Asking For A Friend?

Asking For A Friend?

English is a hard language to learn.   It plays fast and loose with its own rules of grammar.   And it refuses to conform to the basics of linguistics shared by virtually every other language — basics such as gender, case, and predictable syntax.   No doubt, this is a consequence of the long and storied history of English-speaking peoples.   As J. R. R. Tolkien noted, there is no such thing as a language without a history.   As English-speakers ventured out across the globe during the Age of Exploration, they imported bits and pieces of language and expression from a myriad of other cultures into the warp and woof of the mother tongue.   Consequently, the irregularity of the grammar and, especially, the pervasive use of idiom makes English one giant inside joke.  

One, not so subtle, example is the phrase, “asking for a friend?”  Nothing is more disingenuous than this qualifier.   We tack it on to uncomfortable or embarrassing questions.  Questions that, if actually from us, would surely reveal what we want to conceal.    But like the Emperor with new clothes, everyone knows the game, but no one will admit it.   We all know who is really asking the question.   “Asking for a friend” does not conceal anything – quite the contrary.   Yet we all play the game.   And the asker is allowed to lay all censure for shocking questions upon some imaginary friend.   The question is depersonalized allowing us to broach delicate concerns in third person rather than first or second.   Asking for a friend makes questions academic, not biographical.  Or so we think.

But there is a remarkable exception to this ruse – a time when “asking for a friend” is just that.   And that is intercessory prayer.   Typically, our chief concern in prayer is typically ourselves, asking for the things we want or need.   And, indeed, there is nothing wrong with this.  Scripture calls this dimension of prayer supplication, which is another way of saying “to ask.”   The Bible encourages us to ask God for what we need.  Jesus instructed his disciples and by extension us.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Luke 11:9-13

And in another place, Jesus promised, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (John 16:23)   Jesus’ brother, James, wrote, “you do not have, because you do not ask.” But then goes on to warn you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”(James 2:4)   We are instructed to ask boldly.  The author of the Hebrews reminds us of this.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

But James warning should give us pause.  What should we ask for?  What types of things?  And how do we ask?   Interestingly, most of the instruction in Scripture regarding involves praying for others.   While we are certainly to ask for our own needs, the bulk of our asking is to be for others through intercessory prayer.   And like most other aspects of our prayer, the prayer of the gathered church should model the trajectory for our private prayer.    The Apostle Paul, in giving instruction to Timothy regarding worship in the Ephesian Church wrote.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 

1 Timothy 2:1-4

The church has always understood this to mean that in public worship we are to pray for others – for those responsible for government, for the peace purity and prosperity of the church, for the general welfare of society and for the spread of the gospel among all peoples.   Christian worship puts a strong emphasis on intercessory prayer, particularly in public worship.    John Calvin noted that intercessory prayer exhibited the church’s core value.

“It has pleased God to work with human beings through human beings.  We are creatures of need. We need God and we need each other.  It is therefore through the ministry of other people that God in his wisdom has chosen to bless us.  It is in our intercession for each other that we realize what it is to be the Church.”

Just as Jesus’ prayer was characterized by intercession, so must ours be.   We are to “ask for a friend.”  We are to be bold askers at the throne of grace and mercy.  But much, if not most, of our asking is for others.   When we gather in church and pray alone in our closet, how much of our asking is “asking for a friend?”

In our idiom, “asking for a friend,” is a euphemism for our own concerns.   But when it comes to Christian prayer we are called to ask boldly for others through the ministry of intercession.    Join us this Lord’s Day, May 31 as we gather for worship both in person and by live-stream and consider Psalm 122 which calls us to pray for the sake of our brothers and to intercede for the church, the world, and our neighbors.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions.   Or join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

Grace and Gratitude

Grace and Gratitude

Nothing reveals the vulnerabilities in the supply chain like a robust pandemic.   We think we can anticipate what will be in short supply – gas, water, generators, basic food stuffs – but herd instinct offers surprises.   While some shortages, such as toilet paper, have been widely reported, you may not have heard about shortages of bikes, audio-visual hardware, and seeds.    

Avid gardeners are meticulous planners.   They order seeds like clockwork according to their climate zones and carefully scripted calendars.  Yet this pandemic has thrown their plans into disarray.  An invasive species has appeared – the victory gardener!   Indeed, this is a good thing.  But it has created shortages for seed companies and nurseries. 

For too long people have labored under the notion that food comes from a supercenter.   Panic has led many to realize that maybe, just maybe, food comes from somewhere else – their yard.   Finding and eating food is one of the most basic parts of our lives, yet most of us have lost touch with its basic mechanics – its heart and soul, its deeper importance.   The author and poet, Wendell Berry,  laments this in his essay, “Eating and Pleasure.”

The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical – in short, a victim….  Both eater and eaten are in exile from biological reality…. Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend upon ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world.  In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and from powers we cannot comprehend.

Wendell Berry

Nothing is more time-consuming, day in and day out, than finding and eating food.  Yet, in all that planning, finding, preparing, and eating, how often do we “experience and celebrate our dependence and gratitude.”   Sure we “say the blessing” before the meal, but do we realize how deep that thanks should go?  This failure of thanks-living, this systemic ingratitude, goes much deeper than our eating – it extends to all other areas of life.  Nothing highlights our fallenness more than ingratitude.    Paul’s ringing indictment of our fallen nature in Romans 1 crescendos in our ungratefulness.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:18-21

Ungrateful hearts and lives are futile hearts and lives.   Gratitude is our primary response to God’s graciousness toward us.  Our worship seeks to glorify God through proclaiming His grace in the gospel and by expressing our gratitude to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.   Worship is a gracious and thankful conversation between God and His people.   To be ungrateful is the hallmark of practical atheism.  Thanksgiving is a sanctifying agency in our lives.   Elsewhere Paul, in writing to his friend, Timothy, remarked.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:4-5

Is your life characterized by thanksgiving, or better yet, thanks-living?   Have you learned to receive everything – the good and the bad, the joyful and the sorrowful – with thanksgiving?   Have you chosen to pursue every moment, every action, every aspiration to celebrate your dependence and gratitude toward the gracious God revealed to us in Christ Jesus?   Our redemption is manifest chiefly in a grateful heart.   In Psalm 107, the Psalmist exhorts us.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble. 

Psalm 107:1-2

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.   What does your life declare of thankfulness to God?  The inspired author goes on to speak about the promptings, the praise, and the practice of giving thanks and living thankfully.   Join us this Lord’s Day, May 24, on Facebook Live at 10:30 am as we examine Psalm 107 consider the power of experiencing and celebrating our dependence and gratitude toward our Gracious God.  

Good for the Soul

Good for the Soul

Visits to my Nana’s house were always an adventure.  After lunch, the adults spent their time “porch sitting.”   Their stories of the good old days riveted us for a while.  But eventually the stolid heat and humidity of Georgia summer and the quiet of spent storytelling drove the children indoors in search of more lively entertainment.  Nana’s house was always dark and mysterious.  Filled with curios from bygone ages and places. There was always something to explore.   As an older home, with no AC, her windows were always open.  And during the summer time, the old wood and linoleum floors were gritty to our bare feet.   When I think of summer in Georgia I think of that humid, grittiness.  A kind of pervasive, latent oppression Southerners learn to live with.

Any good Southern author knows that conveying this grittiness is a mark of regional authenticity.   The short stories of Faulkner are a good example.  They always evoke for me a feeling of grittiness.  But perhaps nothing I have read has made me feel more gritty, than the Russian novel, Crime and Punishment.

Crime and Punishment unfolds the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who murders an unscrupulous old pawnbroker for her money.  Before the killing, Raskolnikov believes the money will liberate him from poverty and change his life for the better.  Afterwards, however, he finds himself consumed with paranoia and self-loathing.  All his justifications unravel as he struggles with guilt and horror and confronts the consequences of his crime.  Dostoevsky’s work is a brutal character study in “urge to confess” and of the overwhelming power of guilt.

“The urge to confess” is a common theme in crime stories.   Guilt is powerful, controlling, and irrepressible.   We can rationalize it, conceal it, run from it, and attempt to mitigate it, but we cannot escape it.   Guilt clings with the tenacity of an ant and is a “thorn in the flesh” that no self-help strategy can eradicate.   As wise mentor once told me, “when people express guilt, don’t tell them they should not feel that way or that they are not guilty, but instruct them to confess.”   The old saying, “confession is good for the soul” is very true.  Solomon wisely instructed his sons, and successors, and us.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
    but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always,
    but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity. 

Proverbs 28:13-14

While confession is never easy, nor comfortable, the comfort it brings is powerful.   Confession is the only way to deal with our guilt – because it depends upon another, alone, who has the power to release us through forgiveness.  The ancient word for forgiveness, has at its root, to untie, or release.   Like the Gordian knot, only confession, repentance, and forgiveness can untie the knots that sin and guilt tie in our lives.   This is why confession is an essential part of worship.  

Just as the Psalms form the “anatomy of all parts of the soul,” instructing us in the liturgy of prayer and worship, corporate worship sets before us the pattern of life with God and with others.    Central to that pattern is the act of corporate confession and assurance of pardon.  In confession we “agree with” God about the truth of our condition, unmasked as men of unclean lips, hands, and hearts among a people of unclean lips, hands, and hearts before a Holy God.

Every person in Scripture who came face to face with God through prophetic vision or theophany, was terrified.  When Moses asked to see God’s glory, he was hidden in the cleft of the rock and only allowed to see God’s back.  When Job demanded an audience with God, God confronted him out of a EF5 tornado.   To enter God’s presence as a sinner is to invite death and terror.   Unless, there is one who can cover us and mediate for us.  

Job’s fear was that “there is no arbiter between [God and I], who might lay his hand on us both. Let him take his rod away from me, and let not dread of him terrify me.”  But the good news is that we do have a mediator in Christ.  One who can lay his hand upon us both. One who has stood in the gap.  One who has become sin for us that we might be accounted righteous in Him.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:15-16

It is God’s kindness in Christ that invites us to confess and find forgiveness and release from the Gordian knot of guilt.   Have you learned to confess?  Is confession a regular feature of your prayer life?  Or have you tried to find every other way to rid your self of that one dark blot, that no soap or good works can wash away?  

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 17, on Facebook Live at 10:30 am as we examine Psalm 130 consider the next steps in our fellowship with God expressed through confession of our sin.  

Unprepared

Unprepared

We have all had them – anxiety dreams.   We are suddenly back in college.  It is final exam day for a forgotten class.   You have not attended a single lecture and know nothing about the subject.  You wake in a sweat.  Then, slowly, a wave of comfort washes over you as you remember that you’ve been out of school for years!  It was only a dream.  

We all have our own brand of anxiety dream.  For some it is being back on the high-school basketball team.  For me it is realizing ten minutes before the end of worship I am supposed to be at church and in the pulpit.   I can’t find my Bible or my sermon notes.  As I approach the service in my pajamas, there are hundreds of new visitors.  This is the stuff of recurring nightmares.  We all have these anxiety dreams about appearing somewhere unprepared.  And, of course, the mother of all anxiety dreams is the one which involves a wardrobe malfunction.

But for ABC News reporter Will Reeve, this ubiquitous adolescent nightmare recently became reality.    Reporting from his home due to the quarantine, Will was broadcasting live on ‘Good Morning America‘ for a segment about pharmacies using drones to deliver prescriptions to patients.  According to CNN, the 27-year-old acted as his own cameraman for the broadcast, but failed to angle the camera such that it hid his pants-less legs.   He initially appeared to be wearing a full suit, but eagle-eyed viewers quickly noticed that he had no pants on below his suit jacket and took to Twitter to call him out. 

Growing up, Will Reeve – the son of actor Christopher Reeve — probably dreamed of the glorious ways he would leave his mark on the world.   Yet his greatest fame appeared, as it does for many, in a moment of infamy.   He will forever be the man who appeared before millions with no pants.   We laugh at his failing, but fear this ourselves.   Appearing before others unprepared and uncovered is in everyone’s anxiety wheelhouse.  But as much as it worries us, how concerned are we about appearing before the Lord unprepared and uncovered?   How careful have we been as we approach the throne of grace and mercy rightly?

Perhaps the sweetness of God’s promises in Christ have emboldened us, and rightly so.  Jesus bids us to come – “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  We are promised that “whoever comes to [him, He] will never cast out.”   Because Christ is our great high priest, we may “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The throne is open, the golden scepter is extended to us, but there is still a manner of approach we must consider – the gracious manner God has laid out for us in His Word.  Like the wedding feast in Matthew 22, God calls us who are unworthy to attend and graciously gives us what we need to approach Him.  But Matthew 22 also issues a serious warning.

But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Though unworthy, the man was graciously called.  Not called just to feast, but to celebrate the groom.  He was offered all he needed to join in the celebration, but refused to put on the wedding garments.   If we refuse God’s gracious means, the “wedding garments” he has laid out for us, we will become of us?  We are never to come before the Lord casually or carelessly.

How do you appear before the Lord in prayer and in worship?   We are warned in Scripture not to appear casually or carelessly before our God.  God loves to receive his children, but he has established the approach – an approach clearly revealed in Scripture, and especially in the Psalms.  Prayer and worship, if not directed by Scripture, are fertile fields for idolatry.   Worship is never an open field for human creativity.   But when worship is reformed, according to scripture, it instructs us in our approach to the Lord in every other area of life.

How do you appear before the Lord in prayer and in worship?  Do not appear unprepared, but learn from his word and his worship how the Lord delights to receive you.   Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, May 10, as we examine the Psalm 113 and consider how we are to call upon the name of the Lord in prayer and in worship. 

The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair

A disappearance is powerfully bewildering.   Every magician knows this.   Disappearance mystifies us.  We doubt what we just saw.  Was it really there?  Was it what we thought it was?  Where is it now?  What just happened?  A disappearance unsecures what was secure, makes us rethink what is real.   Calls remembrance into question.  Creates suspicion of others.   Whether David Copperfield is vanishing the Statue of Liberty or we are missing our car keys, a disappearance raises questions and fuels emotions – frustration, uncertainty and anger.

But if this is true of things that disappear, how much more is it true when people disappear.   People disappear from our lives in many ways.  Some are taken from us and some choose to leave.   Some leave expectedly and some suddenly.   Some may return or be found, but others may be gone forever.   Some circumstances make it easier to accept, but the disappearance of people from our lives is never easy.  Questions become more urgent and unanswerable.  And the emotions — grief, loneliness, and fear — become more consuming.   The empty chair casts a long shadow.

The Lord Jesus knew his “leaving day” was coming.  His departure would be hard for the disciples to understand and even harder to accept.   As he celebrated a last Passover with them, he explained the nature and necessity of his return to the Father.  They were grief stricken and filled with questions.   In John 14-16 we read how Jesus comforted them and answered their questions.  Then after he rose from the dead, he remained with them 40 days to prepare them for their part in the story of redemption.  After those 40 days, he ascended and returned to the Father with the disciples looking on.  Can you imagine their emotion in that moment?  Luke records the moment In Acts 1.

as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:9-11

We might have expected the disciples to be dismayed at Jesus disappearance.  During the 40 days following his resurrection, Jesus had appeared and disappeared.  But this was different.  Jesus was gone for good this time.   But Jesus had taught them what his Ascension meant.  He would send them the Holy Spirit.  Far from being alone, now, in the person of the Spirit, Jesus would be more with them than ever.   At last he ascended to the throne and begun to rule, as they had long desired.   Luke tells us that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.   The enemies who sought their lives were still enemies.  The dangers they would face remained.  The bodily presence of Jesus that they had followed and loved for three years was gone, never to return in their lifetimes.  Yet they have great joy.

The disciples now understood what Jesus’ Ascension meant and what it promised.  Do you?  Every week millions of Christians profess their faith together in the Apostles’ Creed.   Among its central doctrines is a profession that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”  Yet many have never considered why this is such an important doctrine.   Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, May 3, as we examine Luke 24:50-53 and consider the hope and comfort we receive from the Ascension. 

The New Normal

The New Normal

Every crisis leaves its marks.  Some marks appear as scars, testifying to pain, but also endurance.   While other marks take the shape of new or renewed resolve to do things differently.   While none of us welcomes a crisis, crises move us forward in many ways — technologically, relationally, and spiritually.   The early Church Father, Augustine, once noted that theology is developed most clearly in response to heresy than in the absence of it.  Paul points out the same thing in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

What marks will your crisis leave?  Only scars?  Or with the scars, new resolve – a new normal.   The controversial mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, once quipped, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”  He was paraphrasing from Saul Alinsky, who recycled his own ideas on political activism from the likes of Marx and Machiavelli.   Yet, despite Alinsky’s dangerous perspectives, the truth of his sentiment regarding a crisis is important.  How will we respond?  Will the crisis only wound?  Or will it strengthen as well?  John Calvin taught that our spiritual response to crisis is not to ask “why” but “what for?”  

The last two months have been a crisis of gargantuan proportions.  No matter what you believe about the Coronavirus as a pandemic, a plague, a judgement of God, an act of Chinese bioterrorism, or a vast left-wing conspiracy – our response to COVID-19 has left a mark.  From cabin fever, to financial ruin, to grief of loss, the impact has been far-reaching.  We are all eager to reopen the world and get back to normal.  But can we really go back?  We will have some scars, but we will also take away some needful things from this crisis –new things we need to keep and lost things we need to recover.

Perhaps the old normal wasn’t so great after all.  Perhaps it is true that “it is not good for man to be alone.”  Maybe the old normal mediated by technology and not personal relationships was not the panacea it promised.  Being confined to virtual relationships for the last two months has left us wanting something more.  And while, it has been a good thing for the church to come to grips with new means of gathering and engaging the world, our old apathy for worship and the spread of the gospel needs a “new normal.”    But this is not the first time followers of Jesus Christ have been confronted with the challenges of a “new normal.”

As we encounter the Lord’s disciples at the end of the Gospel of Luke, we find them facing a radically new normal.  Jesus, their master and teacher, has finished His redemptive work.   As He is preparing to return to the Father, He is preparing them to pick up where He left off.  Following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples during forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God, opening their minds to understand the Scriptures and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

As Jesus meets the disciples on the first Easter night, he comforts their fears, calls them to take their part in the story of redemption, and promises them His ongoing presence in a radically new and powerful way.   The end of the gospel is only the end of the beginning.  As Luke continues the story in Acts, he writes 

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 

Acts 1:1-2

This is the new normal.   It remains the new normal for the Church today.  Just as Jesus comforted the fears of his disciples, called them to step up and step out, and promises His presence in a radically new and powerful way, so He does to us.  These things were written for our instruction and encouragement.   Their new normal is the best prescription for our own new normal – looking to Christ for comfort, following Christ’s call, and relying on Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit.  

How will you move forward?  What will you abandon and what will you recover?  What marks will the crisis leave?  Only scars?  Or with the scars, new resolve – a new normal.   Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 26, as we examine the “End of the Beginning” from Luke 24 and consider the new normal for followers of Jesus Christ. 

In Plain Sight

In Plain Sight

Camouflage often is more effective than concealment.   We see this vividly in an animal’s use of camouflage to avoid predators.  Often, the things that are the hardest to see are the things right in front of us.  Two common expressions, “missing the forest for the trees” and “hiding in plain sight,” express this truth.  Sometimes the most obvious things are the most obscure.

When we think of spy thrillers, we think of master’s of disguise and vast concealment conspiracies.  But the legacy of Cold War espionage was one of people and places hidden in plain sight.   A recent article in the online journal, The Intercept, details operations in one of the most iconic spy centers in the US, hidden in plain sight.

For many New Yorkers, 33 Thomas Street — known as the “Long Lines Building” — has been a source of mystery for years. It has been labeled one of the city’s weirdest and most iconic skyscrapers, but little information has ever been published about its purpose.

Construction began in 1969, and by 1974, the skyscraper was completed. Today, it can be found in the heart of lower Manhattan at 33 Thomas Street, a vast gray tower of concrete and granite that soars 550 feet into the New York skyline. The brutalist structure, still used by AT&T and, according to the New York Department of Finance, owned by the company, is like no other in the vicinity. Unlike the many neighboring residential and office buildings, it is impossible to get a glimpse inside 33 Thomas Street. True to the designers’ original plans, there are no windows and the building is not illuminated. At night it becomes a giant shadow, blending into the darkness, its large square vents emitting a distinct, dull hum that is frequently drowned out by the sound of passing traffic and wailing sirens.

It is not uncommon to keep the public in the dark about a site containing vital telecommunications equipment. But 33 Thomas Street is different: An investigation by The Intercept indicates that the skyscraper is more than a mere nerve center for long-distance phone calls. It also appears to be one of the most important National Security Agency surveillance sites on U.S. soil — a covert monitoring hub that is used to tap into phone calls, faxes, and internet data.

Hidden in plain sight, 33 Thomas St. is perhaps one of the most notorious venues for international and domestic surveillance.   But it was not just places, but also people hiding in plain sight to evade detection as spies.   In his book, Talking to Strangers, author Malcolm Gladwell recounts several high-profile Cuban spies embedded in the CIA who evaded detection not through brilliant concealment, but by relying on our human inability to discern a liar.   They were hiding in plain sight.

So, perhaps it is not surprising that in Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, His most devoted friends and followers often did not recognize him.  Men and women who had been with him continually for over three years inexplicably failed to recognize Him standing right in front of them.   To be sure, there was a quality to the resurrection body that was imperishable, undefiled and unfading.  Yet, the gospel accounts make it clear that his appearance and his mannerisms were recognizable.   Time and time again Jesus’ most intimate friends respond to his appearance with fear, joy, doubt, faith, uncertainty and downright skepticism.

Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener.   None of the disciples [on the shore of the lake] dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.   The disciples in the Upper Room thought He was a ghost, until he ate some of their food.   On the mountain in Galilee, when the Eleven drew close, they worshipped Him, but “some doubted.”   And then there is the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.   These men spent hours with Jesus and only recognize Him as He blessed and broke the bread at their supper table.   If these men, who followed Jesus, ate with Jesus, saw Him day in and day out for three years, struggled to see Him, how will we?

We speak of knowing Jesus, loving Him, and having a personal relationship with Him — expressions which must seem like communal delirium to unbelievers.  And though many professing believers never experience Christ’s real presence, they may go along with the narrative, but never see Him.  What makes the difference?   How is it possible to see Jesus?   In a great passage on our “living hope” in the resurrected Jesus, the Apostle Peters writes.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  1 Peter 1:8-9

The story of Jesus on the Emmaus road is remarkable.  Included only in the Gospel of Luke, it is a recognition story, instructing and encouraging us in the hope of seeing the Risen Christ.   Two disciples have Jesus right in front of them, yet they do not recognize Him for who He is.  What makes the difference?   What brings them to recognition?   They made two journeys that day on the road to Emmaus.  The first was journey of unbelief, of disappointment, of “not seeing.”  While the second was a journey made in faith, joy and hope.  

What about you?  What journey are you on?  Has your spiritual journey been one of disappointment and “not seeing?”  Or have you seen the Risen Christ and had your journey transformed into one of joy?  Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 19, as we examine Luke 24 and consider our how we too can see the Risen Christ.