Apr 20

April 20, 2014, Easter Sunday

read | Luke 24:13–35

“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘
The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

“Do not be afraid. He is not here. He’s risen.” It suddenly dawned on the women, Peter, the disciples and 500 witnesses. Jesus had been raised from the dead. There are no restraints on God’s power. No situation is hopeless. God is in charge. Christ is risen!

Shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, two followers of Jesus headed for home. Emmaus was just seven miles from Jerusalem. Were they fugitives? Jesus was executed on the charge of sedition. Death by crucifixion was horrific! These followers were caught in a storm of doubt and grief.

As they walked, Jesus appeared to them as a “stranger.” No, they did not recognize Him. Their hope was for a militant Messiah that would free them from that rotten Roman yoke. The stranger countered that with an explanation of spiritual freedom. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them the things about Himself in all the Scriptures.” (vs. 27)

When did they recognize this fellow Traveler as Jesus? After talking, questioning, and sharing a meal, the journeymen recognized Jesus.

Isn’t it fascinating, Jesus does not coerce us out of our skepticism, but rather gently guides? He meets our questions with reason, not force. There are truths the brain can discover but cannot defend. Having experienced the forgiveness of the Savior, suddenly proof is superfluous.

We do not explain the resurrection—the resurrection explains us. That stranger on the road to Emmaus described a new existence for them—a world drenched in beauty, justice, love, and peace. No wonder they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was talking to us on the road while He was opening the scriptures to us?” (vs. 32) Their world was turned upside down.

Emboldened by their experience, the men rushed back to Jerusalem to tell their story to Jesus’ disciples. The Savior’s peaceful persuasion had captured them. These followers of the Messiah were every bit as pragmatic as we are.

Thank God, because of the Easter event, we too have a story to tell.

– Rev. Dr. Dave McKechnie

Apr 19

April 19, 2014

read | Matthew 20:27–28

“‘…and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’”

As I read this passage, I am struck by the words “not to be served, but to serve” For the past couple of years in February, I have journeyed down to Mexico with Foundry for a weekend trip to build a house. In just a few short days, we are able to build an entire home for a really deserving family.

The first year I did the trip I was fairly new to Bel Air, but I signed up with no idea of what I was getting into. I had no experience in building a house and wasn’t sure I could even be of service, yet early Saturday morning we headed to the border for a trip that would change my life forever. When we arrived at the build location, I was terrified that I had made the wrong decision and was confused on why God thought that I could do this. Once we met the family and the foreman, and we settled into our jobs, I started to feel a little more relaxed and began to think that I could actually help this family!

Throughout the day I hung drywall, painted, made lunches for our crew, and played with the neighborhood children. By the end of the day the house was complete, and I realized that by tomorrow the family would be living in it. On Sunday when we finished the house we handed over the keys to the family, and we prayed with them. We said goodbye to all our new friends we had made and packed back into the cars to head north to LA. As we were pulling away I took a last glance at the house and thought to myself, we didn’t build this house; this is the house that God built.

That trip taught me what it really meant “not to be served, but to serve” and how we really are the feet and hands of Jesus. In everything I do, it is not to serve me, but to serve Him.

reflect:
Repeat that passage: “Not to be served, but to serve.” What does this mean to you?

I pray that in the coming weeks you will listen to that still small voice inside of you to take action and go out and serve in your church, your community, or even the world.

– Amanda Hansen

Apr 18

April 18, 2014, Good Friday

read | Matthew 20:24–26

“When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…’”

Good Friday; it’s the most upside down, oxymoronic phrase in the English language. When we hear it, we understand that Christ had to go through the false accusations, the beatings and, ultimately, the crucifixion to get to Easter. But, still, deep down in our hearts, we don’t feel there’s much “good” in it.

Christianity is a hindsight religion. Very little of what we go through makes sense while we’re in the middle of it.

Like Christ, we have to suffer and struggle through the valleys and deserts of our lives, often alone, until we emerge on the other side. Sometimes victorious, but more often than not, a bit older and wiser for the experience.

Christianity is also a religion of paradoxes. So much of what is taught is the opposite of what we would expect.

These verses are perfect examples. Here Jesus tells His followers that to be great, you must become a servant. This is not what the disciples wanted to hear at all.

They had seen Jesus’ power up close and personal and were waiting for Him to get His Messiah on, kick out the Romans, and jump start the Kingdom of Heaven on earth!

They were bitterly disappointed. Theirs was not a “good Friday.” But with hindsight, they all saw that, ultimately, God’s paradoxical plan was the best by far.

Jesus got through the darkest day in history because of His love for us and the joy set before Him. But how do we react when we face our own “Good Fridays?”

I think God allows us to experience disappointment and grief as a testing of our faith. He wants to see if we’ll cling to Him in our darkest days.

After having one of my best years ever in 2012, this past year was one that both my wife and I were glad to see in the rear view mirror.

Though 2013’s valley was longer and deeper than any in recent memory, I knew that, even though I couldn’t see it, if I was in the hand of the suffering Servant who went through Good Friday for me, I should probably quiet down and let Him play out His plan.

Because I know when I look back, I will see that, against all odds, everything turned out much better than I could have ever imagined.

– Robert G. Lee

Apr 17

April 17, 2014, Maundy Thursday

read | Matthew 20:23

“He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink My cup, but to sit at My right hand and at My left, this is not Mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.’”

Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples on the night before He was crucified.

Reading today’s verse takes me back to my childhood when my sister and I would go to great lengths to get the “front seat”…in some cases that was the front seat of the car (before car seat laws were as they are now and kids sat in front), the best seat on the couch to watch The Brady Bunch or Little House on the Prairie, or the seat next to Mom or Dad. We would “call it” or run to it, or barter the rights to it with some chore or task. Each of us felt we deserved it or earned it and it, was always a race to be victorious.

In today’s hyper competitive world, I’m often tempted to believe that anything we want can be realized by earning it, buying it, getting there faster, or through careful negotiation. But in truth, the most valuable things in life don’t come through any of those tactics.

When Jesus tells the mother of Zebedee’s sons that they are welcome to be in His company, but that He is not in a position to grant them that which only God the Father can offer, He is reminding us that as man, as He was at this point prior to the crucifixion, His Kingdom was not of this world, and reinforcing that there is no way to earn a place in Heaven. He also reinforces the fact that our salvation is reserved at God’s discretion alone and is given through His free grace.

As I meditated over this scripture preparing to write this devotional, I was encouraged by the realization that the things that are most important in my life have not and will not come as a result of a competition or putting more hours in at the office or signing up for more committees. God is good, and He loves us, and through His love and grace, we will be blessed with the Kingdom of Heaven.

– Lori Tabb

Apr 16

April 16, 2014

read | Matthew 20:22

“But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to Him, ‘We are able.’”

“You do not know what you are asking.”

I have seven grandchildren, most of them grown up past childhood now. Avery, our youngest is 6 years old, and he asks many of the same questions his sister and cousins asked when they were also quite young.

When I am preparing a special meal in the kitchen he asks, “Papa, can I help you cut up those vegetables.” I tell him “No,” because he doesn’t understand that the knives are sharp, and he is not yet ready to handle one.

When we are getting into my little sports car to go to McDonald’s he asks, “Papa, can I sit in the big seat like you instead of this ‘baby seat?’” He doesn’t yet understand that he is not yet ready to move on to the “big seat” because of the possible danger.

When we are sitting around a swimming pool on a warm summer day he asks, “Papa, can I jump into the deep end without my ‘floaties?’” My answer is, “Only if I am there to catch you.”

When the mother of James and John asks Jesus for special favor for her sons, she, just like Avery, does not have enough of the “Big Picture” to know what she is asking. She would like her sons to be enthroned right next to Jesus, one on His right and one on His left. But, she has no idea that Jesus’ path to that throne is by way of the Cross. And that path requires not only the physical pain and humiliation of crucifixion, but far more excruciating, the emotional pain and spiritual pain that will come with “drinking the cup of the Father’s wrath.” Before Jesus takes His rightful place on the throne of His Kingdom, He will experience the Father’s appropriate wrath against my rebellion and sin, and against your rebellion and sin. The most excruciating consequence is that because Jesus chooses to take on Himself the sin of the world, He will experience separation from the Father!—a relationship He has known from eternity past. As God has said from the beginning, sin must result in separation from the Holiness of God.

Sometimes when I ask God for something important, I wonder if He has heard the cries of my heart. Sometimes when I ask and the answer seems to be “No,” I wonder if the Father may be holding out on me.

Often when I ask, His answer is, “Yes, My beloved.” Sometimes His answer is, “You are not yet ready for that, My beloved.” And, sometimes, His answer is, “Just be certain I am there to catch you, My beloved!”

– Will Bredberg

Apr 15

April 15, 2014

read | Matthew 20:21

“And He said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to Him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’”

My husband (RO) loves the show Seinfeld. We own every episode, and every season on DVD. And we have watched them many times. Now I know for the younger generation, Seinfeld might be a show that is part of the “Stone Age.” But WAY back in the 1990’s, Seinfeld was “must see” television viewing on Thursday nights. This was pre-DVR. (There was a thing called VCRs, but who wanted to watch it on that if they could catch it live?)

There was an episode called “The Betrayal” which captured one of the many brilliant facets of the show, and what made it relevant “must-see-TV.” What the episode was about is not important, but how the episode was aired is what I am going after. The entire episode was played in reverse. In other words, the show started with the final scene, and then sequentially went backwards. It was a backwards narrative. The writers of the show literally “flipped the script.”

Now for those of you not in the entertainment world, the term “flipping the script” refers to this idea of turning the tables on the viewer by reversing or changing existing positions in a situation. It’s simply taking a story with a certain expectation, and doing something unexpected with it. The dictionary defines it as “doing something unexpected or revolutionary.”

In the passage above, Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, when the mother of two of the disciples (James and John) approach Jesus. She simply asks that when Jesus establishes His Kingdom on earth, that her sons get a place of honor and decision-making within the new “regime.”

The disciples have been hearing Jesus talk about this “Kingdom coming,” and they are anticipating this with great excitement. It would mean that someone other than Rome would be in charge. Not only would Rome not be in charge anymore, but a Jew would be in charge. God’s chosen people would be back in control, and could get back in the business of “making things right” in the world.

Jesus goes on in the passage, acknowledging the logic of their process, and reminds the disciples of the method and style of leadership in the current culture: power and position.

The request wouldn’t be odd or unfamiliar to the hearers of Jesus’ day. And it is not unfamiliar to us today. We operate with a similar mind set don’t we? We seek popularity, power, and position in our jobs, school, or friend groups, so that we can “make things right” in this world. Let’s be honest, what we really mean is we want to make things the way we want to make things. Right?

But then something interesting happens. If you keep reading in verses 26-28, Jesus pulls a Seinfeld: He “flips the script” on the disciples. He basically says, if you want to be in a position of power and influence in the Kingdom of God, you need to be a servant. You need to become a slave. You need to become last. THAT was revolutionary.

Jesus gave us fair warning earlier in the book of Matthew when He said: “Blessed are the meek” (not the powerful). “Blessed are the poor” (not the rich who hoard). “To have life, you must give yours up” (you don’t want me to explain this one).

Being part of His “upside down” Kingdom means “flipping the script” in regards to our pursuits of position, power, and popularity. It means changing things up on the people around you. It means showing humility instead of arrogance. It means giving away the things that have been given to you. It means doing something unexpected. Something revolutionary.

So now, where were you hoping to be seated?

– Dr. Mindy Coates Smith

Apr 14

April 14, 2014

read | Matthew 20:20

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, and kneeling before Him, she asked a favor of Him.”

Jesus invites us to “ask,” as a beggar asks for alms; to “seek,” with the same intensity as we do when we misplace our wallet; and to “knock,” as incessantly as we do when we lock ourselves out of the house and our spouse is upstairs getting ready for bed.

And He promises—what? “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

The mother of Zebedee’s sons, Salome, decides to take Jesus up on this offer. Matthew tells us that kneeling down, “she asks a favor of Him.” The Gospel of Mark describes it a little differently: “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want You to do for us whatever we ask.’” Mark 10:35–37

Now there’s a bold request, never mind what the actual “favor” was. It seems like it meets the litmus test—these guys certainly wanted to be near Jesus, though their timing to get great things for themselves wasn’t so great.

So, what kind of special “favors” are we asking of Jesus? Maybe for Him to get us that new job for which we just interviewed? Or, how about that elusive parking spot when we’re circling Nordstrom in the mall? Maybe it’s all about recognition, like the sons of Zebedee seemed to be seeking. If you’re like most of us, we on occasion let such worldly desires occupy our prayer requests. Should we?

I proffer this similar verse for guidance:
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.” John 15:16

Faithful following is costly, and servant-hood is our great calling as followers of Christ. Just like the sons of Zebedee, Jesus chooses us to bear fruit, and as we do, the Father will then hear and grant our prayers. So perhaps a good place to start is to ask God that we might be used as servants in His Kingdom.

And then, be specific in the “favor” you ask. Have faith that Christ has heard you, and praise Him. I love the saying, “When praises go up, blessings come down.” Finally, be patient—and listen well.

– Mike Mizrahi

Apr 13

April 13, 2014, Palm Sunday

day of rest: reflecting on today’s sermon

read | Matthew 18:23–35

“‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’”

Apr 12

April 12, 2014

read | Matthew 18:35

“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

At a convention with their wives, two businessmen who had been roommates in college crossed paths. They sat in the lobby all night talking. They knew they would be in trouble with their wives. The next day they happened to see each other. “What did your wife think?”
“I walked in the door and my wife got historical.”
“Don’t you mean hysterical?”
“No, historical. She told me everything I ever did wrong.”

Un-forgiveness is more subtle than most sins. It’s sneaky. It crawls into your spirit so innocently that you don’t know it’s there until it really “has you.” It’s also more common than most sins. We all battle it from time to time. Even though we may not stumble over the “bigger” sins, lack of forgiveness seems to affect more of us. And it’s also more dangerous. It may not cause overdoses and car accidents, but it will divide churches, families, marriages, and nations. Un-forgiveness has been called the cancer of the soul. Unchecked, it will eat us alive.

Jesus shows us what a lack of forgiveness will do to us. He compares un-forgiveness to a prison. Un-forgiveness is a self-inflicted prison and a self-induced torture. It is a ball-and-chain of our own making. No matter what anybody did to us first, forgiveness or un-forgiveness is our own choice.

Years ago I heard that holding an offense against someone is like being a jailer, while the offending party is in the jail. You’re keeping them in there. You alone have the key to let them out, but you won’t, because of what they did to you. The problem is, since you’re the jailer, you’re stuck there too. Yes, the person might be behind bars, but you can’t go anywhere either. The only way to set yourself free is by letting them go, too.

It’s as if in vs. 35 Jesus says, “I wish to address you (second person singular). I want this message to be personal. I want you to place yourself within this parable. What does this parable mean to you? Are you a forgiving person? Do you hold grudges? Can you pray, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors?’ Are you merciful? Do you forgive others just as God has forgiven you? What does seventy times seven mean to you?” This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. (vs. 35)

Frederick Buechner writes, “…God’s forgiveness is not conditional upon our forgiving others. In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all, just Fair Warning, and in the second place our un-forgivingness is among those things about us which we need to have God forgive us most. What Jesus apparently is saying is that the pride which keeps us from forgiving is the same pride which keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.” (Wishful Thinking, HarperOne, 1993)

*I am indebted to Emil Brunner for some of his insights into this parable. “The Merciful King and the Unforgiving Servant” in Sowing and Reaping: The Parables of Jesus (London: Epworth Press, 1964).

– Rev. Bill Crawford

Apr 11

April 11, 2014

read | Matthew 18:32–34

“Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.”

My own family seems to be where I’m tested the most—where I can give the least grace and thankfully can receive the most forgiveness. I am so grateful that I was raised in a Christian home and had examples of grace and forgiveness right from the start. In my teenage years, I was sitting in security at Target, freshly caught from shoplifting make-up. The heavy footsteps came up the stairs, the door opened, and of all people my DAD was there—in the middle of a work day to pick me up. The tears of shame rolled down my face and in that moment my Dad walked over and hugged me and just said “I love you.” There was forgiveness, there was grace, AND there was quite a bit of accountability (community service hours and having to go to court and say “guilty”)!

Do I always extend grace to my family even though they have given it to me in huge ways? I can be the first to lose my cool. This verse reminds me that God hates the fact that we don’t recognize how much He’s done for us. God despises that He’s done so much, and we can’t embrace being His child because of our own stubbornness and blindness…we actually choose not to receive God’s grace. We’ve received HUGE forgiveness, and we don’t offer that back to others enough. Today—think about how you can give that grace back in some small way. God gave us everything including His Son; let’s recognize that, turn around, and give that grace back. Kingdom Living does call us to forgive…and to forgive we need grace. For that we need each other to hold us accountable.

reflect:
We rejoice greatly in the grace of God but did you know that grace is not only a gift but also a teacher. What does grace teach us? It’s “God’s redemption at Christ’s expense.” Paul said in Titus 2:11–14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave Himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

respond:
What do you need to learn about grace?

To whom in your life do you need to extend forgiveness and grace? And who can hold you accountable to do so?

– Kathleen Neary

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