2019 Advent Devo: Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

These were the words spoken by Angels to the women who had travelled to Jesus’ tomb a few days after his crucifixion. These are the words that defined a new reality in the world, then and forevermore. These are the words on which history was turned upside-down and these are the words that make Jesus’ story our story. These are the words of a resurrected and reigning Savior that make his ministry in the world today, you guessed it, alive.

As I read these words, I wonder how many times I have spoken or heard them yet have failed to grasp their true meaning because far too often when I have looked for Jesus, I have looked for him as someone who is dead and whose story has more in common with distant memories than with the active present. I recognize that many times I have read the story of God, sung songs and taken the memorial cup and bread, I have even celebrated Jesus’ birth with the whole world as if it all was purely an exercise in remembering someone who is separated from the here-and-now and only exists in memory. When I read and learn about God and expect nothing to happen, when I work so hard to serve Jesus by my own power, when I give up on people because they are beyond the hope of changing, I need an Angel to come down and ask me, “Why do you seek Jesus as if he is dead?!”

The story of Jesus from the tomb is a signal to all people who follow him from now until eternity and a reminder that we will not find Jesus the way we find old, dead things. We must find Jesus among the dynamic and living world, expecting him to be present in everything. When we read the word, we must realize that we are reading along with the Living Word! When we sing and take the Lord’s Supper, we are singing and taking the Lord’s Supper in the presence of the Living God! When we pray and talk and spend time with people, hoping that they recognize Jesus as King, we do so through the power of the Living Jesus!

So many of the things we do would have new life if we remember that we do them for a resurrected King who is on the throne of God in power, not a distant figure of the past. As we celebrate this Advent season, we can be reminded that the story that began so long ago is not finished and that the life we celebrate in Jesus goes on, empowering us to expand his eternal reign now and forevermore. Amen!

You are loved!
Jon Cooke


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2019 Advent Devo: Overshadowed

As we near the end of Luke’s gospel, today’s reading takes us to maybe the hardest chapter to read during Advent—Luke 23. It’s the story of the trial, suffering, death and burial of Jesus. What is happening in Luke 23 makes us pay attention to the things that happen at His birth. By seeing the end, it helps us learn the meaning of the things that happened at the start.
 
The baby that laid in the manger is destined for the cross. That is why He was sent. The angels at the birth of Jesus tell the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Why would we need a Savior if there wasn’t something we needed to be saved from? It’s as if the cross overshadows the manger.
 

 

Every world religion has a path to righteousness & a way to get right with God. Their plans focus on merit rather than mercy. Religion puts the burden of righteousness on us. It demands we clean ourselves up, and we need to “get our act together.” But the Christmas story is centered in the fact that our attempts to be good will never be good enough. It is Jesus—and only Jesus—that will save us from our sins. We must obey God, we must live our lives rightly, but at the end of the day our only hope is Jesus. Us with God will save nobody, but God with us, Immanuel, will save anybody. He is not just God with us in the manger, but He is God who is for us on the cross. That’s God’s way of saying, “Merry Christmas!”
 
 

You are loved! Kent


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2019 Advent Devo: The Jesus Way

“You know those days when you wake up and you think, ‘I want to help someone today’? My friend says this casually, leaning into the phone like we’re sitting across the table.  She continues, as if our hearts beat the same. “Well, yesterday I woke up like that, so I got up, got dressed, got in my car, and I drove around looking for someone who needed help.”

I pause the video message, hearing a pulse discordant from but more strident than my own, a voice I recognize as the voice of the Spirit:  This is the Jesus Way.  For a split second it seems absurd, this notion that my friend, who is physically petite but spiritually magnanimous, or “great-souled,” would allow her day to be so wind-tossed.  But the Spirit is a wind, the gust of God’s breath, and disciples of Jesus are servants living to serve.

In Luke 22, Jesus and his disciples–the betrayer among them–gather around a table celebrating the grace of God through the Passover feast.  Maybe minutes after Jesus offers them bread and wine; maybe minutes after Jesus explains that these emblems represent his own broken and given body and blood, his own self-sacrifice; maybe minutes after Jesus reveals the presence of a betrayer; the disciples argue about who among them is greatest.  The irony of course is that most of s read this and inwardly sneer at Judas. Loving Jesus with Peter-like passion, we want to chase Judas from the table. We feel, if we’re honest, the temptation to believe that we would not betray Jesus.  Centuries later, we dive with the apostles into the discussion of which of us will be the greatest, and through the Spirit, Jesus warns us of our own betrayals like He warned Peter.  The entire experience, from Jesus’ reconceived Passover to the concurrent foot washing the apostle John also shares, proclaims a new Kingdom and pivots on Jesus’ perfect expression of Godly Kingship.  Right at the Passover table, Jesus redefines royalty:

Jesus told them, ‘In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.  Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:25-27).’”

So this thing my friend does, it’s what royals do in the Kingdom of Jesus.  They wake up wanting to serve and go looking for the opportunities God prepares in advance (Ephesians 2:10).  I watch the video and smile; my friend’s eyes sparkle with love.

“First, I saw this older gentleman struggling to walk down the road on the opposite side,” she says, remembering.  “Two other men were trying to help him, but they were all struggling, and I thought, ‘Maybe I just need to pick that man up and drive him where he needs to go.’”

Her words sound reckless, and I feel myself wanting to save her life, this life my friend’s okay to lose.  But my friend, she’s as courageous as her wide, Spirit-led faith.

She laughs out loud, tucking errant strands of hair behind her ear, continuing. “But by the time I turned my car around, the men were gone.  I don’t know where they went, but I thought, ‘Okay, maybe they’re not the ones today.’ At our library, I almost always see a few homeless people hanging around, so I decided to stop by the grocery store on my way over.  I bought some apples, some granola bars, and some water, and I went to see who might be at the library that I could help with a little food.”

I smile, watching her, thinking this relentlessness must be the difference between disciples who serve because the Spirit makes them like their King and those of us still trying to make the leap on our own.  Jesus keeps company with people who need something. I think I might have followed Him out the door and then, having lost sight of that struggling old man, checked the day’s box on servanthood. But my friend leans into the Spirit, waiting for Him to send her home.  Jesus came to serve.  My friend, she lives to serve.

“I got to the library and couldn’t find a single homeless person hanging around.  There’s always someone.  I thought, ‘Where is everyone today?’ So I looked and looked, and finally, just a little hidden behind some bushes, I saw one old man hanging out.  So I went over and talked to him for a while. He was the most delightful, joyful man, and we had such a good time. Finally, I said, ‘Would you like something to eat?  I have these granola bars and some apples and some water.’ And he said, ‘Honey, I don’t have a tooth left in my head. I can’t bite into apples or granola bars anymore.  But thank you for offering!’”

I smile, thinking that as she spoke, all I could see was that man’s smile, not the toothless mouth to which he confessed.  All I could see was what my friend saw: someone to love. My friend, she laughs, taken up with the fact that this joyful homeless man was also not the one she was meant to serve that day.  And yet, I listen wondering how much she served him just by setting aside her day to stop and talk, just by acknowledging him as someone significant to Christ.

I am among you as one who serves.  Jesus left his home and came to us–the homeless, the lost, the needy.

My friend, she tried one more time that day before God sent her home.  Catching sight of a panhandler at a stoplight, my friend rolled down her window and offered granola bars, apples, and water.  And the panhandler peered in the window, sweaty faced and tired, and said, “You might have poisoned that food! No, I won’t take it.”

My friend leans toward the camera, grinning, lifting her arms in a shrug.  Her hands are open, empty, lifted to God. She would surrender herself–her time, her agenda, her possessions.  Incredulous, she sighs. “I don’t know; I just couldn’t give that food away today.” I think of Peter, resisting that foot washing.  I think of all the ones I know who still won’t be served by Christ. I shake my head at the phone, even though my friend can’t see. Nothing we do for Christ is ever in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58), and the Jesus way, the cross-shaped way, is the only way for disciples of Jesus.  My friend, she lives the Advent; she comes and comes again, leaving home to serve the broken, whether they’ll receive her gift or not.

You are loved!
Elysa Henegar


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2019 Advent Devo: Be Shrewd

If I were to list the top qualities found in a follower of Jesus, shrewdness would probably not be very high up on my list. The truth is, just the sound of the word “shrewd” is likely to send up my defensive hackles and conjures up images of Ebenezer Scrooge hunched over his ledgers, looking to squeeze the last dime out of his unfortunate debtors. It can be curious to us then that Jesus tells his disciples a parable in the beginning of Luke chapter 16 that commends the actions of a “shrewd” manager. In the story, we find a manager who is in a position of disfavor with his boss due to a lack of proper investing. Faced with the prospect of losing his job, he decides he will do whatever he can to endear himself to his boss’ debtors. The manager does this by lowering the amount owed by the debtors and in-turn gains their favor. In a turn of events, the master commends his manager’s actions and ultimately approves and praises his shrewdness. While the story seems to be about a clever employee who was looking out for himself and was willing to act inappropriately to do so, Jesus also commends the man’s shrewdness. This may well leave us scratching our heads, asking, “What did this man do that was so good? It seems like he was dishonest, right? I mean, is he just allowed to do that? And why is his master happy?”

Jesus’ own point in telling this parable centers around the idea that people are often much more strategic and yes, even shrewd, when it comes to dealing with their own well-being than they are when dealing with the well-being of the Kingdom of God. When I read this passage, I hear a message about my own resources and how I use them on mission with Jesus. There is a sense of urgency in this parable because the manager is at a dead-end. He knows his days are numbered and he must find any possible way to insure his own future. At this point in his story, all he has to be able to influence anyone is his last bit of control over his master’s accounts, and he is willing to use whatever he has in any way he can for his own good.

What would happen if I viewed my resources for God’s Kingdom in the same way? How would my views on my money, my connections, my physical resources and even my friendships change if I felt the urgency to use every advantage I had to further the mission of Jesus? I believe I would start to see everything I have as a tool to lead others to Jesus. In the end, God knows we are willing to be shrewd when we look out for ourselves. He only asks us to think the same way when we deal with matters of his kingdom. To do this, we must feel the urgency of Jesus’ mission and be willing to use whatever means we can to accomplish the work we have been given for the Kingdom of God.

You are loved!
Jon Cooke


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2019 Advent Devo: You Are Set Free

As I sat in worship that morning, I lifted my voice in song.  I heard every word of the sermon.  Every word of every prayer.  And yet, if you had asked me later, I would not have been able to identify any song or what the topic of the sermon had been.  All that was really running through my head was, How could this be happening to me?  What if the treatment doesn’t work?  I’m not ready to leave my family.  There is still so much to do, and see, and experience.  Is this God’s punishment for my sin?  Well, I probably deserve it, but why would he let my husband and daughters suffer this way?  They shouldn’t have to watch me deal with the side-effects of chemo and radiation.  They shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not I will be here five years from now.  

Maybe you have experienced an event like this too and dealt with it in the moment.  And time went on.  And later, the same feelings resurfaced, and maybe you thought: No one here really cares about me anymore.  When I was first diagnosed with this illness or my loved one died, or when my children first moved away, people prayed for me.  They called me on the phone, they visited me, sent me cards and notes.  They showered me with love. But now that time has passed, I guess they think I don’t need them anymore. They must think I’m okay because when I show up for worship, I always wear a smile and tell people I’m doing well.  Maybe they think that if I’m really depending on God, I will be able to handle my situation with no difficulty.  But I am in pain, and I do not think anyone cares. Sometimes I even wonder if God cares!

That Sabbath morning when Jesus was teaching at the synagogue, a woman was there who might have been feeling this way.  She was bent over and could not straighten up.  She had endured this crippled life for eighteen years! Imagine what her life must have been like.  She could not stand up straight, could not sit comfortably, could only lie down on her side.  Walking was difficult. Eating could not have been pleasant.  But – what could have caused her infirmity? Was it the result of some genetic abnormality or due to some catastrophe that occurred at her birth?  Had there been an accident that caused her to be so bent?  According to Luke 13:11, she had been crippled by a spirit. An attack by Satan. Not only was she physically shackled, she must have been suffering emotionally and spiritually as well.  Discouraged, depressed, feeling abandoned by God.  Yet in spite of this ongoing attack, she still came to the synagogue to listen to God’s Word. She still had faith.

As Jesus is teaching, He spots her in the crowd, calls her forward, and says, ”Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”  He touches her and immediately she straightens up and praises God.  Did you notice? She does not approach Jesus to ask to be healed.  She hasn’t come today expecting anything from Him. And Jesus doesn’t say that she is healed. He says that she is set free! What joy and excitement she must have felt to be freed from her burden!  There must have been tears of joy streaming down her face as she praised the one who was the source of her freedom.  The leader of the synagogue was not happy with this development. He scolded the people for coming to be healed on the Sabbath.  But the Lord of the Sabbath calls the leaders hypocrites. They pretended to be zealous for God, but their hearts were far from Him. They had more compassion for their donkeys and oxen than for this poor woman. They were more interested in “following the rules” than in showing grace, compassion and mercy on the Sabbath.  Jesus exposed them by revealing the true heart of God.

Think again about the words of Jesus.  Woman, you are set free.  Free from the prison your physical form has created for you.  Free from the isolation your physical form has thrust upon you.  Free from the chains your physical form has bound you in for so long.  As I think about all the emotions that this woman must have experienced after her encounter with Jesus, I am reminded that we all have something that keeps us from experiencing true freedom.  Whether it is a physical ailment, a lack of self-worth, a fear of failure, a long standing hurt or loss, or a sin that continues to overtake us, Jesus stands ready to call us to perfect freedom.  Only He is able to loosen our chains and set us eternally free.  My weakness serves as a reminder of His power and strength.

Today, Jesus stands and calls.  He says to us, “You are set free from your infirmity.”   He calls us to come to Him for freedom and strength.  Will you come?

You are loved!
Melissa Holland

 


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2019 Advent Devo: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…Until it Isn’t

We find ourselves in the thick of Christmas.  Our calendars are full, our to-do lists are long and we are often stressed (isn’t it interesting that “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts”?).

The kissing cousin of stress is worry, and this season brings lots of worries.  Will this person like their gift? Will I get the gifts I really want? How will I get everything done?

In Luke 12:22-34, Jesus is addressing his disciples.  He is teaching them a valuable lesson about how their energy can be spent on the things that really matter in life.  He forces us to face some difficult foes. Things that keep us seeking Him foremost.

The first foe Jesus mentions is worry (Luke 12:22, 19).  Worry is like a rocking chair, you do some travelling—but you don’t go anywhere.  He says that we fret over things that aren’t our responsibility, because it is God’s responsibility, as our sustainer, to make sure we are clothed and fed (12:28).  We also worry over things that are beyond our control (12:25-26). None of us can add a second to our lives, let alone a year. We cannot control the weather, stock market, political climate, time or reactions of people.  So much of our lives are spent out of control.

Here is the core of Jesus’ message-“Seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:31). I love what an old gospel preacher once said, “You mind HIS business…He will mind yours.”

Secondly, Jesus draws attention to our fears.  In the text, Jesus uses a term of endearment and affection as he speaks to his followers.  He says, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).  If we really believe that—is there anything that our Father would withhold from us that we need? John Newton said, “Everything is necessary that God sends our way; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.”

He saves the hardest foe for last—selfishness.  Worry and fear often drive us into the arms of selfishness.  We want to cling hard to everything we possess or have. Once we see that Jesus has us in his grip of grace, we find freedom to loosen our grip on the transient, temporary things of this world.  We live into Jesus command to “Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being” (Luke 12:33).

We are more than what we get this Christmas.  God’s Kingdom always starts in our hearts and spreads outward to the world like ripples in a pond.  To seek first His kingdom is to want the spread of the reign of King Jesus. It is acknowledging Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  As the old Christmas hymn reminds us: “Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.”

You are loved!
Kent Massey


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2019 Advent Devo: Just Pray

In the evenings, I kneel beside my daughter Riley’s bed; the carpet stamps my knees.  Riley gently drapes an arm around my shoulders, awkwardly gathering me in, and we pray.  I try to change it up, because conversational topography should vary like the relational landscape it represents, and because I know that maybe especially because she Autism, Riley tends toward endless repetition.  Kevin and I have always done this; we teach our children to pray by praying with them. We start where they are; we gently tug away any barriers that could hinder their spiritual growth.

For each of our children, this teaching happens differently, though the process begins in the same way.  Before my son Adam, who also has Autism, could string any number of words together to communicate, we created a simple prayer, unique to Adam, for him to recite at bedtime:

Dear God,

Thank you for my family.

Thank you for music.

Thank you for school.

Amen.

We chose just a few ideas we thought Adam might understand, but what we most wanted was to build was the foundation for a relationship between our son and the God who loves him.  For a while, we recited this prayer and Adam repeated it after us word for word. Then gradually, Kevin and I began dropping words, leaving empty pauses, waiting for Adam to fill them in.  Adam quickly caught on, but almost always filled the words in exactly as we had taught him. Then one night, Kevin decided the time had come to encourage Adam to pray on his own. He knelt beside the bed, nodding toward Adam, and said, “Okay, go ahead and pray, buddy.” Kevin offered no model prayer, just an invitation to pray.  Adam, who loves music and, we believe, finds it more understandable than plain speech, prayed aloud the entire chorus of the Casting Crowns song East to West:

Jesus, can You show me just how far the east is from the west

‘Cause I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been come rising up in me again

In the arms of Your mercy I find rest

‘Cause You know just how far the east is from the west

From one scarred hand to the other

At this point, Adam still wasn’t speaking to us in sentences.  Kevin left the room in tears, taking with him our first sign of a God-gifted relationship between our sweet son and his God that surpasses the limits of language.

In Christian history, the Lord’s Prayer, as we’ve long titled Jesus’ primer prayer for the disciples, remains one of the most memorized and oft quoted liturgical prayers.  In childhood Bible classes, my Restoration-roots teachers taught us kids that The Lord’s Prayer was just an example and not really something Jesus intended for us to memorize or learn to recite.  Later, discovering my own spiritual Autism in my children’s challenges, I wondered about that. As part of the lesson, these sincere, dedicated teachers often asserted, not inaccurately, that recited prayers can become impersonal.  God wants a relationship with us.  This, of course, is exactly my thought when I opt for an ever-changing dialogue with God beside Riley’s bed.

Right now as I pray, Riley pats my back rhythmically with her hand in much the way that she lightly pats the doors in our home with her fingers as she repeats comforting checklists under her breath.  Okay, the door is open, and yes, the lights are off, I sometimes hear her whispering repetitively, each word another pat.  Even though I use all kinds of different words, there are certain petitions so significant to Riley that she insists I pray them aloud by her bedside every night.  I know it’s these she’s patting out against my shoulder while I creatively chat it up with God. She’s polite enough not to interrupt, but I feel fairly certain that inside her mind and heart, over my sometimes incomprehensible speeches, she’s whispering, “Please God, keep me seizure free and headache free and anxiety free and side effect free,” over and over and over.  And the thing is, I don’t know a prayer warrior more fierce or more supplicating than Riley.  When anxiety grips Riley’s heart, nothing frees her except prayer. When she’s struggling, she’ll openly ask everyone she knows to pray for her.  More than anyone I know, Riley perseveres in prayer.

Right after Jesus, at his disciples’ request, teaches them to pray using what has become to us The Lord’s Prayer, he goes on to instruct them to try to drive God nuts by asking repeatedly for what they need.  Jesus tells a crazy story about an annoying neighbor who clearly failed to prepare in advance for the potential for company and who interrupts some poor family’s sleep for who-knows-how-long asking for bread. Jesus says the neighbor will finally get help not because of friendship but because they have been audaciously annoying, and then he encourages, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11:9, emphasis mine)”  Then Jesus makes the point that God actually loves us better than a neighbor or friend, better than any human Father loving his kids, and I hear an implicit comment about the explosive collision of our childish persistence and God’s unconquerable love for us.

I pray now, teaching Riley, and I realize my children have also been teaching me.  I think of Adam, how he used a model prayer–a different one than ours–in a language he could understand, to express a relationship we could not.  I feel Riley’s persistent patting petitions now, and I understand that while sometimes for some of us repetition loses its meaning, sometimes for some of us it expresses clearly and persistently what matters the most.  Whether we read Luke 11:1-13 needing to repeat and repeat and repeat Jesus’ model prayer or teasing substantial Kingdom-focused sentiments from its compact layers, we can’t miss that what Jesus models for us is a consistent, reliant, boldly persistent, submissive and conversational relationship between God and his children.  At the heart of the lesson seems to be the truth that God loves us and will always love us well and that His Kingdom has come–this after all, is the resonant good news of Advent–and so we pray and we pray and we pray again, seeking Him in never-ending supplicating conversation, first and forever.

You are loved!
Elysa Henegar


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2019 Advent Devo: Calling

When were you called to follow Jesus? For me, the call to be a disciple has always been in my life, in one form or another. I can remember growing up with a deep appreciation for who God is and understood from an early age that at some point in my life, I would have to decide to obey God, follow Jesus, and commit myself to being a life-long disciple. Though these truths were always present in my life, there were times when I found it hard to sense a clear call from the Lord.

For much of my life, I longed for the type of “calling” that Jesus’ disciples received in Luke chapter 5. The story of their calling is a simple one. Some fisherman have been out all night trying to catch fish but have failed miserably. They are washing off their nets and packing up when Jesus comes by, asking if he can borrow a boat to use as a makeshift stage so that he can speak to the crowd of people that have been following him. He borrows a boat from Simon Peter and speaks to the crowd. As he finishes, his attention turns to Simon Peter. “You haven’t had any luck on the lake tonight, why don’t you try one more time and put your nets back in the water?” Jesus says. Peter, no doubt tired from his fruitless work, decides he has nothing to lose and goes along with Jesus’ request. For those of us who already know who Jesus is in this story, it comes as no surprise that the fishermen’s nets are now bursting with fish. Upon seeing the empty nets Simon Peter is convicted by his lack of faith and understands that he is in the presence of the Lord. It is from these unbelievable and miraculous events that Jesus offers his invitation to Simon, James and John. “Be my disciples and I will show you how to fish for men,” He says. How could anyone in that situation say no to Jesus!

It is only natural for us to want to be called by Jesus in the same way, to have a miracle performed before our very eyes that validates our decision to put Jesus first and give him complete reign over our lives. The interesting thing is that the book of Luke continues to show us again and again the miraculous work of Jesus. Immediately following this miracle with the fish, we see Jesus perform two more miracles and as the gospel of Luke continues, so do Jesus miracles. Luke seems to be telling us that following Jesus requires a continued observation of the things that he can, and will, do.

While Jesus initially called the disciples with a show of his power, we know that their ongoing faith and obedience required many different experiences with Jesus. We also know even in spite of everything they saw, they still struggled to follow and obey Jesus, especially Simon Peter! Our own lives may reflect the overall story of Jesus found in Luke more than any one miraculous event. Most of us would identify as being called to follow Jesus through a lifetime of experiences, not just one single event. It is easy to long for a big moment, or a personally deep call from Jesus to be his disciple, but often times our call comes in the ways we experience Jesus’ love and power over and over in the smaller moments of life. When God became man, he gave himself to these smaller moments of life, not becoming flesh to make a big show and gain worldwide attention, but to permeate the simple actions of humanity, over and over and over again. For me, the call to be a disciple was in the continual love and guidance I received from my parents, the many stories told to me about God by the special people in my life, and the “small” experiences I have shared with Jesus over the years.

This Advent season as we reflect on the life of Jesus, we can remember that following Jesus isn’t just about the big ways we have heard him call us, but it is about the smaller moments of life. We see in the life of Jesus’ closest friends, that following him is about an ongoing relationship of faith, sprinkled with special moments until our lives are full of moments of Jesus’ call. As we reflect all of Jesus’ stories told in the gospel of Luke, may we long for more stories of Jesus in our own lives, giving thanks that the truth about our incarnate King means that he is with us in the big things and the small things, forever.

You are loved!
Jon Cooke


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2019 Advent Devo: Great Expectations

I remember well the anticipation of Christmas when I was a child, watching as my father climbed the pull down stairs to the attic to retrieve the Christmas tree, lights and decorations, helping my mother choose just the right place for each ornament.  I remember hanging the stockings on the mantle in the living room while taking great care to make sure they were not too close to the hearth and potential danger from the fires that would burn there over the holidays.  I remember choosing the perfect gift for each friend and family member on my list, wrapping each gift carefully and placing it just so under the tree, making the list for Santa of all the things I wanted.  Then on Christmas Eve, I remember the feeling that something wonderful was going to happen mixed with a tiny bit of anxiety that potential disaster loomed.  What if Santa didn’t get my wish list? What if Santa ran out of the very thing at the top of my list before he got to me? What if Santa forgot me completely? In the rush of planning, shopping, wrapping, caroling and parties, I focused so much on presents that I failed to remember with joy the real reason for the season: The birth of a Messiah.  The coming of a King.

When I read Luke 2 and consider Simeon, I am reminded that many generations of God’s chosen people lived in anticipation of the coming of their Messiah and died before His birth.   But Simeon was different.  Very little about Simeon is revealed in Scripture. There is nothing about his background, which tribe he belonged to, whether he was married or had children, what occupation he held.  Only three things that speak to his character and relationship with God are mentioned:   he was righteous and devout, he was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. In fact, verse 26 says that the Holy Spirit had told him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

When the Holy Spirit led him to the temple that day, did he know what was going to happen?  Did he have a feeling that there was something special about this day?  Whether or not he sensed that this day would bring unimaginable joy, he allowed himself to be led by the Spirit to go to the temple on the very day when Mary and Joseph would be there to present Jesus to the Lord.  Scripture does not reveal exactly how the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that Jesus was the Messiah, but when he saw Jesus, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.  He doesn’t see the leader of a political movement or military revolution.  He doesn’t see a revival of the strict law-keeping that religious leaders of the day would have taught.  He hasn’t been expecting this kind of fulfillment of prophecy.  Instead he is holding all that he has longed for in his arms.  This tiny baby with seemingly no power at all is the all-powerful God.  What joy Simeon must have felt at that moment! Then Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and looks forward to what is to come.  He speaks to the impact of the incarnation and the varying responses to the anointed One.

When we think about Simeon, we see a picture of fulfilled expectations and realized hope.  Though our perspective is different from Simeon’s, we also see Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament anticipates.  The Lord’s Messiah has come to comfort and save his people.  We rejoice in His coming not only during Advent season but also all throughout the year.  And as we rejoice, we also long for the day when He will come again.

You are loved!
Melissa Holland


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2019 Advent Devo: We All Need Somebody To Lean On

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:36-37

I am a blessed man in many ways.  One of my most prized blessings is the many friends that God has given me.  From Canada to Colombia, California to Connecticut, and Charlotte to Canyon and points in between, I have people by whom I’ve been blessed to have been loved.  There is something about deep relationships that is life giving.

In Luke 1, Mary is touched by an angel’s appearance.  Gabriel announces to her that she will give birth to a son.  Mary is a virgin and she isn’t given many details about how this pregnancy will happen or how she will make it, but the angel does something very important—he gives her a friend.  Gabriel lets her know that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant as well.

A friend once shared that during her pregnancy, she loved being around other pregnant women.  They would share experiences, hopes, dreams, and even fears. When Gabriel tells Mary about Elizabeth, he is giving her a friend.

When guests visit church, they often want to know what we believe, who is in charge and how they can get involved.  Often, the deepest and most unspoken question is: Who here will love me?  Following Jesus is a team sport and we flourish and thrive best in community with others with whom we share life. As Bill Withers once sang in his hit Lean On Me, “We all need somebody to lean on” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkaexjc-1os).

God provided Mary a gift in Elizabeth.  Mary may have needed Elizabeth more than she needed answers to all her questions.  God made sure that Mary was not alone on this journey.

This holiday season, reflect on the friendships you have and be grateful for those who walk with you, pray for you, and speak truth to you.  It’s one of the best gifts you’ll get!

Reflections Questions:

  • Who are your Elizabeths?  The people who love you well all year long? How will you honor them this Christmas?
  • Who is God putting in your path to be an Elizabeth to? To befriend and love well?

You are loved,
Kent Massey

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Cross Walk Devotional: It Can’t End Like This

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Our Cross Walk series has been leading to one of the most memorable moments in Jesus’ ministry, the crucifixion. This material captures our imagination and paints a vivid picture of the cruelty that humanity is capable of. It begs us to picture what it was like to be there and to witness the abuse, the slander, and the murder of the Son of God.

Mark 15:16-32 tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ crucifixion. We watch as Jesus is treated as someone of no value by the Roman officials. We see how Jesus’ own people, especially those who had been threatened by who he was, are quick to mock their Messiah and revel in their apparent victory. Their hateful activity is contrasted with Jesus’ passive acceptance of his fate because he seems weak and incapable of doing anything to change his situation. If we only had this part as the end to Jesus’ story, it would be an unremarkable end to a life with so much promise.

If we were there, if we had been following Jesus all this time and seen all the great things he had done, I imagine we would be thinking, “Surely, it can’t end like this.” For all the great things that happened in his life, for all of the ways it seemed like the world would finally be different because of him, for all the ways it seemed like God’s power had come to free the abused and marginalized from unjust suffering in this world, surely it can’t end like this.

As much as this story is a story about what happened 2000 years ago, all too often it this story is re-lived. The same dark world that Jesus inhabited in Mark 15:16-32 exists all around is in our own world. Innocent people are oppressed unvalued more than we would like to think in our own country, in our own cities, and even in our own neighborhoods. If we took the time to look around, we would see that we are surrounded by people who cry out to God, daily, “Surely, it can’t end like this.”

So where would we be if Jesus’ story ended here? For a short time for those who loved Jesus, this was the ending to his story. The resurrection was only days away but the darkness felt by those who were close to Jesus at this time must have been immense. This is the darkness of a future without Jesus.

But praise God we, the people of the resurrected, enthroned, empowered, just and holy Jesus have a message to share in our present darkness because we know that the resurrection happened, and through it we have all been empowered to shine His light on the world! We are able to go into the Golgothas with those who are being crucified daily and deliver a message of hope, not just of the hope to come, but the hope for today that comes through the knowledge of the Son of God. Jesus walked through his own darkness so that he could be a light to the world. As we look forward to the Easter Sunday and the celebration of the resurrection, may we look into the dark places around us and see those who only know darkness and live as if the crucifixion was the end of the story. But it did not end there for Jesus and it does not end there for us. As believers, we can enter the darkness, easing injustice and suffering while we are here because we serve a King who heals and promises His own resurrection for all creation. We can bear this part of Jesus’ story in Mark because we know it only adds to the glory that is to come. The same goes for those in our world who live lives of pain and need to know how Jesus changes the end of their story. Our message to them is the same message we read about in Mark’s gospel, that because Jesus is King and Messiah, surely it won’t end like this.

You are loved!

Jon Cooke

 

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Cross Walk Devotional: The Real Picture of Sin

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We rarely see sin for what it is.  It never looks quite as ugly to us as it does to God.  And our tolerance for it—whether in ourselves or in others—is always greater than His.  Think about it. He has always had a zero-tolerance policy. Sin math is simple. Sin=death.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a white lie or a grievous deception.  Sin is sin. The evil one, however, through temptation taking advantage of our sinful nature, never paints it in the ugly light that it truly is.  Whether it’s justification of our selfishness, recasting gossip in the name of trying to figure out how we can “help” brother or sister so and so, calling living together with someone outside of the marriage covenant a “good way to find out if we are compatible”, or one of the countless ways Hollywood tries to influence our thinking by continuing to push the boundaries of what we consider normal and no longer sinful.  Regardless of how we try to make it look good and ok, it just isn’t. It’s ugly. It’s despicable. It’s terrible. Just look at how Paul describes the life of sin to the Colossians (3:5-8) as he encourages them to put away this former way of life. Nothing positive or nice about this.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”

During this season leading up to Easter, it has struck me more than ever before just how ugly it truly is.  And the fact that there was one moment in history—the pivotal moment of all time—when it was truly seen for what it was. Not only did the cross represent the atonement of the sins of the world as they were all placed upon Christ the unblemished and sinless lamb of God.  I think the very act of the crucifixion was the representation of the true picture of sin. Not only did Jesus bear our sin, but he was the very target of all sin in that moment. It seems that part of bearing that sin was that all humanity directed its collective anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, idolatry, you name it, towards the son of God in that moment.  How else does it make any sense that they all pleaded with Pilate to crucify the Lord Jesus and let the murderer and thief Barabbas go free to roam the streets (Luke 23:18-21)?  The sinless Jesus was tortured, beaten and humiliated, his body torn and broken, his blood shed for us.  Indeed, He was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Is 53:7) in the sense that he accepted it as Father’s will, but this sacrifice was anything but merciful.

And in this moment, when sin was exposed for what it truly is, Jesus is despised and rejected.  The scene was far too awful to look upon.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Is 53:3

But the good news is that just as sin was exposed for what it truly is, so was the grace and mercy of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.  The extravagant, reckless, amazing, wonderful grace—truly scandalous and far too good to comprehend or even imagine. Just as Barabbas is acquitted and set free, all of humanity for all ages to come is given the very same opportunity.  

So the next time you are tempted by sin’s deceitfulness, by all its attractive edges and the alluring invitation which promises only fulfillment and satisfaction with no glimpse into the shame and brokenness it brings, remember the true picture of sin as exposed on the cross, pray and ask the Spirit for help in weakness and you will find the strength for mercy and deliverance (Heb 4:14-16).

You are loved!

Kevin Henegar

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Cross Walk Devotional: God Used Pilate

The chief priests, elders, teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin had made their plans.  They bought the assistance of Judas in bringing down Jesus, the man who threatens everything they hold dear.  While these groups have very different beliefs, they are united by their desire to rid themselves of a man who has become their enemy.  They know that they want Jesus killed, but they do not have the authority to do so. Only a Roman governor can carry out a death sentence, so following a “mock trial” by the Jews, Jesus is bound and led away to Pilate very early in the morning.  The working day of a Roman official began at daylight, and since the Sabbath is approaching, the Jews know they must bring Jesus to Pilate at this early hour if his sentence is to be passed that day.

Mark doesn’t tell us what conversation transpired between the Jewish leaders and Pilate, but we know that Pilate would not be involved over charges of blasphemy.  Pilate’s question, “Are you the king of the Jews?”, makes it clear that Jesus has been charged with the treasonous act of proclaiming himself king. Jesus’ response, “You have said so,” is non-committal.  He doesn’t say yes, and he doesn’t say no. He is a king, but not of an earthly kingdom. Even when prompted by Pilate because of the number of accusations made against him, Jesus does not reply. Not exactly what Pilate expected.  Most men would be pleading for their lives. Jesus fulfills the prophecy about him recorded in Isaiah 57: 3 – “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (NIV)

The crowd begins to ask for Pilate to release a prisoner as was the custom for the festival.  Knowing that the chief priests have their own agenda in handing over Jesus, Pilate sarcastically asks the crowd if they want him to release the “king of the Jews.”  It seems that he anticipates their agreement. When the crowd asks for the release of Barabbas, a zealot who had participated in treasonous acts against Rome, Pilate asks what the people want him to do with Jesus.  Perhaps he thinks they will ask for Jesus to be beaten and released, but twice they ask for his crucifixion. Pilate is in a tough place. He questions what crime Jesus has committed. He seems to be reluctant to crucify Jesus, but at the same time he has brought soldiers to Jerusalem to keep peace during the festival, and now he has a mob on his hands that is almost at riot level.  The last thing he wants is for the crowd to get out of hand now. Pilate is unwilling to oppose both the people and the Jewish leaders, so he orders the flogging and crucifixion of Jesus.

What were Pilate’s private thoughts in these moments?  Did he have some internal struggle between doing the right thing and pacifying the people?  Was he only thinking about himself and how his career would be affected by his decision? Had he conspired with the Jewish leaders to be rid of Jesus once and for all?  There is no way to answer these questions, but of one thing I am sure. God used Pilate to carry out His plan for salvation. God did not force Pilate to make the decision to hand Jesus over for crucifixion.  Fearing a revolt if he spared the life of Jesus, Pilate surrendered to political expediency and refused to set an innocent man free. He cared more about his own political ambition and safety than justice and truth.  He is a stark contrast to Jesus. Jesus wanted to bear witness to the truth, and knowing the desire of the Father, he willingly allowed himself to be handed over to the authorities. He would not deny the reason he came to earth even though he understood the pain and suffering that he would endure for our sakes.  He submitted to God’s will and surrendered himself to crucifixion to take on our sin as God’s final sacrificial lamb. He bore the pain so we wouldn’t have to. He bought us with his blood, ransomed us, and redeemed us so we could be in a right relationship with God. May we always be conscious of his sacrifice and its ability to release us from the bondage of sin and the power of death.  May we always remember that Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

You are loved!

Melissa Holland

 


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Cross Walk Devotional: The Rest of the Story

Before Gethsemane—before Jesus asked Peter and James and John to keep watch while he prayed in anguish, Please, not this.  But not my will (Matthew 26: 36-46); before sorrow forced blood out of Christ’s body with his sweat; before the betrayer kissed Jesus’ cheek and soldiers arrested him–before all this, Jesus told his disciples that they would fall away.  The word Matthew uses is skandalizo, from which eventually comes our English word scandal, and which literally means that the disciples would be ensnared, or trapped.  The enemy had fresh-dug a monsterous pit, and all of the disciples would fall right into it while Jesus went to the cross.  Jesus knew this, and yet his comments on the matter hardly come off as rebuke. Instead, the gospel writers share this revelation a bit like a resurrection weekend itinerary:  “You’ll fall for the trick, guys.  But after the resurrection, I’ll meet you in Galilee (Matthew 26:31-32,my paraphrase).”

Pride and passion, that brash confidence that made Peter a natural leader, also made him blind to his own potential for error.  “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will,” Peter argued that night (Matthew 26:33). Peter felt certain he would see the nasty teeth of the thing on the ground before he ran into it.  And, worse case scenario, he had a sword (John 18:10). Peter had made up his mind some time ago that no matter what Jesus said, nothing resembling death and sacrifice would befall them (Matthew 16:22).  Sometimes we refuse the Cross with equal resolve.

It’s interesting to notice how carefully Jesus prepared them, especially Peter, for the dark, terrifying days that would precede Jesus’ resurrection.  “Your thoughts are only filled with man’s viewpoints and not with the ways of God,” Jesus had corrected Peter (Matthew 16:23). I believe Jesus offers that same correction to us when we want to side-step His suffering.  And then Luke, in his careful account of the events preceding Christ’s garden arrest, includes a bit more of the “before the rooster crows” conversation, wherein Jesus tells Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32).” It seems as though Jesus knew that in order for the disciples, especially Peter, to become disciple-makers who would later testify boldly and in public—who would “rejoice because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace” for His Name (Acts 5:41), who would rely solely on His power (instead of the force of their own will and “godliness”, see  Acts 3:6,12), they had to come face to face with their own lack of understanding and weakness.

So, it’s a surprise to Peter, but not to Jesus, when in the courtyard Peter so vehemently denies Jesus that profanity rolls out of his mouth along with his denials (Matthew 26:74).  Jesus had said, “You’ll aparneomai me,” that is, “You’ll refuse even to recognize me.”  In the Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases that Peter left that courtyard “with a shattered heart (Matthew 26:75),” and rightly so, for our scandalous denials of Jesus betray the truth of our love for Him.

Maybe you feel it now as I do, the truth of all our collective Peter moments, when some embittered soul has said, “You’re a Christian, what do you say about this?” and we’ve shrugged or, when forced to acknowledge the ugly, suffering truth of the Cross, we have unwittingly minimized the power of the gospel.  Maybe, seeing yourself warming your hands at the courtyard fire, you’ve wondered as I have if you could ever be a Dietrich Bonhoeffer or a Corrie ten Boom or a Rachel Scott. At the same time, we witness Peter’s denials and feel stung by our own moments of foolish pride.

But I submit that these conclusions fall short of the motive of the text.  We’re not meant only to read about Peter’s scandalous hours and drop our heads, weighted down by the truth a similar inadequacy.  Notice that when Jesus tells the disciples that these things will occur, he simply says, “But after the resurrection, I’ll meet you in Galilee (Matthew 26:32),” or specifically to Peter, “But when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:32).”  Jesus never sees his disciples’ failures as the end of their story any more than he sees the Cross as the culmination of God’s achievement. And we’re also meant to appreciate the entire story, not just a part of it. Even before these events occur, Jesus knows that because of the resurrection, the enemy’s snare will be broken.  The trap will be sprung forever. Once freed and restored, Peter and the other disciples will continue in Christ with the life-changing understanding that Christ–not they–holds insurmountable and reliable power, even over death. Peter’s denial ultimately teaches Peter to rely on Jesus. The power of Christ—only that power–transforms men and women into disciples like Peter and John and Paul, like Bonhoeffer, ten Boom, and Scott.

So whether we humbly see our own potential for error now or discover it to our surprise while we’re warming our hands over a refining fire, the moment when we own our desperate need for more of Christ will be the moment we become those of whom the world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:38).

You are loved!

Elysa Henegar


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Cross Walk Devotional: Footsteps of Jesus

June 17, 2015 was supposed to be another Wednesday night prayer meeting.  Until it wasn’t.

For the members of the historic Emanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston SC, they welcomed a guest from off the streets to join them as they prayed and studied God’s word.  As they studied a passage from Mark’s gospel, Dylann Roof sat quietly next to the pastor. An hour into the prayer/study, without warning he pulled out a pistol from a bag he was carrying and killed nine people, including the church’s pastor.  Church members who had gone to church for solace and encouragement, entered their eternal peace instead.

Roof would later be captured and admit his guilt.  He had hoped his actions would ignite a race war. He also shared that he almost changed his mind about the shootings because the church members had been so nice to him.

Suffering is hard.

Even worse than suffering is unjust suffering.  Suffering visited upon you for doing the right thing.  For choosing God’s way instead of your own. Being a Christ follower never exempts us from suffering, and following His footsteps often take us down a rocky road.

The Bible is very clear about this reality.  In 1 Peter 2:20 (addressed to servants, by the way—see verse 18), we read: “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”

It is in that context, that Peter wrote the words that follow, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  Peter encourages to view our suffering though the lens of the suffering of Jesus. Jesus’ life teaches us some truths about suffering: suffering was a necessary part of his work as The Messiah (Luke 24:25-27); His suffering was for others and had a greater purpose for salvation (Matthew 20:28; 26:28); if we follow Jesus, we will suffer as he did (Mark 8:34; 10:38-39).

Peter brings out these three points when he writes, “Christ suffered….for you…that you should follow in his steps.”

The word translated “example” means “something written underneath.”  I remember as a child, having a drawing book with thick, bold lines that I could lay a sheet of paper over, trace the lines and draw a picture.  Jesus’ footsteps boldly mark the path we must walk. He set a flawless example for us.

In the process, he “bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24).  The reference to Jesus’ death underscores the truth that his physical death was essential for our sins to be forgiven.  That Jesus’ sacrifice was real—a matter of flesh and blood—a true historical event and not just the gist of myths. His wounds bring us healing, and through Him we are restored to “the Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).

Even when He was unjustly accused, unjustly beaten, unjustly killed—He didn’t fight back or retaliate.  He trusted God to vindicate Him. In the economy of God, suffering never gets the last word.

And the news gets better—If we share in the suffering of Jesus, then we will share in the victory of Jesus.  Even though we don’t taste it yet, we can be certain of it! Even when our suffering ends in death, we are not helpless victims.  We are not destroyed, even when decimated. We are joined to a Christ who was once dead, but will NEVER be dead again.

During World War II, the French resistance heard on their radios that the Normandy invasion had taken place.  When they heard the news, it changed their spirits. They still lived in a hostile environment. They were still surrounded by the enemy. But, suddenly they knew that victory was on the way.  They weren’t the ones who were afraid anymore—it was the enemy that was afraid.

And Peter is saying the same thing to suffering Christians.  The gospel is good news, and we have hope. Our hope moves upwards from the blackness of the grave to the brightness of glory where Jesus—even now—reigns victorious. Though we might not understand everything we need to know about suffering, we know where Jesus ended up—at the right hand of God.

And Peter is saying, “if you suffer for Jesus, if you follow His footsteps, that’s where you will be too.”

You are loved!

Kent

 


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Cross Walk: Join us for Easter 2019

Cross Walk: He Is Risen!
Join us for Easter on Sunday, April 21, 2019 at 10am.

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Cross Walk Devotional: Flee and Be Safe

The arrest of Jesus by the mob, initiated by the political leadership, is punctuated by a hypocritical kiss from Judas, a violent strike by a disciple that, fortunately, did not escalate to an all-out brawl, and then desertion by the disciples.  As always, Jesus is composed and in control even as these events swirl around him. There is much to consider here, but I wish to focus on the last event – the young man who followed Jesus, maybe too closely, was considered a threat, seized by the mob, and wriggled out of his clothes to escape naked.

This is a strange aside to the main story and makes me think Mark was the young man.  He had to flee from the very people that he should have been able to turn to for help – the priests, the teachers of the law and the elders.  But, where did he go? Who provided a place of refuge and clothes for him to wear? For this event, there is no answer given. But, the need of this man at this time is a metaphor for the need of all mankind.

The power of darkness and the attraction of sin is great, so that everyone gets caught in its grasp.  We lie to ourselves, thinking we can manage to overcome it on our own; or we think we aren’t so bad; or, worse yet, we deny that it is evil and will separate us from God.  Do you really want to be all alone when the power of darkness won’t let you go? Don’t you want somewhere to flee to be safe and cared for?

Fortunately, the good news of the gospel is that Jesus has overcome the power of darkness.  He is our perfect high priest who provides the sanctuary for us, the redeemed, to flee. Of course, he requires that we shed our old clothes (lives) and flee naked to his sanctuary where we are “clothed with Christ”.  The second part of Hebrews 6:18-20 says, “…we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus has entered on our behalf.”

Real security is a rare commodity.  We have found it in Christ by grabbing hold of him, clinging to him with all our heart, soul, mind & strength, and being greatly encouraged by the knowledge of his sacrifice and resurrection that provides this refuge!

You are loved!

Don Keefer


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Cross Walk Devotional: Crushed

Then Jesus led his disciples to an orchard called “The Oil Press.” He told them, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”  He took Peter, James, and John with him. However, an intense feeling of great sorrow plunged his soul into deep sorrow and agony.  And he said to them, “My heart is overwhelmed and crushed with grief. It feels as though I’m dying. Stay here and keep watch with me.”  Matthew 26:36-38 TPT

Hours before Jesus’ arrest, he had already begun to die.

As Jesus invites Peter, James, and John into his suffering, He says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Matthew 26:38 NIV), or as Eugene Peterson paraphrased in the The Message, “This sorrow is crushing my life out.” Before the first spike pierced our Savior’s flesh, grief began to crush his soul.  In the Greek, the word Matthew uses is perilypos, which means surrounded by or encompassed by sorrow, but it’s that “even to death” part that makes it crushing grief.  Jesus expresses the idea that grief closes in on his heart like two ugly, murderous, strangling hands.  I think of what Paul later wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed (8)”, and I realize that the crucifixion began right at this moment in the garden, when Jesus took our crushing.  In the orchard—Gethsemane, which actually means “oil press,” Jesus became the olives squeezed for our own healing oil. He became the grape-crushed wine we now drink to remember.

In fact, in reporting the same events, Luke the doctor adds a rather clinical note, “…he was in such intense agony of spirit that his sweat became drops of blood, dripping onto the ground (Luke 22:44).  In modern times, this condition is called hematohidrosis, and it happens when “capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810702/). It’s all very scientific, the way that the pressure of stress, anxiety, and fear can actually smash your blood vessels so that you begin to leak blood through your sweat glands.  It brings to mind something the Hebrew writer challenges in Hebrews 12:4, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” The TPT makes the leap, translating this, “After all, you have not yet reached the point of sweating blood in your opposition to sin.”  In other words, we will never out grieve, out stress, out fear, out hurt, out overwhelm, or out struggle Jesus. We won’t, because he was crushed so that we never need be. As the writer of Hebrews also points out, we can now confidently take our needs to Jesus, because He knows suffering (Hebrews 4:15-16), and he overcame it.

We need to hold that wine in our mouths a little and let the flavor of it develop.  We can’t just read these verses and let them fall empty. The crucifixion of Jesus began when he was crushed for us.

When I begin to taste the bitter fullness of that truth, what stuns me even more is that Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to watch while he experiences this suffering.  “Stay and keep watch with me,” he compels them (Matthew 26:38). Why does Jesus invite his disciples, perhaps these with whom he shared closest relationships, to keep watch while he struggles in prayer with soul-crushing grief?  As disciple-makers following Jesus, we must wrestle with that question.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a “suffer alone” kind of girl, regardless of whether my pain is physical or emotional.  I learned a long time ago in my own broken moments that people can be disappointing and unreliable support when life falls apart, and I can save myself even more grief by working through it on my own.  The trouble is, that’s not the example of Jesus.  We can’t water this down.  In the account, Peter, James, and John come off as terrible friends.  They don’t get Jesus, and they don’t offer him any support. They sleep.  He even wakes them up a few times. But notice what he says when he wakes them.  It’s not, “Come on, can’t you even offer me a little bit of encouragement here,” which is always what I’m darkly thinking when I read the passage.  Instead, Jesus says, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak (Matthew 26:41), and this reveals a shocking truth about Jesus’ purposes.  Even in his suffering, Jesus is a teacher, and this isn’t just about having his friends there to support him. Even crushed, He isn’t thinking about himself. Peter, James, and John are Jesus’ disciples.  He’s training them not just to get through the next few days but to build His church, and there’s something he wants them to learn about how to persevere when hard-pressed.

What does Jesus do right in front of them during the last crushing hours of his freedom?  He prays–so fervently he sweats blood, actively submitting his will to God. Jesus is honest about what he wants and thus the temptation he feels–”My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me (Matthew 26:39),” and he is also resolved to be obedient–”Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Notice that the longer Jesus prays, the more resolved he becomes, so much so that he rises to meet Judas instead of waiting to be found.

So how does the example of Jesus extend to our own disciple-making?  As we grow into the likeness of Jesus and take up our commission we should also learn how to actively submit to God’s will when we feel hard-pressed by temptation and the pain of our circumstances.  Our prayers should take on the flavor of Christ’s in the garden. And as we train other disciples to build the Kingdom, we should view even our own times of suffering as teachable moments. We need to invite those we mentor to keep watch with us, to hear us resolutely say through our suffering, “May your will be done.”

You are loved!

Elysa Henegar


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Cross Walk Devotional: Are You a Gatherer?

When I was in college, I had a friend who organized pick-up soccer games for all of our friends. He had the goals, some cones, and the willingness to message/talk to folks he knew would be interested in playing and because of his efforts, we always had enough players to have an enjoyable game. The only problem was, this friend ended up graduating before many of the guy and girls who played did. When he left, he passed on all his equipment to the group. In spite of this, it only took a few weeks for numbers who came to play to start dwindling, and the dwindling didn’t stop until only 2-3 were showing up on a regular basis. It didn’t take long after his departure before the once strong group stopped playing together at all. What none of us had realized when the group was strong, was how much effort our friend put into gathering people together and inspiring participation in our soccer games. Without his leadership and gathering abilities, our group was lost.

I can’t help but think about this story when I read Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 26:31-35. In this passage, Jesus foretells of a time he will not be able to use his gifts for gathering and shepherding in the same way. His asserts this not out of bitterness or regret, instead he is revealing the truth of the state of his disciples. While making his point, Jesus compares his disciples to sheep, not only because of they are a closely connected “herd” but because they still bear the mentality of sheep in their timidity and need for guidance and protection. Peter takes exception to Jesus’ classification, he cannot bear the shame of being called a deserter. After all, he has followed Jesus this far. He has seen crowds reject Jesus, he has seen the religious rulers plot against Jesus, and he has stayed by his side. How could Jesus think such a thing? What Peter doesn’t realize is everything that Jesus has been doing in order to keep his disciples together. In the end, Jesus knows the truth about Peter. When things get tough, when Jesus is not there to provide a calm shepherding voice, Peter himself will be one of the first to deny his identity among the flock.

Just like my soccer group in college, it is easy to underestimate the worth of someone who can bring people together. Many times, the gifts that go into being a good shepherd are not flashy or even easily identifiable. That being said, I am sure we can all think about someone in our lives who has the special ability to bring others together. What would life be like without those people? What would happen if you needed to step into that role in the absence of someone else? After Peter’s denial when he has had time to repent and see Jesus a few days after his death, I wonder how much Peter understood that he would need to become a gatherer in the model of Jesus. While we are looking back on this story, it is interesting to look forward in Peter’s first letter and to see him addressing it to believers who have become scattered across the world. (1 Peter 1:1) It is amazing that at this point in his life Peter has come to be the shepherding voice among the sheep who are following Jesus. The Peter of Matthew has been transformed into one who senses the need to call people back to the gathering-center of the Messiah. In this stage of life, the Peter who was so quick to deny Jesus and run away has become a shepherd, calling people to reunite and gather under in the identity of Jesus. It is possible that Peter’s own denial of Jesus may have been the turning-point lesson that convicted him to embrace his new role of service to the King.

In the same way, we are all called to be gatherers and shepherds of people, even though we may feel more like the scattered sheep. When we submit to the power of the Holy Spirit and learn to let Jesus transform our hearts, we are empowered to seek out and call the lost back to Jesus no matter where we came from. In fact, the Spirit gives us the ability to return to the places where we were once scattered in order to save others. This is the power of following Jesus, that we are not only called in and made whole by him, by we are sent out with the Spirit’s power to share our savior with the world.

You are loved!
Jon Cooke


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Cross Walk Devotional: Eat

1 Cor 11:24 “..Take it and eat your fill. It is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” (TPT)
It’s just moments or hours before his betrayal. He knows what is coming all too well. This has been in the works since time began. Jesus will soon stand alone against the forces of evil as He does His redemptive work on the cross, bearing all the sin, guilt, and shame of humanity for all time. It had to be this way, but the thought of it must’ve still hurt him deeply.

And yet, Jesus tells the disciples to “eat their fill” of the bread – of His body, His essence. He said this to them as they physically ate the bread at this Passover meal which was the first observance of the Lord’s supper – the same supper that Christians all over the world have regularly celebrated throughout the centuries to this very day. What a beautiful glimpse we have into this Holy moment over 2000 years ago when our Lord shared it with his disciples for the first time. It’s amid this backdrop that he humbles himself – he loves – despite what is to come. He knows that later when they celebrate this meal in the future, they will remember this night and it will all make sense.

What about us? We know we are supposed to do it. It’s the main reason we come together, in fact. The very thought that we would go through a Sunday worship service without observing the Lord’s supper would result in anger, guilt, sorrow, and disappointment. Yet do we understand and appreciate the essence? Do we understand that Jesus’ invitation is about even more than the supper itself? That it’s a divine invitation to share in His very essence? I think it’s safe to say that we have all been guilty at times of making the meal as efficient as possible, even perhaps viewing it as an item to check off our spiritual “to-do” list. Yet Jesus calls them to “eat their fill”.

It makes me wonder if in some ways our efficient observation of the supper is a reflection of our discipleship. Could it be that we have become satisfied with just a small occasional “taste” of the Lord? When you reflect on your life, can you honestly say that you hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt 5:6)? Have you tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord (Psalm 34:8)? Can you say that His words are sweeter than honey (Psalm 119:103)?

An appetite is developed. The more I eat, the more my appetite grows. The more I taste, the more I develop a sense for what is good. Conversely, the longer I go without eating, the more I get used to it and the less appetite I have. A true hunger for the Lord does not happen overnight; it is developed. The Lord – the God who created the very heavens and the earth – has invited each of us into deep relationship with himself through the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Such an amazing invitation and gift!

What’s holding you back? Refuse to be satisfied with just an occasional taste. He bids you to come and eat your fill. The table is set. He desires to dine with you. What are you waiting for?


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