Feeling Left Behind?

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“The greatest joy is not finding something that we’ve been looking for. The greatest joy is when we’d given up on ever finding it and then it found us.”― Craig D. Lounsbrough

In these weeks after Easter I remain two weeks ago in that resurrection weekend. Our church, like all the rest, is meeting remotely. We hear sermons and worship from afar and then connect with each other in smaller groups using social media. We are “doing” what has historically been called Eastertide – continuing to celebrate the miracle for 50 days until Pentecost (the arrival of the Holy Spirit).

At HBU, our faculty in my School of Humanities, have been sharing a devotional twice a week. These have also focused our attention on events after Easter. Today’s devotion was about the Apostle Thomas – who we all identify with and call  Doubting Thomas.

I noticed something today that I had missed before.

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”   (John 20:24-29)

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to a great number of his followers – to confirm his resurrection. But what I noticed today was this particular special trip that Jesus made. Remember, eight days earlier he had appeared to the disciples as they were hiding out behind a locked door. He gave them a mission to go and share the Good News. Thomas was absent from this gathering.

Jesus returns, eight days later, to find his followers still cowering in fear behind locked doors. They were not following orders. But isn’t it remarkable that Jesus comes back to find Thomas, the follower who was so vocal about all his doubts.

  • The others gathered in the room had seen the risen Jesus, yet they remained hiding in fear
  • Thomas doesn’t have to first prove himself or show his faith – Jesus comes looking for him where he is
  • Remember the parable about the lost sheep? The shepherd leaves his 99 to go in search of the one that is lost
  • I had missed this my whole life – Jesus comes looking for the big mouth who was full of doubts, who spoke up against the rest of the eyewitnesses, the man that offended his friends by almost calling them liars

What kind of lesson is this for me and you? What do we do about our constant need to prove ourselves, to earn our way, to keep God happy with us?

I looked at this passage in The Message, when Jesus came for this second time he focused his attention on Thomas. That’s what hit me between the eyes. The greatest movement in the history of humanity is about to be launched and Jesus returns to see about Thomas. Church history tells us that Thomas was the disciple who took the Good News further than any other – he went all the way to India. That meeting changed him forever.

What would a meeting with God do to you?

“And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?” ― Mary Oliver

We remember the one-to-one meeting that Jesus had with Peter (John 21:15-17) – who was carrying the guilt of denial heavy in his soul. Paul writes that Jesus also spent time with his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7) – who at first tried to talk his older brother out of his controversial mission but would later become the leader his church in Jerusalem. What did they talk about after the resurrection?

  • Easter isn’t about straightening out my life so that God will like me
  • It isn’t a route to achieving problem-free living
  • It’s not even about joining an extra wholesome new group

Today I realized that one crucial message and meaning of Easter was that God is willing to search for me, like Thomas. As many doubts as I have and express with my words and actions, these are not going to stand in the way (like those locked doors) of him finding me.

What a wonderful message in the story of Thomas – I’m going to stop calling him by that old nickname. Instead he now reminds me that no one is immune to God’s love and search.

We love each other because he loved us first.  – I John 4:19

 

Where’s the Dentist When You Need One?

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. – I Peter 3:15

I’ve returned today from my third visit to the dentist. I still have my problem. I’m going to have to go back next week and hope it gets resolved. I had no idea that I would have to go through this sort of long and drawn out (month long) ordeal to just get a simple problem resolved. I went in today and was moved through a number of “stations” (not of the cross) thinking I was going to find relief. It wasn’t until I was led out into the office and charged a fee that I realized I not only didn’t get any fries, there was nothing even approaching a happy meal in my hands as I walked out of the building.

Once I stop being mad and frustrated, I try to put this all in perspective. I water the flowers and fix dinner. Think about it some more. After cleaning up and loading the dishwasher it gets a little easier to find that important alignment between everyday experience and some eternal truth.

I’m trying to get the dentist to solve a problem, how many visits is it going to take? I think there are people all around me who are looking for solutions to all kinds of problems. Some of these problems and really big and even eternal. I wonder if anyone looking for some truth has felt like I have trying to get a dentist to solve one little problem? Frustrated and considering just living with it.

“Ah, Misha, he has a stormy spirit. His mind is in bondage. He is haunted by a great, unsolved doubt. He is one of those who don’t want millions, but an answer to their questions.”  ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My wife has cancer. I’ve watched from across the room as she has interacted with total strangers she hasn’t even met. A clerk, healthcare worker, someone at the restaurant. They talk a little about her situation. She tells a little of her story, seasoned with faith, and then I can see eyes begin to fill with tears. I don’t think it’s always sympathy. I think many of these strangers have their own personal story with cancer that somehow relates. My wife has been able to deliver a little hope from out of nowhere.

Just like me, searching for a dentist and experiencing a great deal of frustration, there are people everywhere who can’t find satisfying answers to big questions.

Just like everyone else, there are believers who are in the middle of life with all of its triumph and tragedy. People everywhere, waiting for a kindness from a stranger who will share their life and a word of truth.

“You cannot do a kindness too soon,
for you never know how soon it will be too late.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Searcher

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Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. – Colossians 1:15

Humans have always been searching for God. Jump on Amazon, there are hundreds of books written about the topic. The search continues.

The very young, who I encounter in college every day, seem so certain they’ve found all they need in their brief search. I always have one student who’s just brimming with confidence and answers. It’s inspiring.

I’m still searching for answers as I navigate through the shipwreck of this world. Long ago, when I was young and filled with answers, I assumed that one day the search would end.  Someday I’d get to a point where I had it all figured out. Still waiting. God remains a mystery. As He should be.

While I’m searching for the right path to take and looking for more answers to the multiplying problems I keep tripping over, the only certainty that comforts my spirit is what I discover about the words and actions of Christ. More and more, He becomes for me the answer to my restless soul as I search for God each day.

Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. – John 13:5

Putting my vanity out the door and bending my knees to serve someone else (who doesn’t even expect it) – that’s where I know I can find God.

“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:44-45

Treating people who seem to be out to get me as if they were the dearest of friends is the most difficult of journeys to make, and yet that’s where God is waiting.

“But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail.” – Luke 22:32

While enduring his own most agonizing trial of faith, Jesus invests his heart and mind in the life of his friend. As big as they might seem, I can’t let my own problems distract me from caring about the lives of others. This is where God is calling all of us and where He can always be found.

 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

Putting down that grudge and taking up my cross is another certain way in which I will find God today. He is always there in the midst of forgiveness. Waiting at the gate to welcome home the wandering child. Pouring out a wealth of forgiveness to ones who owed a debt of sin. “But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.” – William Langland

As I search, I can look to the words and deeds of Christ and always find what I’m longing for.

Walking to Emmaus Part 7

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They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”  – Luke 24:32-34

Can you imagine the questions they asked themselves as they raced back to Jerusalem? The distance was probably 7 miles. Do you think they got competitive about who recognized him first?

Never forget how this wonderful story ends:

  • They shared the same physical experience of feeling the truth in their hearts, hearing it and being in his presence.
  • They were overcome with the need to do something about this experience, to share it with everyone else. It was late in the evening, yet they jumped up and hurried back to their friends (hours away).
  • Once gathered with their friends the experience they had just had was confirmed by others who had also seen the risen Lord.

When I think about the Road to Emmaus story it reminds me to always think about which direction I’m heading today. There are choices to make. Too frequently I’m heading back home to what’s familiar and comfortable, my tail between my legs. I fall into ruts and routines and am not as intentional with people like I want to be.

Today, I want to be with those two disciples whose hearts were filled with happiness and hope, eager to get back to the scene of all the action. I want to live a life that reports the truth and not dwell on fear and failure.

Our life is different than it was for those two disciples heading home that day. As believers we have the Spirit residing within us. We have not been left alone.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.  – John 14: 16-18

So why do we still have such trouble recognizing the presence of God when he resides so close to us (within us)? How much nearer does he need to get? Maybe the noise of world is too much with us. It’s not looking for God…Are you?

Be certain today that you’re running back to the action not back home to safety. Listen for that voice in your spirit who’s there to guide your steps into the will of God. What looks like defeat may indeed be the greatest triumph.

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.  – I John 2:6

Searching for a Purpose

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

“The problem for us is not are our desires satisfied or not. The problem is how do we know what we desire?”

Slavoj Zizek

“For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.”

Romans 11:29

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Colossians 3:2-3

I’m not sure we ever outgrow the search for our true self. It’s an endless search for significance. Mostly we find enough in our family, our career and even our friendships. But then things happen that show you how fragile all this can be. We are inspired when we read Paul sharing with the local church that all of his troubles were not going to define him, instead “…we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). In his search for purpose he had learned to look past what could be seen and searched for something more.

What do you really want today?  Learn to want something more, something eternal.

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