Seeing Jesus Together (Luke 24:13–35)

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This past week my wife and I spent time with a close friend who adopted a two and a half year old child. Their home, family, and hearts were prepared to lavish great love on their new child. This child would come into a caring, loving and comfortable home. Surely this child would respond with ecstatic appreciation!  Or so we all thought. After years of waiting, the actual adoption happened, and the child struggled.  She struggled to leave her foster parents and adjust to her new parents. She threw temper tantrums and refused to eat. Physical challenges became apparent. Although she was adopted into a new family, she struggled to adapt to that new family. Only after a few years did she begin to settle into her new identity as an adopted child.

Similarly we often struggle when we are adopted into God’s family. Although we are adopted and embraced by God unconditionally, we struggle to receive and live by that love. In Luke 24:13–35 Jesus walks with his disciples so that they can live in a new reality. This is the reality of his resurrection. How does Jesus help us to live into that reality?

First, Jesus walks with us in our disappointments (Luke 24:13–24). Jesus meets a few people on the road from Emmaus, confused because of the death of their hopes that he was the one to redeem Israel (24:21). Jesus meets them in the midst of their disappointment.  Similarly with our disappointed hopes, Jesus does not rebuke us for our disappointment but he walks with us in the midst of our disappointments.

Second, Jesus helps us understand his purposes through his Word (Luke 24:25–27). Even as Jesus confronts their lack of understanding about this resurrection, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Their disappointments and misunderstandings are refocused by careful interpretation of God’s Word.

Finally, Jesus demonstrates his presence in the flesh (Luke 24:28–36). Jesus spends time with the disciples in his risen body. Their eyes are only opened as he took bread and ate with them. This ensures that this is not a ghost who was with them. As they spend time with Jesus in that way, they realize who he is. And they go and proclaim all that they have heard. Similarly as we encounter Jesus in his body, the body of Christ, we truly realize the truth and goodness of who He is.

Jesus helps us to adjust to the new reality of his resurrection. He walks with us in our disappointment, interpreting it according to his Word and bringing us into an encounter with Himself. May we walk in the fullness of his resurrection!

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Just Bring Your Lunch

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Do you ever want to shut out the needs of others because they outstrip your own resources?   That’s how I felt on Monday. I went down to Indianapolis to gather with eighty other pastors and church leaders for our annual conference of the Midwest District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. I felt spent after Easter with a long list of to-do items and a sea of dandelions growing on my lawn. Meeting with and learning about the struggles of other tired pastors just didn’t feel very appealing! Yet I was bothered by a nagging question, “What would revival look like if ignited across this entire region? What would it look to turnaround not only these churches but this region?” I kept shaking off this nagging question because I have enough to worry about in our own church. Like the disciples in John 6, I was despairing over the inadequacy of my own resources before the needs of so many (John 6:9). Yet what can we do when the needs of others outstrip our own resources?

In John 6, this boy rebukes me. He didn’t focus on the inadequacy of his own resources in the face of great need, but he brings his own limited resources to Jesus in the face of that need. The disciples were busy focusing on the greatness of the need, complaining that “two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little!” (John 6:7). Yet this one boy brought his lunch to Jesus. Nobody else brought anything else. But this boy brought his lunch, and the crowd is fed.

Jesus just wants us to bring him our lunch. I’m so busy trying to figure out how to fix everybody’s problems, but that is not my job. My job is simply to bring my five loaves and two fish to Jesus. So this morning I did what I could. I prayed. I prayed for the churches, the pastors that I met over the past couple of days. I prayed through the challenges and to-do lists that I have. And this morning I am at my desk, bringing my five loaves and two fish. I just want to do what is needed. I’m crossing off items on my to-do list, one item at a time.

When you feel that needs outstrip resources, simply bring your five loaves and two fish to Jesus. He has power to multiply and feed the five thousand. I have no idea how Jesus will answer my prayers for these other churches. However I am going to keep laying down each of my burdens at the feet of Jesus. Let us not shut out the needs of others because of the inadequacy of our resources, but let us bring these needs with our five loaves and two fish and simply lay them at the feet of Jesus. And let us see what He will do!

Posted in Church Leadership, Church Planting, Living the Gospel, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Resurrection: Where Hope and History Rhyme

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If a man rising from the dead sounds crazy, you’re not alone. When Jesus’ closest disciples heard from some women that He rose from the dead, those disciples thought they were crazy, telling an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11). Yet if the resurrection is actually true, it changes everything. So did the church create the resurrection, or did the resurrection create the church? Without the resurrection, our faith is futile. Because of the resurrection, hope and history rhyme. What do we do with this fact of the empty tomb?

First, we must wrestle with the fact of the empty tomb (Luke 24:1–4). Jesus was crucified, dead and buried in a tomb. Now a few women simply go to anoint the body with spices and ointments, hearts broken in grief. But their grief does not prevent them from journeying. They must go to the tomb. Similarly when Peter hears about the empty tomb, he does not dismiss it, but he must journey to the tomb (24:12). We also must wrestle with the reality of the empty tomb. The empty tomb is accepted even by scholars who reject the resurrection; if it were not true, then Jesus’ body could have easily been produced to disprove the resurrection! Some, such as Bart Ehrman, claim that the tomb was empty because the body was stolen, and his disciples had hallucinations of appearances from Jesus. However if the disciples stole the body, would so many have died for a hoax?  Also hallucinations are typically visual, individual and familiar, but the appearance of Jesus was physical, corporate and shocking.  How do you explain the fact of the empty tomb?

Second, we must understand the significance of the empty tomb (Luke 24:5–7).  The dazzling and frightening angels at the tomb point them to remember the word spoken, “that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (24:7). In the resurrection, God breaks into the brokenness of human history and death and acts. This changes everything; the resurrection creates the church. The resurrection proves that Jesus is the Son of God in power (Rom 1:4). And we encounter the risen Jesus the same way that these first witnesses encountered him — through his Word. We understand the empty tomb not simply as an individual rising to continue his life but the Son of Man rising to rule and reign in fulfillment of the promise (cf. Dan 7:13–14).

Finally, we must proclaim the empty tomb (Luke 24:8–12). As soon as these first witnesses realize that Jesus has risen, they immediately tell these things to others. Many do not believe, but Peter only goes to see and marvels at what he has seen. Similarly when we journey to the empty tomb and understand it, we cannot help but proclaim it.  We must proclaim the empty tomb.

If the church created the resurrection, then we are believing a sham and should not waste our time. Without Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is futile (1 Cor 15:14). If the resurrection created the church, then everything changes.

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Royal Passion: Palm Sunday (Luke 22:63–71)

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Jesus came as a king but did not come like as expected. On Palm Sunday (this Sunday) we remember how, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey not a war horse. He was born in stable not a palace, lived with rejection not acclamation, and was crowned with thorns not gold. In Luke 22:63–71, Jesus comes as a prophet, king and priest, but he is blindfolded, rejected and ignored by the people. How will we respond to Jesus this Palm Sunday?  This passage presents three questions that demand our response.

First, will we repent before the blindfolded Prophet (Luke 22:63–65)? Jesus is mocked, beaten, blindfolded, and they ask him repeatedly, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” (22:64). Ironically Jesus fulfills prophesies of his mocking (Luke 18:32; 22:63), denial (22:34, 54–60), killing (9:22; 23:46), and rise again (9:22; 24:1–12).  Those in Jerusalem treat Jesus as Jerusalem has always treated prophets, “the city that kills the prophets and stones that are sent to it” (23:34). Prophets expose our sin, so we either repent at the exposure of our sin or kill the one who exposes our sin. What will our response to the Prophet be?

Second, we not only are to repent before the blindfolded Prophet, but will we believe in the King on trial (Luke 22:66–68)? Jesus stands as a King on trial. They demand to know, “If you re the Christ, tell us.” Christ is a political title for an anointed One, a King who save them from the Roman power of Caesar. Yet if he was truly a Christ, they “will not believe” (22:67). How will we respond to this King on trial? Do we believe?

Finally, we not only repent before the blindfolded Prophet and believe in the King on trial, but will we receive from the ignored Priest (Luke 22:69–71). Jesus identifies himself with the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power of God.  As a priest, he is seated at the right hand of God’s throne to offer both gifts and sacrifices (cf. Heb 7:26–8:3).  Yet those who listen movingly deride him, asking him if he is the Son of God, and Jesus simply responds, “You say that I am” (22:70). They confess with their words but reject him with their actions.  However will we receive from Jesus as our priest?  He remains at the right hand of the Father to give gifts, but we often confess him with our lips but fail to receive from him as our Priest.

As Palm Sunday, we consider the blindfolded Prophet, the rejected King and ignored Priest.  May we repent before Jesus as Prophet, believe in Jesus as our King and receive from Him as our great High Priest. May we receive all that Jesus has come to give to us.

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Denying the Passion (Luke 22:63–71)

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We too quickly deny the necessity of suffering. We want cake without calories, dentists without pain, and a crown without a cross. Yet we cannot follow Jesus unless his suffering (= Passion) shapes everything. In the past few weeks, we have explored how his Passion shapes preparations for the Passover (Luke 22:1–23 [esp. v. 15]), teachings about greatness (22:24–30), discipleship (22:31–38), and prayer (22:39–46). If we deny suffering, then we deny the Christian life. And that is what we so often do! Luke 22:47–62 shows how we can deny Jesus with a kiss (22:47–48), a sword (22:49–53), and a word (22:54–60). More important, we also see how we return to Jesus by his kindness and his word (22:61–62). .

First, we deny Jesus with a kiss (Luke 22:47–48) when we feign intimacy but fail to follow. Judas clearly feigns intimacy, since he is “one of the twelve” who “drew near to Jesus to kiss him” (22:47). Yet Judas failed to follow Jesus and betrays him instead (22:48). Similarly, we often feign intimacy but fail to follow Jesus. We betray Jesus with a kiss because we do not actually follow Jesus on the path before us.

Also, we deny Jesus with a sword (Luke 22:49–53), imposing our purposes by our strength. The chief priests who oppose Jesus and the disciples who support Jesus are both united in their use of the sword to impose their own purposes. The disciples use the sword to cut of their opponent’s ear (22:50), and the chief priests use the sword to arrest their opponent (22:52–53). Similarly we frequently use our strength to impose our purposes instead of submitting our strength to God’s purposes. Our “sword’ represents our selfish imposition of our own purposes instead of a spiritual discernment and submission to God’s purposes.

Finally we deny Jesus with a word (Luke 22:54–60), following Jesus but not too closely lest it become too costly. Peter followed Jesus “at a distance” (22:54), but he is accused of being “with him” (22:56), “one of them” (22:58), and “with him” (22:59). Peter did not want to follow Jesus too closely lest it become too costly. His shame leads him to deny Jesus three times. Similarly we often want to follow Jesus, but only at a distance as long as it does not cost us too much. We end up denying Jesus when we find a cost to following him.

So how do we return (Luke 22:61–62)?  Even the most well-intentioned and well-discipled follower like Peter ends up denying Jesus —with a kiss, with a sword, or with a word. But denial is not the end of the story. Peter returns to Jesus because of his look and his word. When the rooster crowed, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (22:61). Jesus gazes at Peter with eyes of gentle compassion and love. His kindness leads us to repentance (cf. Rom 2:4). Similarly, Jesus does not reject us for our failure but looks at us with compassion and invites us to himself in our failures. And the look of Jesus with compassion strengthens us to remember the word of Jesus. Peter remembers what Jesus had said (22:61), and “he went out and wept bitterly” (22:62). Peter repents, turning away from his own denial because of the look and the word of Jesus. Similarly, when we deny Jesus we return to him as we see his look of compassion for us and remember his word.

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Two questions about growth. (1) Why are people coming? (2) What can we do?

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“So how long have you been coming here?”  This is a great question to ask if you don’t know someone. In our church, nobody knows everybody, even me! Around the time that Living Water and Blanchard merged in 2015, our average Sunday attendance was around 450. This past month our average attendance was 691. So, why are people coming here? And what can we do about that?

Why are people coming? 

“I feel Jesus here.”  This family first connected through our Kids Camp in the community. This camp serves underprivileged children in our own backyard, and we provide a wonderful experience of learning, growing and fun as we gather. Even as the family walked through different challenges, people from our church showered them with love, support and friendship. This led them to coming to church, tentatively at first, then bringing their family, and they have been overwhelmed by the love and support that they have found. Today they love to sit front and center, visibly soaking God’s lavish grace whenever we gather.

“This is a judgment-free zone.” A weary family after a painful season in another church felt this when they visited our church.  From the moment that they walked into the lobby, they felt this freedom, joy and presence of God’s Spirit, and this presence consistently strengthened them through the times of worship, the preaching of God’s Word, and times of prayer together. The church has become a place of healing and restoration for their family.

“You love college students.” Often the needs of college students are overlooked, but our college ministry director Stephen Hong has worked with an amazing team to lead our blossoming college ministry. Our three vans make multiple trips to the college campus to pick up and drop off students for each of our services. College students have been embraced and integrated into the life of the church.

“People opened up their hearts to us.” People may come to church for programs or preaching, but they stay because of the people. At Wellspring, this family found a place where they could not only go to church but be the church. People talked to them after service, seemed interested in building relationships. They found a home group that they could plug into and build relationships for the journey ahead.

What can we do about that? 

So what can we do? First, build relationships. Maryellen Slefinger, our Director of Hospitality, invites you to do the Five Minute Challenge. Before you catch up with your friends after the worship service, stretch yourself to meet somebody new. Ask them how long that they have been coming here. Get to know their story. Make a new friend. Set up a lunch. We have seen remarkable growth as a church over the past few years, and relationships will deepen that growth as a church.

Second, give. Each of the stories cited above happened in a certain place through certain people. Places demand resources for mortgages, maintenance, cleaning and care. People also demand resources.  They are mobilized by pastoral staff and supported by office staff who work hard to equip the saints for the work of ministry here. Based on our recent Governing Board report, we are currently at 93% of budgeted giving and 93% of budgeted expenses. Although our giving is below budget, we have reduced expenses to remain in line with that giving. As a result, some important ministry initiatives and essential capital improvements are being postponed, so we are trusting God for the resources to engage these important projects as we move forward.

Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” We eagerly anticipate to see how God will supply all of our needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus. He is doing a wonderful work in our midst. Let us continue to engage with that work in relationship with one another and with stewardship of what God has entrusted to us. Let us continue on this adventure together as Wellspring.

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Passionate Prayer (Luke 22:39–48)

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Sometimes our knees buckle because of the challenges before us. Jesus, though, could stand with confidence before the cross because he knelt in agony at Gethsemane. The victory at Calvary was won in the garden of Gethsemane. If we want to stand with confidence, we must pray through in agony. Prayer is the gymnasium for the soul, but we often treat it more like the hot tub than the treadmill.  The agony of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane (Luke 22:44) is reflected by Epaphras who was “always agonizing on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature” (Col 4:12). Their maturity grew out of his struggles in prayer. Do you struggle in prayer? At Gethsemane, we learn that we must pray with honesty in the face of agony and difficulty (Luke 22:39–36).

First we must pray (Luke 22:39–40). Jesus had habits of prayer; he went as was his custom to the Mount of Olives (22:39), where he prayed. Prayer must be habitual not accidental or sporadic; the apostles apparently learned from their failure in prayer at Gethsemane since the early church was “with one accord…devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14; cf. 2:42; 3:1). Jesus commands prayer because it is necessary “that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40). The disciples fail to pray, and they fail Jesus in denying him. Similarly if we desire not to fall, we must pray.

Second we must pray with honesty (Luke 22:41–42). Jesus does not pray what he thinks that he is supposed to pray, but he prays with brutal honesty, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (22:41). Some wonder if it is okay for Jesus to pray with such honesty! Yet we look at the prayers of the Psalmist as well, who prayed “break the teeth of the wicked” (Psalm 4:7), “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (10:1), “Will you forget me forever?” (13:1), and “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (22:1). We may criticize such prayer as theologically incorrect, but such prayer is clearly modeled for us in Scripture. Like any relationship, our relationship with God can be characterized by brutal honesty.

Also, we must pray with honesty in the face of agony (Luke 22:43–44). Such agony is not unique to Jesus; Epaphras “agonized” on the Colossians’ behalf in his prayers (Col 4:12). The strengthening presence of an angel (Luke 22:43) does not preclude the agonizing prayers of Jesus (22:44). More like, the angel’s strengthening enables the agonizing praying of Jesus so that he can pray through this challenge. Sometimes I wish that prayer were easier. I wish that the spiritual life were easier. Yet my seasons of greatest growth have often been preceded by seasons of greatest agony. We should not be surprised by agony, but we can be confident that he strengthens and empowers us through that agony.

Finally, we must pray with honesty in the face of agony and difficulty (Luke 22:45–46). The disciples could not pray but were “sleeping for sorrow”  (22:45). The emotional toll of the events leading up to this event have worn them down, and they sleep. Similarly we face draining situations and burdens, and we often consider physical remedies but forget spiritual solutions.  Recognizing the spiritual weight of the hour, Jesus does not comfort but rebukes them, asking, “Why are you sleeping?” (22:46). They are not spiritually trained to stand up to the challenge before them. Jesus warns them again, “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (22:46). Sustained prayer demands focused training. Just like a marathon cannot be run without focused preparation, so sustained prayer cannot be accomplished without focused training.

If prayer is so hard, why even pray?  Remember that Jesus, “for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of God” (Heb 12:2).  We pray for joy. When I pray, my burdens become joy. When Jesus prayed, an angel from heaven strengthened him, so that even in his agony he could feel joy. May we be a praying church. As we see prayer’s necessity, let us pray with honesty despite its agony and difficulty. But let us pray with joy as we draw from the riches of his power through prayer.

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