Monthly Archives: April 2014

Do Our Paradigms Prevent Us from Seeing Jesus?

How often do we fail to see Jesus present and acting in our lives because we do not expect it?  The circumstances fall outside the paradigm we have established for ourselves, and we don’t recognize him.

This apparently happened to the disciples on the day of the resurrection when two of them did not recognize Jesus as he began walking with them to the village of Emmaus.  He asked what they were discussing, and they told him about how Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet powerful in word and deed, had been handed over to authorities and crucified.  Now, to their amazement, some women had reported that they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he was alive.  Jesus then proceeded to explain the scriptures to them of how the Christ had to suffer all of these things to enter into his glory.

Not until Jesus joined them for supper and broke the bread did they recognize him. “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.  They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:32)

Why didn’t they recognize Jesus?  They weren’t expecting to see him because they thought he was dead.  The resurrection did not conform to their paradigm.  Even though Jesus had previously told them that he was going to suffer, die and be raised up, they could not comprehend it.

When our last child, Emily, was born we were shocked to learn that she had Down syndrome.  We were expecting the usual “normal” baby who could serve to be a playmate to a brother that had been born a couple of years earlier and round out our family of five children.

Initially, I did not recognize God’s presence in Emily’s birth and all of the blessings he would bring to our family through her.  A child with a disability was outside my paradigm.  But then, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, God begin to open my eyes and share his mind with me and his love for his special children – children who never offend him as we do, who never pervert the work of his hands as we often do, children who have no guile, but only purity of heart.

God often comes to us in people and circumstances that we do not expect in order to reveal a truth or take us to a new level in our relationship with him.  Sometimes he wants us to take his place in opening the eyes of another to his presence.  We know it is him when our hearts burn within us.

Today, Emily celebrates her 28th birthday, and our family will see Jesus through her beautiful smile, her many hugs and a special joy that transcends her disability.

Is there a paradigm in your life that is preventing you from seeing Jesus?

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The Message of the Cross

To the Romans and the people of Jesus’ day, the cross was a symbol of dominance, suppression and death.  To the Christian, the cross is a symbol of love, giving of self and the ultimate sacrifice.  St. Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor. 1:17)    God’s power and wisdom are made visible in love, sacrifice and the subordination of our will to his.

Out of love for the Father and us, Jesus subordinated his will to the Father and sacrificed his life on the cross.  As a result, God overrode the physical laws of nature and raised him to life, an exercise of power that the world had never seen before nor has it ever been able to replicate. When the world exercises power, the consequences are experienced and then fade, becoming just a chapter in history.  Throughout history we have seen worldly powers come and go, but the power of God remains.  God’s power in a kind word, an act of love or sacrifice and their consequences last forever.  Not so with the power of the world.

We lament our sins and those of others, and we lament the policies and power of governments that detract from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but the cross of Jesus and all that it is and all that it represents in the wisdom and power of God is the antidote to our lament. It may seem as foolishness to the world, but to us, both individually and collectively, it provides the inspiration, instruction and saving power of God.  No matter what has happened in our lives, it provides the opportunity for forgiveness, redemption and renewal here and now, as well as for eternity.

Hardly foolishness!  Rather, a message to be embraced.

Fear — One of Satan’s Favorite Tools

How alone and abandoned Jesus must have felt.  Just a few hours earlier he had shared dinner with his closest followers and disciples.  He had told them that he no longer called them servants because a servant does not know his master’s business.  “Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made know to you.”  He had prepared them to be his successors in the family business.

Yet, when a mob with clubs, swords and torches in the dark of night struck terror in their hearts, Mark reports, “Everyone deserted him and fled.” (Mark 14:50)  Fear had seized them.  They may have thought that their spirit was willing as evidenced by Peter’s proclamation that he would go to prison or death for Jesus, but the flesh yielded to the terror of the night.

Fear was everywhere that evening.  The mob was gripped with fear, for they armed themselves with swords and clubs.  Jesus, too, experienced fear as he sweated blood and asked the Father to take “this cup.”  The disciples ran out of fear.

When my son, Stephen, turned 12, the two of us went on an overnight camping trip into the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia.  After we had retired to bed down for the evening, we heard something moving outside our tent.  In the dark of night we were gripped with fear.  After fumbling around one of our back packs I found a flashlight, and cautiously peaked outside the tent to discover a deer tasting the nearby fauna.  How much more terror I would have felt if I had seen a mob approaching with torches, clubs and swords!  We should not be too harsh in our judgment of the disciples.

Fear is one of Satan’s greatest weapons which he uses to steer us away from God and his will.  Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of what people think, fear of rejection, fear of the boss, fear of the next medical test – all become obstacles for us to live the life to which God has called us.  John says perfect love casts out all fear. (1John 4:18)

When motivated to act out of fear, stop!  Remember the love God has for you as evidenced by his willingness to become one of us and die for us.  Remember your love of God and ask what he wants you to do.

Pride’s Lament – Self-proclamations can be Humbling

After Jesus told the disciples at the Last Supper that all of them would fall away, Peter proclaimed, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  Jesus responds, “Tonight – before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times. Peter continues to protest, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14:29, 31)

Later that evening after Jesus is arrested and is being questioned at the house of the High Priest, Peter is outside in the courtyard warming himself by the fire with some guards and servants.  A servant girl accuses him of being a follower of Jesus. Peter denies that he knows Jesus.  After the third accusation and denial, a rooster crows a second time and Peter remembers Jesus’ words.  “Then Peter broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:72)

Falling into wrongful conduct is so easy. We encounter an unexpected circumstance and react out of fear, anger, lust, greed or one of our other emotions, and in a twinkling of an eye, we do something we regret.  We sin; we hurt a loved one; we hurt ourselves.

How often have I reacted in anger with an indifferent store clerk or a person serving on the help desk of a computer company who is unable to remedy a technical problem!  How often have I been tempted to tell a boss or person of influence what he or she wants to hear rather than the truth!  How often have I refrained from offering to pray with someone in need or speak about Jesus out of fear of what people might think!

Peter no doubt considered himself stronger than the rest of the disciples and his pride could not imagine any circumstance that would have him denying that he knew the Lord. Yet in a moment of confusion when his paradigm of Jesus was being shattered before his eyes, fear reigned and he did the unthinkable.

Similarly, my pride causes me to stumble time after time.  Recently, an organization denied a “Seal of Approval” to a book I have written because it was not considered in sufficient alignment with the characteristics of the organization’s constituency.  My pride prompted me to write an immediate rebuttal with copies to those making the evaluation.  The rebuttal did not persuade them; it only angered them and opened me to charges of being uncharitable and unprofessional.  Like Peter, I was humiliated.

Has your pride caused you to stumble?  Regardless of what you have done, God is always willing to forgive a repentant heart.  We should be encouraged by Peter’s example. Though he faltered in his commitment to the Lord, he regretted his actions; the Lord forgave him, and strengthened him through the Holy Spirit to become the first leader of Christianity – pride’s lament.