Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Feast of Saint Mark: A Patron for Ministry Rejects

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Mark, the Evangelist, who was also known as John Mark. His narrative of the life of Jesus was the first to be written, and was chosen by the Church to take its place among only three other Gospel accounts considered God-inspired.

After being released from jail by an angel (Acts 12:12), Peter went to the home of John Mark and his mother.  Church tradition claims that Jesus appeared to His disciples in Mark’s house after His Resurrection, and its large upper room was where the Holy Spirit was poured out upon believers gathered on the Day of Pentecost.

Nineteen years after Christ’s ascension, Mark traveled to Africa and founded the Church at Alexandria. The pagans in Alexandria resented his efforts to turn the populace from their traditional gods. In 68 AD, they captured John Mark, put a rope around his neck, and dragged him through the streets until he was dead. He is honored by the Coptic Church as the founder of Christianity in Africa, and his symbol is the lion.

What a courageous witness for the Lord…so courageous that the Church chose a lion to symbolize Mark’s ministry!

But Mark’s first attempt at ministry ended in disaster. In fact, he made such a mess of things that Paul refused to have anything to do with him! Mark was considered unreliable and a liability to the Church. A lion? Really?

Mark and his family played prominent in the early church. They worked side by side with the Apostles, even hosting meetings in their home. Therefore, it seemed normal for Paul to choose Mark as his promising new assistant for his first missionary journey.

However, something went wrong along the way. We’re not told exactly what happened, but when planning a second trip, Paul adamantly refused to add Mark to the roster (Acts 15: 36-41). In verse 38, Paul uses a strong word, stating Mark “departed from them in Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.”

Many translations use the word deserted, but a look at the original Greek word gives us insight into how seriously Paul perceived the abandonment. It comes from the same root as “apostasy”. He considered Mark a total write off in terms of serving God.

Arguing on behalf of giving Mark a second chance was his uncle, Barnabas. His name means “Son of Comfort, Encouragement.” Forget the fact that he was a relative. His name denotes the prevailing motive behind his words and actions: he was an encourager. On the other hand, Paul was a “get with the program or get out” apostle. Although he tempered in his later years, he was known to run a tight ship and had little patience for floundering.

All sorts of people have weighed in over the years as to why Mark dropped out on the adventure of a lifetime. The Scriptures show Barnabas taking a back seat to the converted Paul once he arrived on the scene. Initially, Barnabas headed up several mercy and evangelistic tours. He was the one who introduced Paul to the Apostles in Jerusalem. Barnabas was one of the first teachers of the church at Antioch. When the work grew greater than one person could manage, Barnabas chose Paul to be his assistant for a year. Some scholars suggest Mark was troubled over Paul’s rise to prominence over his uncle. Other people believe he simply got homesick. I tend to favor the notion that Mark was just not ready for the hardships he encountered.

It’s one thing to say you are prepared to face persecution and troubles; quite another to encounter them. The area they traveled was riddled with bandits, and Paul’s message attracted both political and religious enemies. Dangers lay at every turn with no promise of a decent meal or lodging along the way. Mark was probably overwhelmed. As the journey progressed, fears and self-doubts increased.

Let’s return to the intense argument between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15. Verse 39 records that the contention was so sharp between the two of them that they “departed asunder one from the other”. (Again, there’s the English word departed. However, it is a different word altogether in the Greek, meaning “to part company”.) As a result, Paul chose Silas as his ministry companion and headed toward Syria and Cilcia; Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus.

We hear nothing else from the Bible about the outcome of the Cyprus mission. Apparently, it went well. Barnabas is traditionally identified as the founder of the Cypriot Church. He is also mentioned briefly by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:6 as a fellow laborer for the Lord. It is generally believed that upon Barnabas’ death by stoning in 61 AD, Mark privately interred his body.

 Church tradition states that Mark became Peter’s scribe and interpreter. (How appropriate for Mark to sit at the feet of another man well acquainted with failure AND redemption!) Many historians agree that the Apostle was the source of information for Mark’s Gospel account, which was penned right before his own martyrdom in 68 AD.

Are you a ministry reject? Has a church, denomination, or Christian organization disqualified you because of a failed mission? Do you believe the Lord has written you off, as well?

You didn’t commit adultery; you didn’t steal from the coffers or misrepresent the Faith…you were in over your head. Perhaps you grew afraid. The battlefield was very different from the classroom. Maybe your resolve wasn’t as tough as you confessed for such an assignment.

After thirty years in ministry, I’ve seen so many Christian men and women resign themselves to the pews. They refuse to take noble risks. They are convinced that extraordinary adventures are for well-equipped, more spiritually mature Christians.

I truly believe Mark’s ministry blunder occurred because he just wasn’t ready to undertake such an arduous and extended assignment. Barnabas accurately discerned there was nothing wrong with Mark’s character or his calling. Three years after his first attempt, Mark took a smaller mission to Cyprus with Barnabas and helped start a successful church in that region.

Beloved, there is nothing wrong with your character or calling, either. But maybe you can’t hear this truth because of the stinging, blatant rejection of that “Paul”—that church, denomination, or organization. The solution is simple: Pray for God to send you a Barnabas, a “Son of Comfort, of Encouragement” to take you under his or her ministry wing.

I know how deeply this type of rejection hurts. When we moved into a new Communion, my previous ordination was considered invalid, but the leaders were willing to examine me for a new commission. I took a battery of tests along with four other candidates.

I’ll never forget the day I received the call from the bishop stating that my test results sent up some “red flags” among the committee members. They concluded that I could not be commissioned in good conscience for ministry at that time. However, the other four candidates were cleared.

I’m not happy when I say this because it hurts to see fellow Christians falter and go through hard times; but none of those four are serving in the church today!

It took me a long time to work through the embarrassment (I had already sent out my recommendation letters to friends and family). Yet, I NEVER questioned God’s call upon my life. That was settled years ago. I had navigated many shark-infested waters as a woman minister, and as one who grew up in the ultra-conservative Bible Belt!

I remained a member of that Communion, realizing I did not need them to validate or commission me to serve God and His people with my ministry gifts. Instead of attacking their Paul-like approach, I remained positive and looked for people with a Barnabas heart. Barnabases seem to know when you’re ready to try again; and they’ll have your back when you do—even if it costs them their reputation or a friendship.

You see, many churches and ministries run predominately on man-made rules. Unfortunately, they measure a Christian’s success by how quickly they get their act together and enter some sort of service. Otherwise, you are not worth much to God or to them (or so it is subtlety implied).

You quickly volunteer for all sorts of things that you either don’t like or don’t feel equipped to handle because it pleases the leadership. They continue to expect more from you—more meetings, more training sessions, more “spiritual” activities. We often sign up to be involved in something spiritually big, only to later discover we misjudged the demands and complexities. We find ourselves in over our heads, and blow it—big time.

Regardless of what happened and how, you retreated into a cave. While offering some security, its walls always remind you of how you got there.  God forbid, but maybe even the Pauls in your life prefer you to remain a cave dweller. But know this: God doesn’t like caves. Just ask Elijah. (1 Kings 19:1-18)

Again, let me say: There is nothing wrong with your character or your calling! God wants to partner with you in exploits that will greatly further His Kingdom here on earth—yes, YOU! Ask for a Barnabas that will provide the right environment for you to blossom and release your gifts to the world.

Will you spend the rest of your life thinking you failed God? Will you forever sit in the corner of the Church-at-large wearing a dunce hat that reads “Been there, Done that, Blew it”?

Make Mark your patron saint and example. Forgive and get past the estimations of man. Acknowledge that some people, like Timothy, flourish under the leadership of a Paul. Others do better under a Barnabas. There are diverse styles of leadership and ministries available to men and women called from all walks of life and temperaments. We’re in this together!

The goal is to see Christ’s redemptive work spread throughout the world. Who knows? Those who earlier disqualified you may one day recognize the value of your ministry. It happened to Mark.

Toward the end of his life, Paul was imprisoned in Rome, forsaken by many of his fellow ministers. He wrote to Timothy, asking him to bring Mark as soon as possible for “…he is profitable (in the Greek-“very useful”) to me for the ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Taking Up My Cross: What It Is, What It's Not

How many times have you heard the phrase, “Well, it’s just my cross to bear”…usually accompanied by a resigning bitterness or claim to martyrdom. Perhaps you’ve said it, too. I have.

The Apostle Peter keeps us humble when he reminds us in his first letter-- chapter 4 verse 12--that we are not to think our fiery trials as strange things happening only to us. For the word, “strange”, let’s substitute unique. We’re not singled out by God--either to be picked on or deemed special enough to suffer. Suffering (identifying with Christ’s self-denial) is every Christian’s calling.

Being willing to fellowship (experience) this suffering in your own life qualifies you to share in the power of His Resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

Let’s look at Jesus’ words:

"And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me.”
Matthew 10:38 (ASV)

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
(Matthew 16:24 ASV)

"And he called unto him the multitude with his disciples, and said unto them, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34-35 ASV)

“And he said unto all, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
(Luke 9:23 ASV)

“Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”
(Luke 12:47 ASV)

Putting these passages together, we find:

1) It is not Jesus’ Cross we take up, but our own.
2) Taking up our cross is indeed, self-denial.
3) We are to take it up with the purpose of conforming to Jesus.
4) It is a daily discipline.
5) It is optional—only for those who want to be a disciple rather than just a follower.
6) Any confessing believer who doesn’t, however, is not “worthy” (Greek-deserving) of Jesus.

Note: Jesus said to take up your cross and follow. Many of us will take up a cross, only to complain. We don't focus on Jesus and move forward to follow, as commanded. We are not suppose to steady our gaze on the problem, but Christ. We are never to stagnate into bitterness, but move from glory to glory in spite of our cross.

Since we each have unique situations and circumstances that involve cross-bearing, our focus should not be on WHAT we carry as much as HOW we bear it. The Apostle Paul warned in II Corinthians 10:12 that it is unwise to compare ourselves to other Christians.

Bearing one’s own cross IS NOT:

1) The consequences of sin
2) The consequences of God’s chastisement

A married woman once told me in a counseling session that she believed her falling into adulterous affairs were just just part of the cross she had to bear in life. "I'm weak", she said. "The Lord knows I can't help it."

No! You don’t “bear” sin--you repent of it, and then cooperate with the Holy Spirit in disentangling your mind, emotions, and behavior patterns from its effects. You allow Him to peel back the layers and address the root of what has 'twisted' (the meaning of iniquity) the expression of your sexuality into something God never intended.

Conversely, any Christian who is currently reaping what they have sown needs to quit misleading people with the "cross phrase" and just repent for the seeds they planted. God will be merciful! There is no glory, says the Scriptures, in being buffeted for our sins (I Peter 2:20).

What is a genuine cross to bear? It is being compelled beyond the pain of self-denial towards a greater purpose than our personal happiness or comfort!

Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane…not with WHAT He had to do, but HOW the Father chose for redemption to be accomplished. The Gospel of Luke records that this battle to surrender His will to the Father’s was so intense that His sweat became as drops of blood! (Luke 22:44)

In the end, Jesus was able to say: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." Cross-bearers are nevertheless Christians!

The WAY you bear your cross through sickness, grief, lack, loss, estranged relationships, a difficult marriage, slander and persecution conforms you to the image of Christ. It will be your gift to Him when faith becomes sight. (I Peter 1:7)

In addition, your cross-bearing can influence others for Christ better than your strengths.

When I was still in broadcasting, a Christian co-worker said she was embarrassed for others to know her husband had left; she was faced with mounting debts and raising two kids alone. She considered it a bad testimony.

I told her it could be her BEST witnessing yet! Unbelievers need to know that Christians are not immune from similar problems because we all live in a fallen world where people are free to exercise their wills for good or bad—including Christians.

However, HOW we handle a crisis as Christians should be different; we will our suffering to be joyful because it has a redemptive purpose--even if we don’t have the first clue as to what God is accomplishing through our situation.

The essence of authentic cross-bearing is dying to self in big and little ways. We often find it less troubling to give up time or allow for occasional interruptions in our daily plans. At other times, we all enter our own Gethsemane (place of pressing) alone to surrender our dreams, relationships, comforts, and even our safety.

“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”
(I Peter 4:19)

I can help bear your burdens, but not your cross
. “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ…” (Galatians 6:2)

Yet, in just a few verses later, the Apostle Paul says, “For every man shall bear his own burden.” (Verse 5)

This definitely appears contradictory at first, but the key is in the translation of the word burden.

In verse 2, the Greek word baros is used. It means “weight”. The heaviness of your cross is my concern, and I should look for ways to continually strengthen and encourage you.

is the Greek word used in verse 5. It represents an "invoice, task, or service". Since God gives the task, no one should attempt to lessen or remove another’s cross.

In Gethsemane, it’s difficult to see the gift we’ve been given. Our faith in the goodness of God is severely tested, much like that of Jeremiah’s:

“Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you indeed be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail and are uncertain?"

“Therefore thus says the Lord [to Jeremiah]: If you return [and give up this mistaken tone of distrust and despair], then I will give you again a settled place of quiet and safety, and you will be My minister…

“…and if you separate the precious from the vile [cleansing your own heart from unworthy and unwarranted suspicions concerning God's faithfulness], you shall be My mouthpiece…”
(Jeremiah 15:18-19 Amplified)

In my Christian life, the two commands in the above passages have helped me stay the course when I could see only the storm, not the hand of God:

Give up this mistaken tone of distrust and despair. Cleanse your own heart from unworthy and unwarranted suspicions concerning God's faithfulness.

God delivers us from some things--out of others. “Why” may remain in His sovereign knowledge during our earthly lives. If we do get a glimpse into His ways for us, it is often AFTER we have passed through the troubling event.

For instance, my friend Nancy prayed for her infant son who had a heart defect. His life expectancy was bleak. God healed him to the amazement of the doctors. He is in his thirties today and doing fine!

Years later, Nancy was ill and the doctors wanted to do surgery. Again, she prayed for healing, but grew worse with the passing of time. She finally arranged for the surgery, trusting herself to God’s will in the situation.

After being prepped, Nancy was waiting to be wheeled into the OR. Another surgery patient was on the gurney next to her. The elderly man heard Nancy quietly praying.

“Are you a Christian?” he asked.

“Yes,” answered Nancy, turning to look at the man.

“I…I ain’t right with God, ma’am. I don’t even know how to make it right.”

My friend led him to the Lord—right there. Later, Nancy discovered that he died on the operating table. You see, God still healed her…His way. And God’s ways address issues far beyond what’s going on in our little world.

Cross-bearing is optional. We can always refuse the opportunity; thereby refusing the gift and the power we possess to turn it into a blessing for others. We can selfishly refuse and grow embittered over our circumstances.

“Though He (Jesus) was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”
(Hebrews 5:8)

The Greek word Manthano, rendered in English as "learned", more accurately suggests that Jesus “mastered” obedience. Yes…Jesus, the Son of God had to do this!

Although He was fully God and fully man, the Son voluntarily limited all advantages of being God when He assumed human flesh to live in our world. He did this in order to serve the redemptive will of the Father as a perfect substitute for sinful humanity.

We, too, must master obedience through cross-bearing. Jesus did not assert His rights as God during His earthly mission, and neither should we demand our rights to any special privileges and blessings as we continue His ministry.

How does God view our cross bearing?

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable (rational) service.”
(Romans 12:1)

No one likes his or her cross. The Bible records that Jesus endured His Cross because of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Humanity was that joy! We loomed larger in His vision than the pain and shame of His Cross.

Now, this same passage in Hebrews exhorts us to reciprocate…and keep our eyes on “Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our Faith”. Now…HE is our joy!

The cross we once desperately petitioned God to remove can actually become an indwelling joy (much deeper than happiness)…enabling us to endure until God’s purpose is accomplished.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Just Because

Cleopas and his companion finally neared Emmaus (Luke 24: 28-35). The traveler that joined them on the road was quite an unusual Bible expositor. Along the way, he opened up their understanding to the Scriptures concerning the redemptive ministry of the Messiah.  Issues were clearer; concerns about Jesus had been better addressed and many doubts were alleviated.

The men were planning to lodge for the night in Emmaus, but their new friend “made as though he would go further”. We find similar language recorded in Mark 6: 45-52 when the disciples were rowing hard in their own strength against a storm. Jesus drew near, walking on top of the very waters that threatened to drown them. He acted, though, as if to walk on by. The disciples were so blinded by their fears that they didn’t recognize help had arrived. Instead, the Bible says they “were troubled” at what they saw.

Cleopas and his friend didn’t readily detect the presence of their Lord, either.

As I was reading this Scripture today, I was struck by how many times Jesus has drawn near on my faith travels—answering prayers, granting peace in so many situations. Yet, because I tend to be centered on telling Him what I need and getting relief, well…I’m embarrassed to say that just getting it off my chest is often enough, followed by the usual “Thanks for listening; hope you move soon” regards.

We can so easily lapse into dry principles of prayer that dull our vision. We lose sight that fellowship with God is not a creed, but conversation on an intimate level.

The two disciples, whose former priority had been getting answers, now strangely longed for fellowship with their new friend—nothing else.  In fact, they constrained him to stay for the evening.  John Gill’s commentary explains the full meaning of the word:
[But they constrained him, etc.] The Arabic version renders it, they held him by force: but the meaning is not, that they laid hands on him, and held him in a forcible manner against his will; but they were very urgent and importunate with him, that he would stay with them; they would take no denial. The sense is better given in the Persic version: the disciples with importunity said unto him; they were so pressing with arguments, that he could not withstand them: saying, abide with us.
I am trying to recall the last time I urged Jesus to tarry…just because I enjoyed His presence and wanted to know Him better.  I realize He never leaves or forsakes us, but I’m talking about those times when He makes His presence known in irresistible, breathless ways.

Am I content to spout out my needs and routinely thank Him before I step into my dwelling places of the day without another thought? Or have I become so intoxicated by His extravagant love that I won’t be denied this worship? Gone is the agenda; all that remains is my burning heart.

Jesus honored Cleopas and his friend by tarrying with them for a time of fellowship. When the bread was passed, Jesus “blessed it, broke, and gave it to them” (verse 30). Something was familiar to the disciples. They had seen bread handled in the same manner by... Wait! Could it be?

Next, the Scriptures tell us at that very moment their eyes were opened as to Who had been with them all along. Then, Jesus vanished from their sight.

I believe the Holy Spirit wanted Luke to include this story in His account in order to teach us that we can choose to be content with either information or intimacy, answers or abiding. While I am truly thankful that the Lord, who is easy to be entreated, desires to hear and grant my petitions, the greater treasure is in fellowship.  Those “Just Because I Love You” times that won’t settle for anything less than the sense and glory of His intimate presence.

You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

Indeed, God answers the prayers of those in covenant with Christ; He faithfully reveals to us our paths. But is that all we want? Do we want the pleasures from His hand or the fullness of joy that comes from His presence? We can have both; however, shouldn’t we honor Him by choosing the best part first?

Interestingly, Cleopas and friend rose up that same hour to go back to Jerusalem.  Perhaps that’s why Jesus vanished so quickly. Emmaus was not where these two disciples needed to be. They were witnesses of the Resurrected Christ. They had seen the Lord and were led back to proclaim the Good News in the very place that first brought them such blinding confusion and doubts!

Tarrying times with Jesus will do that, you know. Time with Him in nothing but worship and adoration can turn you around. It can get your going in the right direction and send you back to the source of your fears with confidence.

Our two travelers met up with the other disciples and reported what happened on the road to Emmaus. Moreover, as they were speaking, Jesus appeared to them again—this time without any urging. (verse 36).

That’s another thing about spending “Just Because” times with Jesus. The initiative to seek intimate fellowship with Jesus may begin with you, but you’ll find Him rewarding you with more of His own “Just Because” moments.  Much to your delight and surprise, you’ll discover that His desire to spend time adoring you far exceeds what you could ever imagine or grasp!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Post-Easter Heartburn

This past Easter, believers walked out of nicely decorated buildings and back onto the dusty roads of everyday life, not unlike Cleopas and his companion heading to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). These travelers were witnesses to the first Easter, and it was anything but glorious. The man they had pinned all their Messianic hopes upon had been crucified.

The movement was going so well--crowds thronged for healings, miracles occurred; many followers were sure that Israel's victorious deliverance from the oppressive Romans was at hand.

We’ve all experienced a lot of “but then” moments, haven’t we?  The followers of Jesus were thrown into three head-spinning days of confusion and despair. Bewildered, they watched their leader refuse to defend himself against the trumped-up charges. All hell broke loose! No one knew what to do. In the end, there was Jesus--bloodied and gasping for every breath on a cross. Now his friends feared for their lives. It seemed all of Jerusalem was stirred up about the claims of the carpenter turned lunatic.

We don’t know for sure, but Cleopas and his friend probably thought it wise to put some distance between themselves and the conflict. Perhaps in a quiet and safer place, they could come to terms with what happened. The latest rumors that Jesus’ body was missing and Mary's wild report of seeing Jesus alive added to their confusion. The men didn’t know what to believe!

On this year’s journey beyond the pristine church doors, maybe you’re traveling on your own Emmaus—a road between what is versus what you expected. With every dusty step, reality clashes with what you thought were sure promises from a good God. Like your fellow travelers from that first Easter, you’re no longer sure what to believe. With precious parts of your life ripped away, it appears God just stood by and watched.  Adding to your turmoil are conflicting, confusing “explanations” from family members and well-meaning Christians.

The two Emmaus-bound disciples in Luke’s account had much to discuss, much to try to reason with and perhaps, reason away. They were attempting to sort out all that had happened when a fellow traveler joined them. I believe the fog of analysis was so heavy that it clouded their ability to recognize their new companion.

(I refuse to count how many times, in trying hard to take control of a situation, I missed His “arrival”. Do you remember the Bible story of the disciples desperately toiling to keep control of their boat in a storm? It’s in Mark 6:45-52. Jesus came near, walking on the water. However, Mark’s report interestingly adds, “He would have passed by them.” The guys were so focused on the problem and the need to row themselves to safety that they almost missed the answer to their prayers. There was Jesus--standing on top of the very thing that was threatening to destroy them!)

Back on the road to Emmaus, Jesus briefly inquired into the nature of his traveling companions’ deep discussion. They reported in detail everything they had witnessed done by the hands of the Pharisees and the Romans, and the latest claims by the disciples--everything except what Jesus taught them on numerous occasions--all the news except the good news housed in the Scriptures confirming this redemptive moment in history!

Under fire, I tend to forget the Words of Jesus as well. I look everywhere for an answer but in the Bible. I listen more readily to the opinions and speculations of others. By the time I get around to prayer, my mind is filled with all kinds of vain imaginations. I may be a quick thinker, but my spiritual heart is often slow to grasp God’s truth.

In verse twenty-five, Jesus exclaimed, “You fools and slow of heart to believe…” The word for fools here in the Greek means “One who drops to a lower level of thinking—only using the intellect—that tends to lead to moral fault”. In other words, slow-hearted people can more easily err in their assessments.

After being called slow-hearted by a total ‘stranger”, stunned Cleopas and his friend were at a loss for words! (Maybe that’s what Jesus was after with his stinging rebuke!) They had heard many things, but it was time for them to listen.

This unusual traveler on the Emmaus Road began to teach from the Scriptures—from Moses to the prophets—on how the seemingly tragic events they witnessed back in Jerusalem were part of God’s triumphant plan all along (actually, since before the world began). This time, they got it!

The two disciples were amazed at the turn around in their understanding. What they assumed was a tragic loss for them as Christ’s followers was a gain for the whole world—Salvation...accomplished and secured for all who would believe—now and forever. The answers they sought had been right before them!

And another curious thing occurred: as they listened, their hearts began to burn deep within. (It’s not the kind of condition Prilosec or Tums can treat.) The Living Word Himself was burning away all the sludge from His slow-hearted friends. That’s how I know Jesus is communing with me—His words of life ignite a fire deep within, bypassing my intellect and fickle emotions, moving beyond my fears and stubborn mindsets.

When what has been clogging your vision is burned away, then whatever you picked up this year or had to put down against your will reveals itself in a different light. You start to see a redemptive story that you never could have imagined—one powerful enough to break any barrier in order to reach others who are broken and slow of heart.

Stay on your Emmaus Road a little longer. It’s right after Easter, so I expect Jesus will come alongside any time now. You may not recognize him at first, but just listen to your companion. You might get the best case of heartburn you’ve ever had.

(We’re not through with Cleopas and his friend’s encounter with the Risen Lord. In my next post, we’ll discover exactly when their eyes were open to behold Jesus, and the reward that comes when the focus shifts from wanting answers to needing fellowship.)