Recognizing Jesus

Guest post by: Catherine

Perhaps like me, on Easter Sunday you read the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 which likely happened in the afternoon on that first Easter Sunday 1984 years ago.   As we read the story together the question that was stuck in my mind was, “HOW DID THEY NOT RECOGNIZE JESUS?” I mean these guys knew Jesus. They sat under his teaching, they broke bread with him, they saw him perform miracles. They weren’t one of the 12 disciples, but it seems like they were still a close part of the community. So if all of this true, how could they not recognize Jesus? I mean when was the last time you didn’t recognize a close friend after being separated for a mere 3 days?

My first guess as to why they didn’t recognize Jesus was because he must have looked different. When he resurrected, though he had a physical body, it must have looked different than it did 3 days before. Certainly the wounds he had just received must have been healed but even his face and his voice must have been different. Even without sight, just by hearing a voice on a phone, we can usually recognize a close friend.

This body that he had was different. He looked different sometimes but sometimes the same, he could walk through walls, appear and disappear, he ate food, and he was healed yet he still had scar marks from his crucifixion. Yet this was still his body. This isn’t just a spiritual resurrection, it’s a physical one – the grave is EMPTY. Jesus wasn’t just brought back to life after his death, he was raised to a new level of existence, a higher level. He will never die again, his body won’t begin to fall apart as he gets older as ours does. His flesh is now incorruptible. This is one of the theories that explains why these disciples couldn’t recognize him – no one ever had visually seen incorruptible material before. You see our bodies will someday decay, these buildings will fall down, the trees will someday die. But the Jesus they saw that day, was incorruptible – a body that will last all of eternity! This resurrection that Jesus experienced is the same promise that we wait for when Jesus returns a second time!

Another guess as to why they didn’t recognize him is because they weren’t looking for him. They weren’t expecting to see him and had no reason to think that this stranger might be Jesus. Despite seeing his miracles and hearing his teachings, they didn’t understand that he was the son of God and not just a prophet.   They didn’t believe he had resurrected from the dead. If they had believed what the women said after they found the empty tomb, they wouldn’t have left Jerusalem. But no, these friends of Jesus are giving up, they’ve lost hope, they are moving on with life.

After spending all day with Jesus, after listening to his teaching again, when they are breaking bread together, they finally recognize him. I wonder what it was that made them recognize him? Did Jesus do something in the moment in the way he broke the break or the way he blessed it that was unique and they just knew it was him? Or did they finally lift up their downcast faces and look deep into his eyes and recognize their good friend? I’m not sure what it was but in a moment they recognized him and in the same moment he disappeared. He was gone from their presence. But now for the first time in this story they act on faith rather than reason and they decide to return to Jerusalem even in the middle of the night. They believed what they just saw wasn’t some kind of vision or dream but really Jesus himself in the flesh with them, speaking to them, teaching them all day long.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to miss recognizing Jesus. This is a scary thought to me because apparently, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve known him, how much you’ve sat under his teaching, or how close in proximity he is to you, one can still fail to recognize the very Son of God in your presence. I don’t want to miss out on recognizing Jesus! I don’t have a great answer as to how we can avoid this pitfall except to make sure our hearts are in the right place to recognize his movement in this world. We can begin by believing that he is truly resurrected and that he will show up in our world. As we have passed Easter for this year, let’s commit to opening our eyes and looking for Jesus working all around us. Are you watching for him?



What If…


Guest blog by: AmyJo

I think about the church a lot, perhaps more than is healthy.  I work in the church.  I have always liked the church.  I think the church is important.  I hope that Jesus likes the church.  I feel like I need to defend the church.  I am not always certain about the definition of the church.  The church causes me to hope and despair, sometimes simultaneously.  I am a pastor and the more I read about the church, the more I think about the church, the more I wonder, “What if?”

Matthew 13:31-32 (NIV)

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

What if the community of God’s people, the earthly representation of God’s Kingdom, was really like that mustard seed?  Mustard is not a plant that must be carefully cultivated.  It does not need to be minded.  It does not need fuss.  In fact, it has a tendency to take over the garden, to grow beyond one’s control.  Mustard, if left to its own devices will choke out all the other good and useful plants until the garden ceases to be anything more than a mustard plant, until the garden becomes nothing more than a big mustard tree, full of noisy birds which really is not a garden at all.  What if the church was like that?  What would happen if we allowed the wild parts to take over?  What if we stopped insisting on neat rows and orderly cultivation?  What if the church became something that we could not control?

As a pastor, I must confess that I am always, continually, involved in a never-ending cultivation scheme.  I am planning and plotting and laying out the garden of my church. We have daily, monthly, and yearly program plans which fit into our 5 and 10 year visions.  We are programed and scheduled.  Our goals are S.M.A.R.T. and our yields have been carefully calculated.   I am figuring out which programs and people can never under any circumstances be planted next to one another.  I am propping up the bent and wounded and fertilizing this program which has existed for far too long in a space without the life giving nutrients of good leadership, planning, and purpose.  I am watering the programs that have existed in spiritual drought and busily trying to divert a little stream from the programs that at the current time are overflowing.  Frankly, a mustard plant would freak me out and perhaps that is the problem.

1 Corinthians 12:22-23 (NIV)
22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,

What if we treated the weaker and the indispensable with special honor?  What
if the church believed that “those” people were valuable?  “Weaker is the comparative of asthenes, ‘sick.’  The word emphasizes the apparently complete unimportance of these members.”  What if the very people that we could do without are the ones we need the most?  What about the mentally ill?  What about the frail and the difficult?  What about the children who disrupt the service?  What about the smelly and the unintelligent?  What if they were really the most important people in the church?

In a way, Paul is reminding the Corinthians of themselves, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26 NIV)  Every one of the powerful, wise, and important in the church was at one point and without Jesus Christ would have continued to be, none of these things.  If our relationship with Jesus Christ is the number one thing, than without it, we do not amount to much.  Our value in the kingdom, in his church, begins and ends with the strength of our relationship with the king.  What if we began to evaluate someone’s importance, perhaps especially our own importance, on that simple truth?

Yet, I have come to think that Paul might be talking about a more profound shift.  What if the difficult, the needy, the frustrating, were important not because they might one day be the wise or powerful?  What if they mattered apart from any important or life altering lesson that we might gain from them?  What if they mattered simply because God tells us that they mattered?  What if the only evidence we ever had for their value or worth was the simple fact that God loves them enough to make them a part of his kingdom?

When Paul speaks of the less honorable parts, he is most certainly referring to those parts which have to do with waste removal and sex.  As a matter of fact, no matter how we might try, those parts probably are never going to be used for anything else.  Butts will always be butts.  While I am convinced that God has the power to sanctify my whole body, I am not sure I want him to use those parts for anything else.  Paul suggests that even those parts should be treated with “special modesty,” literally something should be placed around them.  What if instead of seeking to push the difficult, the ill, the frail, the less valuable to the margins, we sought to bring them closer to the center?  What if the church placed itself around them, protected them?  What if we learned to love our unmentionables?

Revelation 19:8 (NIV)
8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

What if we were naked without our righteous acts?  What if the things that we do are so important that we will parade around in them for eternity?  “Acts” is plural and frustratingly inaccurate.  God has given us this thing called ministry.  He has equipped us.  He expects us to do something, but the quantity is a mystery.  Is each action a singular thread, a patch in a quilt, a whole robe of white?  Perhaps that is the problem.  We spend an incredible amount of time and effort quantifying our righteousness, counting up our good deeds, recording them in books and blogs and journals.  We search for the outcomes and weave together our narrative in hopes that all of this amounts to more than the emperor’s new clothes.  What if it does not?  What if we have been more busy stitching together models and buildings and programs then wedding dresses?  What if there is truth in the chorus of voices telling us that we are irrelevant and out of touch, naked?

I suppose there is good news here as well, because the material from which the dress is made has already been provided.  God has given us this thing called ministry.  He has equipped us.  He has guided us. I believe that God likes the church too. If we are naked, it is not because God has failed to provide the finest linen, but because we have employed the wrong tailors. We have not wrestled with our own doubts and fears.  We have not been courageous with the Holy Spirit. We still have “what ifs” to ponder.


God’s Phoenix

Today’s guest blogger is Deborah

It never ceases to amaze me.  After a bitter and depressing winter, new life shoots forth from what was just a few weeks earlier, a stone cold ground.   No matter how much snow fell from the sky or all the subzero temperatures experienced…turning all that was once vibrant and green into a sort of greyish-white death…spring relentlessly emerges.  And as always with spring, fresh sprouts burst into life from a winterized death.  Plants destroyed by the intense cold now flourishing from their decomposed remains.  Even song birds outside can be heard chirping away, as if they were heralding in warmer days.  It is a season which brings hope…life from the depressing remains of death.

Inevitably, when spring arrives, I get excited witnessing this new life sprouting around me.   And with renewed energy, I begin to plant seeds for my future summer garden.  Interestingly enough, like the new life that buds from the dead ground, seeds also mimic the miraculous action of nature so that they too may have life.  Taking a small, dormant seed, one buries it in the dirt…just as with all things that die.  And after burying the seed, the ground is then drenched with water, followed by placing this covered and drenched object into a warmly lit place.  Unlike winter, instead of snow there is water, and instead of freezing temperatures, there is warmth.  Doesn’t make sense how life could come from dirt, warmth and water.  But after 3 to 5 days of waiting, a sprout emerges with vibrancy and strength.  A once dead looking object now fully alive and growing!

Life from death and death from life…the cyclical events of nature.   I cannot help but think of the fabled myth of the phoenix when reflecting on these miraculous events.  A beauteous bird which never eternally dies but is always reborn into a new creature from its burnt remains.  Nature is, in a sense, God’s phoenix…new life springing forth from certain death.  And it is a romantic notion…that a once decaying and destroyed life can be reborn into a new life once it dies.   It is a notion that is, by worldly understanding, impossible.  It is why the phoenix legend is considered a fable…a myth that will remain fictional and never come true.

But I disagree.  Our God has always been about making the impossible, possible.  Bringing hope to the hopeless.  Transforming new life to the once stone cold dead!

How fitting it is then, at this time of year, that we celebrate the most impossible event ever recorded in the history of man.   Easter: the account of Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead.  And for Christians it is through these actions that all can have new life if we place our faith in Jesus.  The apostle Paul reflects these thoughts to the Corinthians believers in his forth letter stating that, “(Christ) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17, NIV)

I’m a pastor and my current position is to minister to those who are literally destroyed by the world around them. I oversee the spiritual life of a drug and alcohol treatment center in the heart of Detroit Michigan.  Every day I witness coldness of winter no matter what time of year it is.  Men and women…people who are physically, mentally, and most of all spiritually dead from what world has afflicted on them.  Children born in a war zone of familiar abuse and neglect, living in neighborhoods plagued with poverty and crime, raised to earn money through prostitution and drug dealing.  They are in the winter of life…the rock bottom of their existence.  Men and women at the point of extreme hopelessness and on the brink of death.  You see it in their eyes, in their walk, and in the sound of their voice.  They are done with this world…there is no life left in their body.   Society has thrown them out, labeling them a lost cause.  But it is in these circumstances that the fable of the phoenix becomes true.  Through the ashes of a once destroyed life we see God doing His best work!

You see spring is a shadow of God’s miraculous nature…it is evidence of what He can do within our lives.  Through the most hopeless and seemingly “dead” circumstances of our existence, God can radically change those in the dormancy of sin, filling them with His life giving power. This is the power of what Christ did on the cross – transforming those dead in sin into a new life…not an improved life, but a new life.  And that word, “new” that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 5:17, means to be, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, and unheard of.”   Isn’t that amazing?  It is through God’s transformational power, He miraculously creates new life from the death of ours.  The myth becomes reality!

At this treatment center, men and women do not just recover from their addictions, but their life is literally transformed!  No longer are they regarded in a worldly point of view but instead are seen through the possibilities of Christ. And with His miraculous power, death comes to their old life with new life bursting forth vibrant and new!  Just like the buds of spring or the seed in the dirt, God removes the old and brings out the new!  Rehabilitation will improve a life, but God can make it brand new!

Through Jesus we are the phoenix and nature is a reminder to us of that.  Through the ashes of our old life in sin, we can have a new life filled with direction, purpose, and hope.  God stated it beautifully in  Jeremiah 29:11, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  Today, live the new life of God…be the phoenix that He has created you to be!


Thoughts on Pacifism

“Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble.  Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible on your part, live at peace with everyone.  Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath.  For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord.  But If your enemy is hungry feed him.  If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.  Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”   Romans 12:16b-21 (NLT)

I’m learning that when I say, “I’m a pacifist” I’m starting an unintentional debate on the topics of gun control or war in the Old Testament.  In other words, I’m starting to think pacifism is greatly misunderstood.

First off, I want to say that pacifism can look different to different people, so how I view pacifism may not be exactly the same as someone else’s view, even though we both identify ourselves as pacifists.

Secondly, just to clarify, violence to a pacifist is typically any emotion, thought, word, or action used to intentionally hurt someone.   Matthew 5:21-26 and Matthew 23:25-26 speaks about how sin is not just the seen things but the unseen things too.  Pacifism isn’t limited to weapons and wars contrary to popular belief; it also includes bitterness, holding grudges, verbal attacks, hatred, and the misuse of anger, etc…

The root of pacifism is found in the two greatest commandments in Matthew 22:37-40 and also Matthew 5:43-48.  We are to love God and love our neighbor, even in the face of justifiable differences.  Our Constitution is often quoted as well, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Every human matters because she/he exists.  Period.  End of story.

Some people think that since the focus of pacifism is love and peace, it’s being wimpy or non-confrontational.  So, let’s look at an example we are all familiar with, Martin Luther King, Jr., who is known for fighting segregation, racism, and poor wages with pacifism.   I’m not quite sure what the wimpy part of the Modern Civil Rights Movement was:  was it getting sprayed with fire hoses, bitten by dogs, being thrown in jail or beaten by police sticks?  And I’m not really sure what was non-confrontational about it:  the part where they demanded a change by taking action, or the part where the policemen felt they needed to control the situation?  Some call it passive resistance, but I’m not sure how one can be passive and resistant at the same time.  What I think people mean to say is that it’s non-violence, and this is true.  We do not fight with anger and violence, we fight with love.  Or as Ghandi called it, “love force”.

Yes, there is war in the Old Testament, but to be fair; there is also civil disobedience in the Old Testament.  In Daniel 3, we learn of three young men named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  They were commanded by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship an idol, which was the law.  They refused to obey the law, and they accepted the consequences set by the king.   What is it that makes this story so significant?  The three men would rather be thrown in a furnace then simply bow down to an idol.  This is a greatexample of pacifism!

In the New Testament, in the book of Revelation (unless your beliefs are Premillennial), God commands the Christians as they face the Roman Government to remain faithful, even unto death.  God does not command them to fight back, kill, conquer, prove the other side wrong, or even go to war.  Instead, God commands the people to stand for their faith and not worship the emperor, even if that means death.  God also assures them that their death is not in vain.  Many of us have probably heard stories of the persecution of the early Church.   Some martyrs include the disciples of Jesus, who would rather die than break God’s commands.

I know what some are thinking, “Okay Deb, then what’s the answer?  How do we stop things like war?  Tell us!  Huh?”  My response to you is this, “I don’t know.  But what I do know is violence doesn’t bring peace.”  One of my favorite MLK Jr. quotes is taken from his last Christmas Eve sermon he gave before his assassination in regards to the Vietnam War.   The sermon is entitled, “Peace on Earth” and he says, “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distinct goal we seek but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal.  We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.”  If we want peace, we must start with peace.  If we want violence, we must start with violence.  I choose peace.

As a very last thought, I want to share my absolute favorite part of pacifism: the result.

Birmingham, AL, was one of the most racist and violent cities in America in the 1960s.  The Southern Christian Leadership Council decided to do a march there, after they were fed lip service that the segregation signs would be removed.  The march lasted several days, until the jails were so full they couldn’t lock another person in a cell.  When the city finally agreed to remove the “black only” and “white only” signs from public property, the blacks were in celebration that they had won.  MLK Jr. was very quick to calm the crowd and remind them that they hadn’t won anything.   War is fighting for a winner.  Pacifism is fighting for reconciliation.  When the racist signs were removed, then reconciliation between the two races could begin.

This is why you may know some pacifists standing up for people who most would consider to be the “opposing side”.  This is because the pacifist doesn’t believe there is an “opposing side” because there is no one to conquer, overpower, prove wrong, or defeat.  Why?  The goal is to love one another and be reconciled together.  When you stop and think of it, this is one of the messages given in the parable of The Good Samaritan as told by Jesus in Luke 10:25-37.

And just for the record, reconciliation isn’t the same thing as assimilation.

This is the bottom line:  violence begets violence.  Peace begets peace.  Love begets love.

Which one do you choose?

If you want to learn more about pacifism, I encourage you to study the philosophies of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, Henry David Thoreau and/or Nelson Mandela.  Or, if you would rather be entertained while learning about pacifism, watch some “Doctor Who” on Netflix.