The Invisible boy on the train track.

An invisible boy traipses along a deserted railroad track. He looks as far down as he can see, wondering what it was like, back in the day, when this track was filled with steel cars and hurried passengers. The smell of railroad ties intertwined with the whir of passing cars along the highway draws him further down the line. He’s surrounded by activity, but on that empty track he feels disconnected from it all. He wonders how far he could walk and how long he could be gone before anyone noticed his absence. He’s afraid to walk too far. He’s afraid his suspicions will be true. He’s afraid he’ll discover he could walk to China and the world would just keep moving like the traffic on the highway. Oblivious. Preoccupied. Not even aware he was gone.  But one day he decides to give it a try. He gets out on the track and walks. Alone. Invisible. Disconnected from the world speeding around him. Tired of being invisible. He just wants someone to see him. So he walks.

He walks for miles, waving at the oblivious passers by, imagining they’re waving back. As he travels along the track he leaves his home far behind, occasionally wondering if any of his siblings are looking for him. Once in awhile he thinks he hears a voice calling him home, but when he turns around to look no one is there. Must have been imagining things. So the invisible boy walks on. He walks on hoping someone will be able to see him. As he gets a little older and wiser he decides maybe it’s his own fault no one can see him there. He’s not trying hard enough. When you’re invisible you have to work a little harder to be noticed.

So be starts turning somersaults along the track. He discovers that when he’s performing, he becomes visible. But when he stops, he’s gone from sight again. So it’s best to keep doing tricks along the track.  Maybe if he turns enough really good flips the by passers will take note and someone will join him on the track. It works, well, sort of. At first no one seems to care about his attempts at acrobatics, but as he perfects his art, people start to notice. The slowing of traffic and the photos being taken by amused drivers, give him reason to flip even more. Finally, someone has noticed the invisible boy! So he flips more, turning and twisting, jumping and throwing himself in all directions, whatever it takes to keep the growing crowds cheering. But a boy can only turn so many flips before the has to slow down and rest. Then they’re gone again. Seems like all they wanted was the show. When he looks up from his rest he is invisible again.  His aching joints and the dimming of the sky  make it clear to him that he has wandered farther down the track than he thought, and the time has gone by faster than he imagined. He has spent way too much time doing tricks for attention. Eventually the time comes when he just can’t keep up the show. All he can do is keep walking. At the end of the day he’s still an invisible boy walking along the tracks. Disconnected. Invisible. Tired of turning flips. Wondering if anyone out there is able to see him.

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Night maneuvers at high noon.

Mark 15:33-41

“And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” v. 33

… It was as if the gods themselves had stopped running the universe in honor of Yeshua, as if he were one of their own. There we stood wrapped in darkness in the middle of the day! Still stunned by the day’s events, I tried to pull myself together and keep some semblance of order among the onlookers. We hadn’t exactly planned for a night watch at high noon, so there were no torches or firelight. There were just dark silhouettes, shadowy movements, and voices from all directions.

For three confusing hours we stood there standing guard blindfolded. The robe I had won still embraced me. This Yeshua’s death was somehow changing me, but I couldn’t understand why. All I knew was the whole world seemed to be in mourning. So I just stood there clutching the robe as if for dear life, and listened to the voices hidden in the darkness.

A group of women stood behind me trembling with deep sobs. Their pain tore through my armor into my own soul. They just may have been the only friends this man had.

But I had to keep it together, so I fumbled awkwardly away from them making my way closer to the cross of Yeshua. My effort to keep it together was destroyed as one voice rose into the obscure mid-day darkness. It’s sound was more than I could take.

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

“My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

The sound of this man’s heart falling into pieces pushed me over the edge and into the abyss of sorrow. I fell headlong into despair and grief. How could a man I had never really known, never spoken to, have such an impact on me?

I had beaten him in the courtyard, dragged him through the streets of Jerusalem, staked his body to a sadistic cross and stood in the dark listening to him die. Before today he had only been the subject of occasional gossip, or the butt of a joke in the barracks. So why, after thousands of crucifixions, was I the one being crucified? It seemed that way.

Why was I standing there, looking like a blubbering clown in a cruel comedy, dressed in armor and a bloody robe weeping for a man dying on a cross in the dark?

I tried again to shift my attention away from Yeshua.

I listened to some bystanders whispering something about a guy named Elijah, coming to take Yeshua down from the cross. So I tried to peer through the murkiness to be sure no one made such a crazy attempt. You never know what a fanatic may do in a situation like this.

I heard the centurion order a few soldiers to make their way to the temple. It seems there was some disturbance there. The massive veil that guarded their holy place had been torn down or something. I was ordered to stay in my position and try to keep order.

How could I keep order when I was struggling to keep myself together?

But I did the best I could. I stood by the cross, weary from this horrific day. I found myself leaning backward up against the cross. I sunk into it hoping to sneak in a little rest. I could hear the broken rhythm of Yeshua’s breathing. The cross vibrated with every thrust of his body, as he had to push himself up on his nailed feet long enough to suck in a mouthful of air then crash back down in pain.

Push up. Breathe. Crash down. The spikes tore into his flesh, exacting a toll for every breath.

Push up. Breathe. Crash down. The weary cross tottered with every movement.

Push up. Breathe. Crash down. Then it stopped.

Silence. Stillness. Darkness. He was gone.

I fell deeper into the splintery cross my sword falling helplessly into a stream of blood on the ground. I was thankful for the cover of darkness at that moment. No one would see this soldier who had been so strong and proud at sunrise, now totally disarmed by the end of the day.

I’ve defeated many a strong man in battle. I always expected to die in a sword fight at the hand of a warrior. But I never expected to be taken out by a dying man on a cross. He had slain me with a strange kind of grace. I was pierced by his wounds. I felt dead, but strangely alive at the same time. I didn’t understand this insanity. All I could do was lean into the cross, drop my weapons of war and rest in the unexplainable warmth of that bloody robe.

After a few moments I heard familiar footsteps. I was shaken at the approaching image of my commanding officer. If he saw me like this I was dead. But somehow it didn’t matter what happened to me. This moment with Yeshua was worth dying for. The centurion walked toward me, his footsteps stopping just ahead. I braced myself for a barrage of curses and threats. I felt his heavy hand on my shoulder with a gentleness I had never expected from him. He said, “Surely this man was the Son of a god.” Then he walked away shaking his head….

The diamond of redemption.

Mark 14:22-25

“and Jesus said, ‘You will all fall away… but after I am raised up I will go before you.’ ” v. 26

It’s set like a precious jewel between betrayal and denial. In the text, you can see it arranged perfectly. Before the bread and wine, he predicts betrayal, then after, denial and abandonment is foretold. Set indelibly in between two great human tragedies are the words of our Lord, “This is my body…this is my blood.” I don’t think the position of these words is coincidental.

Jesus first predicts the searing dagger of betrayal, clothed in a kiss of friendship. Then he offers the bread and wine of the New Covenant. After that he declares that he will not only be betrayed, but abandoned and denied by those closest to him. What a tragically beautiful picture of redeeming love. This is the gospel. This is the good news.

The betrayer prepares to make his way to the door under pretense of charity, while the others staunchly declare their willingness to die at his side. He knows they want to, but they can’t. They don’t yet have the power to match their passion. But there he stands, heavens brightest diamond, set between humanities failings. This is the gospel. This is the good news.

We’re all betrayers at heart, waiting for the right bag of silver to draw us away from our redeemer’s side. We’re all scattered sheep, looking incessantly for some place a little greener than we had yesterday. He listen’s with love to our porcelain promises, cracks forming as we speak. He can already hear the rooster crowing in the background. He knows we have passion, but don’t trust his power to see it through.  But there he stands, with bread and wine in hand, offering more love than we can ever imagine or repay.  This is the gospel. This is good news.

He knows the wolves are coming, the sheep are growing restless, and the rooster is about to play taps on our resolve.  But still he offers us his body, broken and his blood poured out. He is the diamond set in the midst of your greatest point of brokenness. Your past failures, and present struggles, and even your future disappointments form the setting to reflect the glory of his redeeming love. In the same way the setting of a ring is transformed when it receives the precious stone, you have been offered God’s glorious new covenant of grace. Once you receive him, your failures are transformed forever. You are never the same. That is the gospel. That is the good news.

Jesus Christ is coming today!

Mark 12:1-12

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” v. 11

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Jesus Christ is coming today! This is no joke. I’m sure of it. He will come today. He may arrive in the next few moments, or later in the day, or as the sun goes down, but he will come today…just like he came yesterday and the day before. He showed up when you least expected it. Did you recognize him or did you send him away ? When he comes today will you see him? Or will you turn away because you thought he was someone else? It happens all the time.

In the parable of the tenants, Jesus tells the religious leaders that they are like evil tenants of a vineyard, who rejected the owner, hoping to have the vineyard for themselves. He was telling them that the messiah they had been praying for was standing among them, but in their fear and greed, and ignorance they would soon reject him. He then quoted a prophetic Psalm, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:22-3)  Jesus showed up and they rejected him. They rejected him for at least a couple of reasons. First, they rejected him because of fear and pride. Jesus was a threat to their sense of power and security. They wanted a messiah who would let them stay in control and rule beside them, not over them. Second, they rejected him out of ignorance. They were so blinded by their own expectations of what a messiah should be that they missed him. If we aren’t careful we can miss the Lord today when he comes for the same reasons. Now let me clarify, I have no idea when Jesus will return in glory end the age. But He will come today in small ways to speak to you, or show you a bit of himself. He comes like that every day. We don’t have a savior who sits around on a throne watching to see how we will perform. He comes along side us and walks us through life. The problem is that sometimes, in order to make us more attentive, he comes in disguise.IMG_19800105_194442

This way we only find him if we are seeking him. When Jesus comes today he may come as the slow cashier, the hurt spouse, the obnoxious co worker or maybe the guy with a cardboard sign. When he comes, he will be looking to see if you will reject him or make him the cornerstone. Then one day, when he comes in glory, he will remind you of all the times he showed up, and he will say, “Whenever you did/didn’t do it to the least of these, you did/didn’t do it to me.” (Matthew 25)  Remember today that how we treat others is how we treat him. So be on the lookout today, for he will surely come, when you least expect it and in the most surprising ways.

Unauthorized grace?

Mark 9:38-41

“We tried to stop him because he was not following us.” v. 38

Niger Unreached Village Ministry Day 2 (12 of 14)

Why are we so eager to police the kingdom of God? John came running to Jesus saying, “there’s someone out there casting out demons in your name! We tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us!” I can see him now. Somewhere in town John and the disciples notice a man doing the very thing Jesus had commissioned them to do. He was casting out demons in Jesus name. I’m surprised that it was John, of all the disciples, who wanted to stop the man from handing out “Unauthorized grace”. All the disciples run over to this man and tell him he needs to stop casting out those demons right this minute! How dare he do ministry without the endorsement of the disciples! I wonder how much of this was concern for propriety and how much was guilt. If they had been busy doing the same they wouldn’t have had time to police everyone else. I won’t apply that to us since we are way too spiritual to ever make that mistake. The other issue here is the disciples fear of unauthorized grace being handed out. It’s a common fear isn’t it? We are so afraid of the wrong people giving out God’s mercy and grace that we scan the internet looking for false prophets and heretics to stop. Today our definition of a  heretic or false prophet has widened to include anyone who isn’t just like us. We push away from those outside our Christian circle, in essence saying, if you don’t follow us, you can’t follow him! I wonder how many bullet holes we have in our feet, from rejecting fellow saints,  who could be helping us spread the gospel. Let’s hear what Jesus had to say to John and to us about unauthorized grace.

  1. Don’t put the brakes on a good work done on Jesus behalf. Jesus put it this way; “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” (39)

Our Lord says here that anyone who is willing to walk in his grace and power is a welcome friend. For too many of us this is a frightening idea. Can we imagine God using a willing worker who doesn’t belong to our brand of the faith? Apparently Jesus isn’t as religious as we would have him to be. God honors anyone who serves him. (John 12:26; Acts 10:34-35) He’s not looking for your denominational logo before he accepts someone into service. I realize this may be quite disturbing to those who have found the true essence of Christianity and need to define everything and everyone by their own personal experience. Try to open up a little bit and appreciate the believers who come from other Christ following traditions.

  1. Don’t make an enemy where you could have a friend. “For the one who is not against us is for us.” (40)

There are plenty of genuine opponents of the faith out there. We have many who would love to put an end to the movement of the gospel. We are commanded to love our enemies, and pray for them. But I worry that this generation of Christ followers is so angry and fearful, and quite honestly, so eager to feel persecuted, that we are making enemies out of friends. We’re drawing lines in the sand where they don’t exist. Too many of us are sitting on the edge of our pews looking for a chance to boycott or protest anyone who even looks like they might disagree with a value we hold. Yes there are times to make a stand against evil. But we need to ask ourselves if we’re standing up for the gospel or just standing up for the sake of standing up. Our reactionary posture may be impressive to those who hold our opinions, but it may be confusing to a world that keeps waiting to see us love our neighbors. Remember one of the signs of the early church was, they “enjoyed the favor of all the people.”(Acts 2:47) Without compromising the gospel, they lived in love toward those outside of the church. So be about the business of making friends for the gospel. The enemies don’t need your help.

  1. Don’t underestimate God’s grace. “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” (41)

God is more interested in who he can save than who he can judge. He says here that even a cup of water given to a follower of Jesus will be rewarded. You mean to tell me that Jesus is willing to bless and even reward someone who does a small act of kindness to you just because you are a follower? Wow! Doesn’t sound too hard to me. God is so eager to bring people into his kingdom that he will offer his grace to anyone who takes a step in his direction. Are you serious? But what if the person handing out water is wearing a tattoo? What if they are pierced in all the wrong places? Will God allow someone into his presence who struggles with addictions and uses bad words? Is there really room in the kingdom of God for people who watch movies and read novels that I don’t approve of? That’s amazing. What’s even more amazing is that there’s even room in his kingdom for somebody like me, who has spent way too much time criticizing and too little time loving.

Final note: I love how the verse reads, “We tried to stop him.” They weren’t able apparently. Maybe they wanted Jesus to come stop him, because they couldn’t do it. Friend, you can’t stop real grace. Try all you will. The true grace giver will not be hindered by anyone. If you are handing out grace today, at some point someone may try to stop you. Don’t let them. Just keep giving it out. The Lord is standing with you.

One of the great surprises in heaven will be the wide variety of saints from every nation, tongue, tribe, political persuasion, and church affiliation or lack thereof. We will stand in awe of the grace of God. As we look around at the heavenly collection and see literally trillions of people in an unimaginable chorus, we will be blown away by God’s amazing grace. But here’s the kicker to keep us thinking. Will I be more amazed that God welcomed those people to heaven, or that he welcomed me?

Don’t trouble the teacher.

Mark 5:35-43

” Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any longer?” v.35

“Your daughter is dead.” These words pounded like nails into this desperate father’s heart. He stood there in the middle of the street, listening to the echo of his worst nightmare. He had tried so hard to get Jesus there in time. “If he hadn’t stopped to help that cursed woman we could have made it! He could have saved her!” He felt himself imploding under the weight of the dreaded news. The messenger reached to help Jairus to his feet, “Why trouble the teacher any longer?” He said, slowly leading him toward home. You see, to the messenger, it was over. Jesus, the teacher, was too late. Hope was gone. There was nothing left to do but plan the funeral and endure the grief. So this well meaning friend said to Jairus, ‘Why bother the teacher any longer? Perhaps he could have healed her while she was alive, with whatever magic arts he has but what can this mystic do in the face of death?’ They were resigned to fate. Hope was shattered against the rock hard reality of death. If Jesus had been only a teacher, there would have been no reason to seek his help. After all, who needs a teacher when your world has come crashing down? The scripture tells us that Jesus overheard this conversation. Aren’t you glad today, that our Lord overhears our pain and sorrow. He’s always listening in to those dark moments when our worst nightmares are being played out before our eyes. He’s overhearing when the doctor tells the young couple, “I’m sorry but there’s been a miscarriage.” or when worried parents get a late night phone call, “There’s been an accident and it doesn’t look good.” He overhears the long nights of a grieving soul screaming curses into a pillow. He overhears the loved ones trying to make sense of tragedy, with all sorts of clichés about “God’s will”, that usually bounce off the broken heart like pebbles against a gravestone. Jesus overhears our sorrows. Not only did he overhear, but he also overruled. He showed here that is more than a teacher, he is Lord over our darkest moments. In this story Jesus says three things that show who he is when our hearts are broken.

  1. “Do not fear, only believe.” – Grief brings with it, among other things, great amounts of fear. I can imagine Jairus thinking, “How will I go on without my precious daughter?” We think our world has come to an end. We tell ourselves we will never recover. Subconsciously we make plans to be miserable for the rest of our lives. Death has left a hole in our lives that we think could never heal. Jesus told Jairus not to fear but to believe. The one who has power over death, has power over grief as well. Faith is the antidote for fear. As is often said, we don’t know what the future holds but we know who holds the future.
  2. “The child is not dead, but sleeping.” Jesus said this to the professional mourners, whose job it was to weep and wail in time of death. They laughed at him when he said, “She’s just asleep.” From our perspective death is cold and final. It’s the delete button on all our hopes and dreams. To us there is nothing more final than death. Yet Jesus calls it sleep. From his perspective death is the nap before the party. He understands our loss, but also knows that this dream thief, called death, is temporary. He knows because he existed before time with the father, and because now he has died himself, and risen from the dead. When he was crucified he entered into a real death, descended temporarily into hell itself, and rose again in power. This same hope is ours and can fill us with peace even as we stare death in the face.
  3. “Talitha Cumi” which means “Little girl, I say to you arise.” Jesus rose this girl from death with a single word. What does this mean? Jesus, the teacher, would have only been able to heal the sick, but Jesus, the savior, can step into the realm of death and say, “arise”. Even today we have testimony of people being raised from death by his power. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, this means that death is temporary and we who have lost our loved one have the hope of seeing them again, only this time it will be forever. There will be no more separation. No more saying goodbye. No more grieving. Finally, it means that one day each of us will hear his voice saying, “Arise!” Those who have placed their trust in the savior will rise to eternal life, but whose who have rejected him to judgment. We will all discover that he was far more than a magic teacher, or a mystical sage. He was and is Lord of all.

Perhaps today you are facing tragedy. It may be that you have felt the sting of death. A loved one. A marriage. A career. If Jesus were just a teacher, all you could hope to get from him would be advice or possibly comfort. In that case there would be no point in troubling him any longer. Death has come. It’s over. But he is far more than that. He can speak life into your death.  He can bring hope and real healing if you will but trouble him with it.

The Currency of the kingdom

Mark 4:35-41

“He said to them, why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Faith is the currency of the kingdom of God. Without it, all the ingenuity, bravado and wisdom of the world is useless. You can see this in the story of Jesus calming the storm. There’s nothing more humbling, even embarrassing, to a group of experienced men of the sea, hardened by years of labor, than to be reduced to tears in the face of a storm. No doubt, they had seen storms before. But this one sent them into a panic. Courage failed them. Sailing expertise was useless. Like a tourist trying to spend Pesos in Russia, they were bankrupt without the currency of faith. After Jesus speaks peace to the storm, he looks, probably with a chuckle, at these tough sailors -turned preschoolers, and says, “Don’t you have any faith ?” He didn’t chide them for lack of courage, these men were no cowards. He didn’t criticize them for lack of skill. Neither did he give them a lecture on team building. He asked them where their faith was. This event likely served to remind them that in the kingdom of God what gets things done is faith.

If you want to simply get by in this world you need a different currency. The world values intelligence, wealth, possessions, talent, appearance and position, to name a few things. Most of us spend our lives trying to make sure we have enough of these things to make us successful and secure. Just like the disciples in the boat, we float through life telling ourselves we’re okay as long as we have what we need to handle ourselves. No doubt these men were fully capable seamen. But once in awhile a storm comes that is beyond our abilities and the currency of this world suddenly becomes useless. The Billionaire weeps over his failed marriage. The powerful ruler finds he has terminal cancer. The beautiful model is irreparably scarred in a career ending accident. The dream job ends when the company goes bankrupt. There is a point when all the human ingenuity, wealth and position in the world simply will not fix things. When that happens you enter a realm in which the only currency is faith. Without that you are lost at sea. But one word from the master and even the greatest storm can be stilled. The problem is that those of us who are presently nodding our heads in agreement are still trying to get through our storms with the wrong currency. We think if we just keep trying we can get ourselves through on our own. In the story Jesus was asleep on a cushion when the storm came up. He didn’t act until they woke him and cried out. I can’t help but wonder, though, if the whole time he was asleep, he was peeking out with a grin on his face just waiting to see how long they would fight the storm on their own before waking him. Does the Lord seem to be sleeping through your storm? Maybe he’s waiting to see how long it will take before you trust him with it. Final note: One day we will face the ultimate storm. Death will come unannounced. When that storm hits, the only currency acceptable at judgment will be faith in Christ. Your deeds, and accomplishments, and even your religion will be worthless before him. The admission fee is paid only through faith in Jesus Christ. This currency is available only at the foot of the cross, where Jesus paid the price for your salvation. Make sure you stop by and exchange the failing currency of this world for the only thing that lasts. Turn to Christ today before it’s too late.