Jul 31

Thank You

I hope you have enjoyed this summer devotional and all the stories of encounters with Jesus that have been shared.

My thanks again to all who took the time to write their personal journey and story. I hope you are encouraged on your own “Emmaus Roads”!

No project like this happens overnight or without so much help. In addition to all our story tellers, my thanks to Rev. Drew Sams for the inspiration of his sermon series and opening the “door of the wardrobe” (nod to C.S. Lewis) through his preaching and teaching as we have encountered people of the Old Testament whose stories tell us something of ourselves and of Christ!

My special thanks goes to Laura Addink, who has served faithfully over the past five years in our department and at the conclusion of June is leaving the Bel Air staff for new adventures! She is the one who has attended to the details and timelines for this devotional, and for the Advent and Lenten devotionals over the past many years. She is a gift! We thank her and will miss her. She helped get this summer devotional project completed. As always, the amazing women in our Communication Department have been readily available for this new project and to help us get it into your hands as Drew Sam’s sermon series concludes…so the story can go on! Thanks to Heidi and Donna. A special thank you to Dan Macy, who read through and edited these stories.

And all thanks to THE GREAT STORY TELLER Himself, Jesus—who walks along the road of life with us, in days of discouragement and delight…and calls us to new encounters of what it is to have a Savior who cares about the details of our story and invites us to new chapters.

Happy summer.
Blessings,

Rev. Care Crawford
Pastor of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care

Jul 30

Our Emmaus: Day 32

“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him up and said to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to His disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey Him!”  – Mark 4:35–41 (NIV)

 

This is one of my all-time favorite stories in the Bible. I love it because it shows that even the guys who rode with a physical, tangible God had their doubts. There they were, in the middle of a horrific storm, and Jesus was sleeping. As the boat fills with water, they panic, afraid they will be overtaken by waves. They wake Jesus and He brings the storm to a complete stop, leaving His disciples speechless. We all know how powerful God is; yet we, just like His disciples, continue to doubt Him.

I am someone who doesn’t have one great story of when Jesus appeared and calmed the storms in my life. I have several.

Jesus stood by me at age six while I adjusted to life on a different continent. He carried me through my parents’ messy divorce when I was 12. He was with me every minute during my life-threatening hospitalization at age 13. Recently, He led me through the difficult immigration process that threatened my ability to stay in the U.S. He has been there for every storm in my life, beside me for every tear I have shed. Knowing this, I continue to ask myself, “Why am I so afraid of these storms? Why do I doubt Him?”

Truthfully, there is no storm in your life that is too big for Jesus to calm. Jesus is so incredibly powerful that He was able to both sleep through and calm the storm that had everyone else absolutely terrified.

Recently, I heard someone say this about the above passage and it repeats in my head almost daily: “We cannot guarantee that if you sign up to follow God, everything will be smooth sailing. You may get soaked, but you won’t sink.”

- Kate Stanwick

 

 

Jul 29

Our Emmaus: Day 31

“I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” – Psalm 139:14a

My experience of fatherly love was a myriad of emotions as a child. Sometimes giddy highs and intense love, but also times of deep sorrow, yearning, and absence. My father had been ill for much of my childhood, and as time progressed, he decided that he no longer wanted to live attached to a dialysis machine. He had also been separated from my mom since I was five, so although he expressed love when I saw him, it was not a consistent emotion I experienced. When I was fourteen my father passed away from kidney failure. In the year that followed his death, I felt alone, confused, and deep sadness. How could a father that loved his children leave us at such a young age? Why wasn’t I enough to live for? These were questions that often plagued my mind as I mourned the loss of my dad.

I had attended Catholic church as a child, and knew who Jesus was, but didn’t know He was someone you could have a relationship with. It was in my time of suffering and yearning for a father’s love, that I first encountered Jesus on my path. I learned that He was someone who loved me to the ends of the earth, someone who would pursue me and find me even when I desired to be hidden. I learned that I was unique, woven together unlike any other. I discovered His love was so vast and deep, that He would lay down His life for me. This was a new love that I had never experienced before! An everlasting, unconditional love in which His grace extended beyond human comprehension. The loss of my father had left me yearning, and it was my Heavenly Father that met me in all those places my earthly father could not.

Read Psalm 139.

Prayer Starter: Abba, thank You for loving me in a way that I can’t escape. Only a Father as loving as You would pursue me to the ends of the earth. Although we may experience uncertainty on our path of life, we know that You are with us always. You know every day that is written, before any of them came to be. Thank You for Your Son Jesus, the ultimate Sacrifice, so that we can have life everlasting with You.

-  Danielle Dela Cruz

 

Jul 28

Our Emmaus: Day 30

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are
a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”
– James 4:13–15

 

It was the third day of my road trip and already I was off schedule. It had taken me longer than I expected to get to my destination and it was starting to get late. I had to make it back to my room to shower before going to sleep, so that I could wake up for the long drive ahead of me early the next morning.

Before I left on the trip, I had mapped out the route that I wanted to take, including all of the sites I wanted to see, the places I wanted stay, and some restaurants that I had heard were amazing. I even calculated the drive time between the stops so I knew exactly how much time I could spend at each location before moving on to the next.

I started looking up directions to the motel I would stay at that night when I felt the breeze suddenly pick up. I looked up from my phone and towards the mountains to see that the sky was painted with beautiful shades of orange, pink, purple and blue, rivaling any sunset I had ever seen. The more I looked around, the more color I saw, so I sat down in the sand and watched as the sun slowly descended behind the mountains. The breeze picked up and I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and peace unlike I had ever felt before. I felt myself begin to let go of not only all the stress I was feeling about the trip, but also about my life.

I realized that all of the meticulous planning and calculating I had been doing for my road trip mirrored how I was living my life; trying to tell God all of the places I wanted to go and do and everything that I wanted to experience, instead of giving those plans up to God and considering that what He has planned for me is better than anything I could ever think up.

I sat and prayed, telling God that I wanted to go with His plans instead of mine. No longer did I want to obsess over the details of my life, but instead I wanted to give those up to Him. As I prayed, the colors in the sky grew brighter and more vivid and I couldn’t help but smile at the scene playing out before me.

-  Jake Dion-Kindem

 

Jul 27

Our Emmaus: Day 29

Growing up in an Islamic society I was terrified of God. I was even more terrified of what it meant to be a woman in such a society. At first I was terrified, but then I became angry. So I decided that I did not want anything to do with God. I lived with that mentality until I came to the United States. Living away from that environment allowed me to reevaluate my feelings but I still didn’t think I would ever be able to connect with God.

And then, about two years ago, my nieces began attending the preschool at Bel Air. From the beginning I felt drawn. I told myself I was only feeling like that because of all the anxiety and stress in my life so I decided to go to church and just get it over with because I was sure I wouldn’t belong. I came to the 6 p.m. service on February 17, 2013 and my life was turned upside down. Except, for the first time it felt like the right side was up. I don’t know how to explain it but it felt like I was hearing and seeing for the first time. I had kept so much anger inside of me for so long and yet despite all that, what got through to me was all the love. It was and still is unbelievable to know there is a God that has so much love for us. It is unbelievable to know that He loves people like me enough to send HIS own Son to die for my sins so I can have eternal life.

After I finally heard the Lord and the message of Christ, my life changed in the best way. I still have all the problems, stress, and anxiety I had before…but now I don’t feel like I have to face the world alone. I am learning how I should deal with the obstacles in my life and see them as a way to build a stronger relationship with God and learn to depend on His love and His grace to guide me. I know I have to give Him everything I have and know in my heart that no matter what He will love me, and I will find peace in Him.

-  Shahrzad Etessami

 

Jul 26

Our Emmaus: Day 28

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.”  – Matthew 19:12 (The Message)

“…if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.”  – Ephesians 5:21 (The Message)

Marriage

It is truly a beautiful experience with its twists and turns, ups and downs…and adding parenthood to the journey only makes it that much sweeter an adventure. You should make sure you buckle in for the ride though; it is not for the faint of heart, but for the strong, courageous and adventurous.

I remind myself often in great depth, when our life pace is slow, how blessed my life is and how fortunate I am to be married to this wonderful Godly man—who is truly the best father I can imagine for our three children.

The catch is this: our life pace is rarely slow; so my cherishing how good we have it with profoundness happens far less than it should and, honestly, not as much as it needs to for the healthy growth of our family.

I am a person who often can find the gratitude in hardship, but finding the time to slow down and not do a million tasks that take me away from the sweet family God has gifted me with—well, that is the challenge.

God doesn’t want me to just do tasks for my community, my husband or my family. He wants me to slow down with my husband and our family: cherish, grow and learn from and with the loving people who are my companions on this journey.

He wants me to slow down and “grow into the largeness of marriage” and “be courteously reverent” to my husband and in turn our family.

I’ll state it plainly now: Jesus not only saves marriages, He helps maintain the balance when I throw it all out of whack. He has saved me and continually saves my marriage when I lack the strength to do it. My marriage works in part because I met and married the love of my life and our constant work every day to make our marriage successful. Mainly though, our individual and collective rootedness in Jesus is what helps our marriage survive and thrive.

Jesus’ love for my husband and me, and our love for Him is the key to our successful marriage; albeit full of this world’s reality, but thankfully with divine love, joy and fulfillment as well. I am so grateful that Jesus is the center, the constant and the balance in our marriage.

-  Ami WoodardHigginbotham

 

Jul 25

Our Emmaus: Day 27

Encountering Jesus in a Piece of Toast 

Many times Jesus has met me powerfully and dramatically in moments of crisis and need with results that could be called, certainly by me, nothing short of miraculous.

In my youth, this often looked like a young man blinded by bravado heading off the cliff. “Hero” Jesus met me then when it often seemed too late. (It wasn’t.) Later, blinded by my all-encompassing CEO agenda, “Mentor” Jesus illustrated how best laid plans are never bankable. (He’s still doing that!)

Yes, as our refuge and strength, and as an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1), Jesus is in the business of saving our hides, but for what? Is it because we’re special or so we can keep on being loyal customers of His Kingdom?

He saves us from ourselves so we can eventually help build His Kingdom here and now (Luke 17:20–21). We’re to pray that His Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9–10). Eventually, we encounter Jesus as “Leader,” and we view our purpose as working for His Kingdom—and the ongoing encounter begins.

A recent study asserts that seeing Jesus in a piece of toast is due to a phenomenon called “the moral pop-out effect.” This theory states that when moral concerns are on your brain, you’re more likely to perceive the world in a way that rectifies injustice.

If we become morally focused on bringing Jesus to the injustice of our everyday world, we’ll encounter Him more often. My wife and I looked for His face in the toast this morning. Nada.

Look, we already know we have an identity and redemption in Christ; we know He’s in control, and He has work for us to perform today. He IS our constant Companion and Leader. You are God’s son or daughter, and you belong in His presence.

Unlike “Hero” or “Mentor” Jesus, “Leader” Jesus has you employed in His Kingdom where He resides with co-laborers. Here, you’ll report directly to the Boss, affording regular and invaluable encounters with ultimate growth opportunities. In fact, you might start seeing Him in everything you do. But don’t wait around for a piece of toast to get started.

“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building…Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” 1 Corinthians 3:9, 16 (NIV)

-  Alton Johnson

 

Jul 24

Our Emmaus: Day 26

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.”   – Genesis 12:1–2 (NIV)

Four years ago, I envisioned myself on this day, tossing my graduation cap in the air fully capable to tackle whatever challenges I faced with a clarified sense of purpose and direction. Now, on my graduation day, I sit here typing and thinking. I know where I’m going next year, and I couldn’t be more excited to see all that God has in store. However, navigating the unchartered waters of my future is extremely daunting. On my own, I feel, as I am, a bright-eyed yet scared 18 year old with the world ahead of her. However, with The Lord by my side I am fearlessly confident because He will never leave my side.

Already, throughout the college admissions and decisions process, He’s been guiding me. Even though I “did not understand what [God] was doing, later I will (and did) understand” (John 13:7).

I had asked Him, throughout this 7-month process, to make His plans clear. I wanted God to “close doors no one could open and open doors no one could shut.” (Revelation 3:8) And that’s exactly what He did. I was wait-listed to my first choice school and accepted into my second choice school. I decided to attend my second choice school, and I couldn’t be happier about that decision. I firmly believe that the time I spent in prayer and reading the Bible gave me a renewed perspective. I realized that all along my second choice was really my first. It was a better fit for me and ultimately, I felt more peace about it. Proverbs 16:9 solidified my decision in that the Lord will be with me wherever I go, “we plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it.” (The Message)

God often asks us to leave the familiar, the comfortable and the secure to deepen our dependence on Him. God may ask you to leave a relationship or a job. You may feel scared, ill-prepared and alone. However, He holds the whole world in His hands and He will never let you go. I pray, that you feel as I do now, with a renewed sense of purpose and hope ready to step out of the boat so that He may give you His power to walk on the water.

- Tiffany Lagerstrom

 

 

Jul 23

Our Emmaus: Day 25

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding,
so that we may know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true…”
– 1 John 5:20

 

Can You Hear? Do You Understand?

It was my twenty-third summer and, in recent years, auspicious life experiences had brought positive change to my life. Now I was back in Germany, this time as a soldier.

Today the First Sergeant had left word for me to report, and I rushed downstairs: “You have a brother?” he asked.

“Yes; Wolfgang. Why?”

“Someone called. He’s been arrested by the East German police.”

Back upstairs I sat motionless on my bunk, but soon, unexpectedly, found myself at the office of the Battalion Chaplain. I did not know him, having attended no church services while in the military. I explained that in 1948 my older brother had applied for political asylum in Berlin, worked as an assistant to Otto Suhr, Mayor of West Berlin, and was taken into custody. That was all I knew.

The pastor prayed for his safety and early release, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The voice revealed that this man knew Jesus.

That afternoon I received a letter from my parents in East Germany, telling me that Wolfgang had embarked by train, and was taken by the police at the first Communist check point. As a political refugee myself, I understood the inherent danger to his life.

At night I was called downstairs one more time: “Someone called. Your brother has been released, and is safe,” they told me.

When and how do we perceive the voice of God? Too often I am hard of hearing, or unable (please may I not be unwilling) to comprehend.

Twenty-nine additional summers came and went. As an attorney, I lived with a wife and two daughters in a Chatsworth home we had built—the place where I now cowered in bed, curled up in a fetal position—grieving. The night before, I had found my youngest child on the Winnetka Bridge spanning the 118 Freeway, and taken her to a psychiatric hospital in Van Nuys early in the morning.

Then, mere weeks later and extending over many months, members of the Bible Study I joined through Bel Air Presbyterian Church prayed for her.

Today she lives in a small apartment in North Hollywood; we recently celebrated her fortieth birthday.

There was a man named Jesus: He is God.

- Burk Wiedner

 

 

Jul 22

Our Emmaus: Day 24

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called
you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen,
and establish you.”
– 1 Peter 5:10

 

Did you know that only 1% of visitors to the Grand Canyon make it to the bottom? It’s true: almost everyone sticks to the beautiful views from the top, or embarks on a short hike part of the way down. Can you blame them?

One year ago my family decided we needed to be in that elusive (crazy?) 1%. In May 2013, we started our bucket list journey to the bottom of the Canyon and back. For me, the trip was also a personal milestone: I had been diagnosed with a form of arthritis one year prior, and was struggling with sore joints and pain along with the emotional toll of living with a chronic illness.

Over the course of three days, we hiked a total of 16 miles over 9,000 vertical feet. No amount of training could have prepared me for the strenuous physical challenge of this hike. I was hot, dusty, and sore. It seemed like my blisters grew blisters. My body was pushed to the limit—and I still had to hike back out of the Canyon!

As I began the 10-mile trek back up to the Canyon Rim on the third day of our adventure, I remember silently asking Christ for supernatural strength and energy. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. My body was aching from the sore joints caused by my arthritis. At a certain point about 2 miles from the top, I legitimately wondered how I was going to make it to the end.

How often do we come to a point on our journey where the only thing we have left to do is cry out to Christ for His strength? We’ve tried everything else, and we realize (yet again) that we can’t do it on our own. We can’t take another step without Him.

Well, I made it to the top, one step at a time. Jesus met me on the trail that day. I specifically recall looking out, back over the trail I had hiked up, with tears in my eyes at the thought of how much I had accomplished and how far He had led me. Not only did I complete the hike, but I left the Canyon with a sense of awe at how Jesus had brought me through a year-long emotional rollercoaster. He was there with me in the struggle and the celebration, and He gave me the strength to push through to the end when everything seemed impossible: not just out of the Canyon, but through so much more.

-  Caitlin Robertson

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