be responsible for what they believe. Where is our perspective? Are we focused on the feeling and clouded by a feeling? It might be the very thing keeping us from seeing Jesus.

They explained all the events that had transpired over the past 3 days. They explained that Jesus was a prophet and that they had hoped that he would be the One but he was betrayed captured and crucified, and now they are saying there is an empty tomb but Where is Jesus? Suffering and sacrifice was not in their plan of how it was all suppoesed to happen.
The stanger said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Don’t you see the Messaiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” The stranger began to show them everything in scripture.
Jesus was standing in flesh and blood and yet they didn’t even know and recognize him as he was walking and talking with them. This is a clear indication that you can know a lot about Jesus and think you know him but if you don’t acknowledge the cross and our need and own brokenness we won’t be able to see Jesus.
Our foolishness comes out when we trust our own ways and not His. “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

The men pressed the stranger to stay and have dinner with them. They felt a pressing need for him. And so the stranger stayed. He sat at the table. “Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them.” The two men immediately recognized him! Its Jesus! They were able to then place correctly the feelings that they had.
That great need they felt drew Jesus in and when he broke bread as a symbol of his body being broken for us they saw Jesus!
We recognize Jesus at the cross. There is no other way to see him. His body was broken for us because of our sinfulness. We must be crucified with him. Our old self must be put to death so that Jesus can live in us and through us.

Where are you on the raod? What mile are you on?

Are you in deep grief? Are you asking questions?  Are you confused? Do you see the empty tomb but you don’t see Jesus? Do you feel the need for Jesus? Have you broken bread with Jesus? Have you been to the foot of the cross? Have you been crucified with Christ? Is you heart burning as you search and seek?

Bad? Me? Naah. 

Compared to him, I’m a saint. Compared to her, I really have it together. What about all the good I’ve done, doesn’t that count for something?

The Bible says, “there is no one good, no not one”

Do we really believe this? I have a hard time believing it sometimes. Proverbs 21:2 says, “man’s ways are right in his own eyes, but God looks at the heart.” I want to only look at the good or find the good within myself. It’s a weights and balances right? I’m not all that bad. The good outweighs the bad right? The truth is God doesn’t operate this way. He doesn’t keep points on our goodness. He also doesn’t keep points on the badness. We have all missed the mark. None of us could do enough good to meet God’s standard. We are all sinful in need of redemption. Jesus is our redeemer. All he asks is for us to accept the gift of salvation offered through his grace.

What would ever posses us to not accept this amazing free gift?! Idols. Idol of pride. Idol of power. Idol of control. Idol of success. Idol of money. Idol of approval. We have to lose the idols and admit our nothingness and our need before the free gift seems of any value to us. Some people claim they have received the free gift but I think maybe they are carrying around a gift card that needs to be cashed in. They are carrying around the gift card as an option but they are still holding on to the precious idols. They like having the “Jesus gift card” with them, but they aren’t fully convinced of its real value.

Oh dear Lord help those that are struggling with being a “card holding Christian.” Help them cash that card in. Go all in, holding nothing back. Give up the idols. They will do nothing but devour you inch by inch and rob you blind of all the eternal riches, fullness, and joy that only comes through Jesus.   Don’t let your idols be your demise.

Lord help me to seek you and you alone casting all else aside that would hinder the work of your Spirit.

CS Lewis said,

When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.

My Soul Cries Out, “At Last I’m Whole!”

My soul cries out
lack of self,
redeem myself.
It cries again,
heal this pain
just love to gain.
And still again
full of wonder
as strong as thunder.
And once again
take my heart
a brand new start.
Release my soul
that I may fly.
Let not thy wonder
pass me by.
Much to gain
and naught to lose.
My self desires
I bid goodbye.
My soul sings out
a brand new story;
full of love, full of joy.
It sings again
with not a word
yet still is heard.
And still again
I can feel.
I know He’s real.
At last I’m whole
just ask my soul.

Original poem by Johanna Russell

God’s Dwelling Place

1 Kings 9:3 I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

Describe the kind of home you would like to be for Him:

Pure / Clean
Full of love
Sweet fragrance
Giving / full of gifts to give
Clutter free – get rid of distractions
colorful / personality showing Jesus
Always welcoming / hospitable / open door / House of service
Bright / Shining His light
thoughtful / organized….everything in its proper place
Stress free / anxiety free 

Lord, I pray today that you would wash this house, deep clean my soul. Fill me with love and sprinkle Your sweet fragrance so that all would sense your Spirit. Lord, I give all that I have. Let this house be your house of gifts, providing blessings to all those around me. De-clutter this dwelling so that there is less of me and more room for you. Color the walls of this house. Let the personality and gifts that you have given me sparkle for you. Let me be an open door to your Spirit, welcoming Jesus, treating all those around with heart of service. May this house shine with the brightest light of Your Son, so that in whatever darkness may come, this Light will never be extinguished. Father God, renew my mind and organize my thoughts. Put them all in their proper place. May I always put you at the front. I will serve you always in this house. I know that you will supply my needs. There is no need for stress or anxiety when you rule in this house. Thank you for being owner of this house. Praise the Lord now and forever!
In Jesus name,
AMEN

Quit Trying! Start Trusting!

“Don’t be a quitter!” “Quitters never win!” We hear this all the time. We have this will power within us that just won’t stop! I always find I want credit for something, anything.
I even take this “will” into christian service and spiritual life sometimes. I say things like “I want to do more for you Lord!” “I want to do big things for you Lord!” This is not a bad desire–most certainly not, but I was finding that I was getting burdened down with feeling like I’m not doing enough. Deep down, I think God would be more proud of me if I did more for Him. No! No and No! I can’t add or take away from what Jesus has already done.”Quitters never win?” For crying out loud, Jesus has already won! It’s time for me to just quit! What I’m saying here is not that will doesn’t matter and that we shouldn’t stay in the spiritual fight. What I am saying is are you trying and willing over what God is trying to do in and through you? God is not more pleased with Billy Graham’s christian service than he is with the janitor down at the local grocery store and his service. If we are hindering the will of God, even if it’s in effort to do more for God, we need to quit! I don’t mean quit being a Christian or quit serving the Lord but truly step aside and say, I quit trying Lord. I quit trying on my own power. I’m powerless but you have all the power. I’m weak, but you are strong. Apart from you I can do nothing. The Father in heaven said, “This is my son in whom I’m well pleased.” God is pleased with us through His son and the atonement not because of anything I do or say or don’t do or don’t say. I cannot add or take away from what is finished through the work of Christ Jesus. Praise God! What a relief! I can’t handle that burden. It’s too heavy. I can’t! I quit! I quit trying to carry that burden! I quit trying to do it all on my own! I quit trying to be the best preacher/teacher. I quit trying to please God through my actions and my words. I quit trying to gain brownie points in Heaven. I quit complaining or comparing myself on not having the same big opportunities of Christian service that maybe some of my fellow brothers or sisters have. I quit trying to get credit!
It’s easy to fall into the trap of an over zealous faith at times like the apostle Peter. How many times do we try to show God how strong we are or how competent we are or how good we are in our behavior, service, etc? Oh, how bad we want credit.
God doesn’t look at this and collect points and check marks. He sees Jesus in whom he is well pleased.
The only reason God can look at us is because of Jesus! Thank you Jesus! You lifted me out of this mess. I surrender. I quit.
Now it doesn’t stop there. I quit trying, but I can’t stop trusting. Here’s where it gets good. Isn’t it logical that the One who created you is the One who knows what’s best for you? So trusting should be a great relief compared to trying.
I will to do your will, Lord! I step aside so that I don’t hinder your work through me. I surrender. I am your empty vessel. I quit trying. I decide to trust.
Walking with the Lord isn’t supposed to be a struggle but it is if we are trying in our own fleshy will power. We must walk in the spirit!
Start today! Quit trying! Start trusting!

I am Weak but He is Strong!

Oh, how weak we are. We try to pull our own weight struggling with this little nothing of muscle we have. We try and we fail again and again. What great relief it is to hear and acknowledge there is an Almighty power in charge of it all. He has the power to pull all the weight and never grow tired. It’s such a relief to just let myself be weak so that His strength can be shown perfect. Why fight it? We are fighting something we can’t conquer on our own. The world and society see weakness as a very different thing than God sees it. The world sees it as a stumbling block that keeps us from success, reputation or status. The biggest thing that keeps us from communion with God is pride and what feeds pride is our illusion of greatness and power. We are voluntarily blocking the One whose power can move mountains, can heal wounded hearts and who is omnipotent in every way. Nothing is impossible with God!
We need not be obsessed in the idea of equality. I find that this is becoming an idol in our post modern era. Jesus certainly didn’t come to provide equality for all. He humbled himself and became a servant, willingly obedient, motivated out of love. This glorifies God. See Philippians 2:6.
Jesus chose the way of weakness in love to save us. He humbled himself, and took on the sins of man. He was humiliated, mocked, beaten, cursed, and He did it as proof of His unfathomable love for us. Philip Yancey said in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, “Power, no matter how well-intentioned, tends to cause suffering.(When we choose power in and of itself, It is destructive) Love, being vulnerable, absorbs it. In a point of convergence on a hill called Calvary, God renounced the one for the sake of the other.” In the Beatitudes Jesus clearly said the weak are blessed. Why? I would say because the moment we admit our weakness and renounce power is the moment His strength and power can increases opening up the floodgates of blessing and joy.
Love is the only answer to conquer evil. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Are we doing that? It will involve renouncing power for the sake of the other. The only way to trump and triumph over evil is to surrender in love, and as Jesus rose from the grave and conquered evil so does the lives of the people we touch through the work of the Spirit. They will rise up from this spiritually dead life and will be transformed into new life through Jesus!
As a Christian we are supposed to help heal the broken hearted in Jesus name. Are we not broken ourselves? How does the broken help the broken? This is where it all starts making sense. No one is perfect. Our hurts, injustices and disadvantages are used to bring Glory to God. Jesus is the link between one broken soul to another broken soul. If we pretend to have it all together we hinder the very power of the cross of Christ to break through and breathe new life!

STEP OUT IN FAITH – Take the news of the cross of Jesus to the ends of the earth even in weakness and always in love!

Where is Ultimate Fulfillment?

I have been teaching music for 10 years and I’m not sure how I fell into this except that it must be God’s will. I hardly felt qualified to teach, as I didn’t get a degree in it like many. Although, I did have much experience in the field of music and performing through private lessons, master classes and performing in theater. If I think back to when I was a kid, I was always teaching in some form or fashion. I was drawn to teaching early on, and again I am not sure why. Whether it was “playing school” or gathering the little kids in the fellowship hall at the church and teaching them Bible stories, or teaching the neighborhood kids to tap dance; I didn’t think about it, I just did it and I enjoyed it. It felt natural to me. And in all those different teaching circumstances, it just seemed like I was sharing the things that I had learned and passed it on. I believe God gave me the desire to teach, but even though it felt natural as a kid and young adult, as I got older I struggled with more insecurities and my inadequacies seemed larger. Wouldn’t more experience make you feel better? It got me thinking, confidence and fulfillment doesn’t come from more accomplishments or degrees. In and of themselves these things are wonderful but when accomplishments and degrees are self focused it just opens up a pandora’s box of how little you really have accomplished. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know and the cycle goes. The more I accomplish the more I realize I need to accomplish and I start heaping accomplishment after accomplishment in search for the ultimate fulfillment in where I can say “I finally did it! I’m fulfilled!” Each accomplishment feels good for a moment but then we are left empty. So why even strive for anything at all you say? Striving for your dreams and the desires that God has placed in your heart is wonderful thing, but the only way it is finally fulfilling is when you go after it for one reason, not for your own glory but the glory of God alone. At the end of nearly every musical piece that Bach composed, were the initials SDG(Soli Deo Gloria, “To God be alone the Glory”) One of his famous quotes and what he lived for;
“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” J.S. Bach

We are all given different gifts, and talents. No matter what it is, big or small, give it away. In everything, do it all for the glory of God. This is where our ultimate fulfillment lies. I have to submit to this truth every day to put to death the rearing head of self-first.

Lord help me to be and do my best according to your will so that I can in return give my best not for my glory but your glory alone!

Where is the church going wrong?

I am having my struggles with “the church.”(The Universal church) I am searching scripture for truth and searching my heart for error. Take my words as a genuine outcry of concern that is burning within me.
These are my struggles. We are living in a post modern era where the views favor tolerance and political correctness above all else. Is this biblical and is this something Jesus would want us to do?
I see a sleeping church(“the church”) that is desensitized by sin and more absorbed by self and self-fulfillment.
Truth in love trumps tolerance and political correctness. How will any one really understand love and grace unless they are convicted and see how desperately wicked they are. I fear since we are so desensitized, it’s not clear enough to just gloss over and say “repent of your sins and be forgiven.” This phrase is doing nothing to convict hearts. Do we want false converts or do we want to see genuine transformed lives? Do we want to fill pews or do we want to do the will of God? I think more than ever people are making licenses and compromise to take pleasure in sin since “God is love and His grace abounds.” People want their cake and eat it too.
Are we afraid to tell the truth? Are we watering down the gospel to massage the intellect or to warm the heart? The gospel is good news no doubt, but I’m a firm believer that this good news is not much more than fluff and a “feel good” anecdote without the convicting realization of the bad news that precedes it.

Every day I am confronted with my own sinful nature whether it be with my struggles of pride or envy or just the moment that I let my tongue loose and say something that is not Christ-like. I know the motives of my own heart and that in itself makes me cry out for mercy even though I haven’t acted on it.

I sense a pride in “the church” that wants to be the one that is more right with God. This is across denominations. “Our church is packed and blessed so we must be doing it right.” “Our church may not have as many people so this is proof that we are doing something right, in the world not of the world right?” “Our church is more doctrinally sound, this pleases God more.” “Our church is not as stiff so it must be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
I could go on and on. What is all this doing but being a dividing force.
I believe the enemy works really hard to keep “the church” bickering and arguing over who is more right with God and who has really screwed up. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make judgments on the church when by scripture we are compelled to. If I meant that, then what I’m writing would be a contradiction. I am, however, convinced that pride is a very real thing in our hearts and it’s presence is not exempt behind church walls.
I see division more and more politically, culturally, and I see it among “the church”.
I believe we need to test our motivations of judgment within the church. Does my judgment do anything to further the advancement of the kingdom? Is my judgment within the will of God? Or does my judgment stroke my ego or elevate me? When I say “me” I also mean the church. Does this elevate God or does it elevate a denomination?

I close with this. Truth is not in any one denomination, truth is in Jesus. If we are motivated to lift up Jesus then He will be lifted up. If we are motivated by pride and ego to elevate “the church” God help us.

I’m so deeply concerned by this, Lord help me to lift you up.

Any comments or thoughts on this subject are most welcome.