Every now and again the blur of life that speeds by us is finally recognized by our inner person. The snapshot of life from the front row causes us to wonder what we’ve missed. In the uninterrupted flow of life and the pull from others on our energy, sometimes we feel like we are pedal-to-the-metal down the highway, downhill and there is a curve ahead. I had one of those moments recently.
Let me tell you this first about a little issue I have. Stress causes me to go into some kind of mode; this mode is egocentric and much like an auto-pilot default setting; I seem to be programmed to operate in one way only…focused. Focus and determination are the results of stress in my life. The problem with what I will call “FM” (Focused Mode) is that there is hardly room for any other mode or “setting”; it’s like FM supersedes all the other circuits: modes such as relaxation mode, family mode, introspective mode, and yes, even prayer mode. That last one kills me! I will clarify the damage done to my prayer life in a minute, but let me continue my confession.
So I find myself in FM and actually making quite a dent in my work load; by all outward appearances I was doing great! But on the inside I had become too self focused, and for a Christian, that is not good. But you may argue, “What’s wrong with being focused and getting stuff done?!” There is nothing wrong with being focused and getting stuff done; the problem is that I, maybe not you or maybe so, find it next to impossible to operate in any other modes while FM is having its way.
Lately, I have sensed that I needed to slow down, to recharge my batteries, or to at least pump the brakes. But the brakes were out. If I slowed down, then the “stuff” wouldn’t get done! I had my nose to the grindstone and my head stayed down. But yesterday it hit me; there are no options here: “you have to slow down or someone’s going to get hurt” flashed across my spiritual radar. The timing always seems to be at the least favorable time to have to slow down…the finish line is just over that next hill! We all should know that this illusion is one of evil intent, for most of us have realized that there is always one more hill. That is the problem with FM: you think there is a conclusion to the plot; you think that the goal is always right around the corner, and you just know that very soon you will get a break in the action. But it never comes…
But it hit me at last, and I acquiesced to the literal demand from on high to slam on the brakes. Now that I’m still, there is a mix of emotions: sadness, joy that I finally stopped, resolution, humility, and a splash of guilt. Those emotions are a tell-tale sign of a person in need of magnetic realignment. While in FM, I had been insensitive and slow to listen, I had to literally make myself pray, I had been short with some, and generally a crabby person. The guilt part comes from knowing that you have NOT been the humble, loving, merciful, and peaceful Christian that you profess to be. It’s all good though. God knows we all get under stress and get a tad selfish; it’s like a protective mode, a defensive stance, we get stingy with our emotions…even with God! It’s O.K. because as long as we can recognize it for what it really is, then we can repent and get a cosmic “Do-Over”.
That is grace in full-blown beauty! Knowing that despite our best efforts, we cannot function (as Christians) without leaning on Him in complete surrender. You see, I like being in love with our God, but He is a stingy one and is easily jealous of our time and thoughts! We can justify having to “get busy” and get stuff done, but God isn’t interested! He is not interested in you trying to do for you what He can do with a snap of His fingers. God wants our full attention, and when we allow distractions in our lives that steal from God’s time with His beloved…well…the red flashing signs appear! Thanks God…You’re awesome! Pure grace is caring enough about us, that God actually makes the effort to give us clear warnings instead of finally just giving up on us! That He cares that much to personally be un-offended by our arrogance and stupidity is truly amazing grace. Believe me, I have self-destructed a few too many times by chasing after things that do not satisfy; I’m glad that now I have Someone who cares enough to hand me a white flag and show me the flagpole!
A dear man I know locally reminded me of this very important white flag surrender in a morning devotional. He spoke of the absolute necessity of practicing surrender: I surrender the stress, I surrender the anger that I’m feeling toward that guy that just cut me off, I surrender my attitude, I surrender my family and their well-being, I surrender the unforgiveness in my heart, I surrender the sarcasm I’m about to toss on the unrelenting guy, I surrender the urge to surrender my middle finger to my elected officials, and on-and-on it goes. At the end of this powerful devotional, the speaker offered us all white handkerchiefs, and I have mine tied behind my rear-view mirror to this very day; it has been there for over a year, I can’t drive without it being in my face, and yet somehow it has gone unnoticed for quite a while. The irony is that I have spent more time in my vehicle than anywhere else during a day and that white hankie has been staring mockingly at me all day, every day! That’s how stubborn and blind I am: I have a white flag in front of me all day, but God still has to hit the flashers…wow…
The most difficult part is that while in FM, you can slip into a bad pattern and get off track without even knowing it! It’s like some mental condition where you can’t see the forest for the trees…my wife calls it “tunneling”…apropos. It’s very much like a kid when they get worked up playing too intensely and their sanity rushes out as obsession rushes in. Is that ball really worth all the drama and tears? No. They just got all frenzied-out and over-stimulated…quick smack on the bottom ensues (incoming!). Once the child is brought back down to planet earth, all is well. So are we, in that we can be going so fast and over-stimulated that we get off course quickly…at least I do anyway. As a pastor friend reminded me this Sunday, “They wouldn’t be blind-spots if you could see them!”
I think of the two chaps that were making their way to Jerusalem on the road to a town called Emmaus. Talk about being on a roller-coaster ride with the tracks out ahead! If you have the occasion or inclination to read this magnificent message, you can find it in Luke 24:13-35. Their spirits were down, they were lamenting that again, another professed Messiah had come and gone. They I’m sure had lost hope in ever, in their lifetimes, being able to see the kingdom of God. You see, this would have been one of those, “Oh, here we go again” scenarios; another crucified, another “criminal” sentence to anyone who bothered the status quo of the time. In an already volatile time in the relationship between Rome and Jerusalem, keeping the status quo was very much like not wanting to die at the hands of oppression. This Jesus made quite a stir and everyone was on pins and needles as it were. These days following the crucifixion were dark days indeed.
But as He is known to do, Jesus meets them where they are, Jesus walks with them on the road, and Jesus has words of encouragement. Don’t we all get a little down on the road of life? Some days or weeks and sometimes even months, we just get all worked up in the cacophony of life’s demands. We lose our focus…not necessarily on purpose, but out of a sense of duty. Now this sense of duty can take on some strange perversions: duty to provide for your family, duty to ensure your future, duty to fulfill your responsibilities, and duty to some neurosis that every human has either been inadvertently taught by their parents or handed down genetically…we will never know. Is it nature or nurture? Yes…
But Jesus always reminds us that focus on Him and seeking the Kingdom first always has and always will realign the rest of a life in tow. Why worry about life’s rhythm when God’s rhythm pulls all of life behind it in a lovely symphony? We are a stubborn people. But in the recounting of the events on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and “another” disciple are deeply concerned, deep in discussion, and deeply disheartened. The solution to the problem they are having is actually quite simple: listen to the right Voice.
You see, for me anyway, the soulish, internal voice is always nagging, always pointing out the worst case scenario, and always misleading. A famous saying that I often remind myself of is, “Things are never as good as you think, nor as bad as you think.” So our internal soul is constantly adding drama into our lives to push us, and this makes its way out as an outward, physical expression. The result of this battle ranges from depression, to anxiety, to a “high”, and the worst result being it affects what comes out of our heart and therefore out of our mouth as well. “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” However, if and when we learn to listen to the internal Voice, the spiritual voice, and the true voice, then we enjoy peace, a sense of well-being, and a feeling of being loved. How important is this? Jesus tells us plainly that “my sheep hear My voice” and that we recognize His voice. Are we too busy sometimes to hear? Yes…all of us “go there”, all of us (unless you are unashamedly a saint) slip from time to time, and all who follow Christ can be misled, however temporarily, by the voice of the world. And the world is getting louder, more assertive, and more distracting by the day.
So these guys rolling from Jerusalem up to Emmaus, had just experienced the mayhem that was Jerusalem after Christ’s crucifixion. I’m sure they had long, into-the-wee-hours types of talk Friday night, and probably every day after that as they gathered together with fellow disciples and followers. Certainly fear for their lives was an overriding theme, as the Bible tells us that these were disciples. Think of all the opinions, all the varying “takes” on the recent events, and think of all the things that must have been swirling around in their heads! To top the whole confusion off, they hear rumor of Mary telling all the disciples that the tomb was empty. These friends walking along the Roman road to Emmaus must have been having one heck of a conversation! I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but think of the dialog; remember, these were real people like you and me, with real emotions and a real sense of lost hope, stress, and the rebus of making sense out of the recent news. Oh, how I would have loved to be a bird in a tree listening in to that conversation!
The ironic (actually quite humorous) fact is that the whole while Jesus was walking with them, neither of the disciples recognized Him. The text tells us that their eyes were “restrained” or “hidden” and they never noticed it was their Master! How often do we walk through our lives not even able to notice Who is walking right beside us? How often is our head down concentrating on the mess of things and the Answer to all that worries us is within arm’s length? So don’t feel bad about those times; obviously, you are in pretty decent company. But even without them recognizing Jesus, both were privy to a teaching that even the most committed followers of Christ would probably give their left arm to hear. Christ Himself teaches them and points out to them the red line of the Messiah’s blood that weaves throughout Scripture, starting with the Books of Moses and ending in the last of the prophets. Before their eyes were opened, their hearts had to open first. Do you grasp the reality of this? The men were blind to Jesus, but Jesus opens their heart while they are walking together. Later, after they ultimately recognized the Messiah, they marveled to one another about how their “hearts were burning” as Christ spoke to them.
That is one thing that only a Christian or someone being called by God could possible understand. The real, physical sensation of your “heart burning” is really indescribable, but the phrase encapsulates the sensation! My son asked me once, “Dad, how do I know when the Lord is speaking to me?” I told him he would just know, that it is not something that just slips by, and that only experiencing His voice can give its own proof. So here is a perfect, post-resurrection account of the “burning in our heart”; similar to David’s description of “my heart melts like wax” and Jeremiah’s “fire shut up in his bones”, when this happens, it behooves one to shut up and listen.
So Cleopas and his buddy got the special honor of hearing Jesus explain Jesus! Lucky to be sure. When Jesus enters into the conversation, He does so by asking them the obvious question: “What are you talking about that has you so down?” And the two reply in the “where have you been?…hiding under a rock?” manner by recounting the previous days’ happenings. The first thing Christ does is chastise them…Hmmm…basically, He says, “Are you guys really that clueless; are you guys really that slow?” I’m serious, that was His response to their recounting of the events. Jesus then essentially says, “Look, guys, I’m not sure why you don’t understand that Jesus had to die in order to fulfill Scriptures, but I’ll tell you what, let Me walk you through the Scriptures real quick and give you a crash-course in Messiah 101…OK, let’s start with Moses. Remember when Abraham took Isaac up to the mountain? (Jesus teaching). Remember when Moses told the Israelites to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and why we are celebrating Passover right now? (Jesus teaching). Remember when the serpent was lifted up to heal the sick? (Jesus teaching). Remember Isaiah, Jeremiah…”, and on and on He goes! By the end of the journey through the Scriptures with Jesus, the disciples had reached their destination.
Jesus, still unrecognized, plans to keep walking, but the disciples implore Him to stay and eat with them and rest the night. Jesus accepts the invitation. I find it interesting that as a complete stranger, Jesus was invited to stay…is that safe? I mean you really don’t know the guy, but you have to give Him props on His knowledge of the Scriptures! I guess if He was compelling enough to listen to for the majority of the walk north from Jerusalem to Emmaus, then He was compelling enough to invite to have a “sleep over”! As recorded in Luke, they finally recognized Christ as Christ when He blessed the bread and broke it. Don’t even get me going about the significance of this verse…we simply don’t have the time. But think about the astounding implications of the following statement: You can’t recognize Jesus until He blesses and breaks the bread. The breaking of bread for Christ was the offering of Himself to His disciples past and present. We can only recognize Christ and our eyes opened when He makes His sacrifice real and known to us! Enjoy that rabbit hole…I won’t even charge you for the ride…
Once Jesus is recognized by the two disciples, He vanishes. Can we even only slightly put ourselves in their shoes (sandals)? What a long and curious day! You start out caught in a horror of all horrors situation, fear for your life, leave in desperation and confusion, hear of an empty tomb, decide it’s all just too much, grab a buddy and get the heck out of Dodge, you’re walking along and get engaged in conversation with an interesting fellow, invite Him to stay, He blesses the meal, you realize it’s Jesus, and then He vanishes…at the exact moment when this happens, Jesus vanishing, how do you think you would react? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but we can be sure it was a “poop-your-pants”, Kodak moment! I’m sure the angels are still recirculating that story and bowing over in laughter: “Yeah, yeah…remember the time when Jesus vanished in front of Cleopas? Seriously, neither of them knew it was Him…Jesus had them going for 7 miles, and pulled it off with the…remember his face?!…Oh, that expression…was just…too…shhhh! Here he comes…”