Bus Ride to Memphis

I met a young man on the way to Memphis;

he told me quite plainly, though he didn’t say in words,

“I’m looking for something I’ve not yet found,

I’m looking for someone who won’t let me down.”

He said “I’m a cynic” with a kind-hearted sneer;

“I’ve known your religion for the past twenty years.

I was taught all those stories in Sunday school

but I just don’t believe in those brainwashing rules.”

Our conversation led us to God’s word—

some verses he’d learned, and some he had heard.

“You know,” he said, “I never saw them in just that light

and maybe, just maybe you’re right.”

Well, we talked and reasoned for a good long while;

he cast his eyes down, and then looked up and smiled.

“I guess I’ll give that Bible just one more try.

Perhaps I’ll find it isn’t a lie.”

The Lord, he watches the Greyhound line,

the ticketholders who stand in line;

he knows who gets on and he knows who gets off

and he knows the heart that is searching.

“You know,” he said, “It’s kinda strange,

I didn’t plan to ride this line;

I was going to New Orleans with these friends of mine.

But they got thrown in jail,

so I got on this grey hound—

it was good to know you,

I’ll see you around.”

I didn’t ask his name and he didn’t know mine

but I prayed through the night

that my Lord he would find.

The Lord, he watches the Greyhound line,

the ticketholders who stand in line;

he knows who gets on and he knows who gets off

and he knows the heart that is searching.

Discipleship Journal – Discipleship Journal.

Breaking the Bread of Christ

It is not because we are deserving but because of His righteousness that we can expect Him to answer when we call.

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him. (Psalm 4:3)

We can identify with the desperation and plea of the psalmist in the opening verses. Sometimes we feel rejected or maybe are conscious of having made a mistake. Having offended someone, we feel the reproach of a strained relationship. We are out of sorts with God—that sweet fellowship and sense of His presence has vanished—and we plead with Him to answer our prayer, be gracious to us, and relieve our distress.

The contrast is made clear in characterizing one who succumbs to worldly and ungodly attitudes and behavior and what one does who is walking a godly life in the righteousness of the Father. One who is out of fellowship with the Father is attracted to worthless things—values of the world, materialism and entertainment that appeals to baser instincts and passions. Such a person is deceived and misleads others in his example and influence. We recognize our need for God’s help. It is not because we are deserving but because of His righteousness that we can expect Him to answer when we call; it is on the basis of His grace that He hears our prayer.

Verse 3 is a beautiful reminder that if we live a godly life, it is because God has chosen us and set us apart; it is not for our blessing but for His glory. Why does the godly person have assurance the Lord hears when he calls? It is because we belong to Him and walk in fellowship with Him. Life becomes communion with God in which the Father responds to our pleading and manifests Himself to us in an outpouring of grace.

The person set apart for the Lord is to do four things to maintain that relationship:

  • Tremble and do not sin; the fear of the Lord should be a deterrent from sin.
  • Meditate and think about the Lord and godly things in times when we are still, while lying in bed or perhaps waiting in a line or stalled in traffic.
  • Offer the sacrifices of righteousness; do what is good—”What would Jesus do?”
  • Trust in the Lord. Walk in faith, confident that God is leading and enabling us.

The result of being a godly person who walks with God in doing these things is that God is consistently revealing Himself to us and through us. He is “lift[ing] up the light of [His] countenance upon us” (v. 6). He puts gladness in our heart, a joy that abounds like the farmer who reaps a prosperous crop beyond all expectations. And we can sleep in peace and dwell in safety. There is no distress, problem, or threat that infringes on our security.

Prepare to Take the Lord’s Supper

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Take of the Bread of Christ

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Take of the Cup of Christ

Lord, there is no goodness at all in me; any element of holiness and godliness comes from You. You have demonstrated grace and mercy in setting me apart from worldly things, but never let me forget it is for Your glory. I encounter so many conflicts and temptations in my mind, but You give a blessed peace and joy in abundance because I rest in You and You alone.

Your Prayer Discipline

Before you begin your time with God, pause for a few moments to set aside all distractions. Take three deep breaths. Remember that you are in the loving presence of God.

Luke 1:77. . . to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.

This line from Zechariah gives us reason to pause. The way we come to know about salvation is through the forgiveness of our sins. The forgiveness of our sins was attained through Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. It is in and through Jesus that we come to know salvation. As we grow in our faith lives, our understanding of salvation deepens and we open ourselves more and more to the grace of being reconciled to God.

(Pray to Jesus using this prayer or one of your own.)

Jesus, Brother, your sacrifice teaches me what salvation truly means. Help me deepen my friendship with you by humbly bowing before you.

Press the Button

[Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
ROMANS 4:20–22

The city where I live is known for one of the best fireworks shows on the planet. It’s no secret either. People from all over fly into San Diego to witness the spectacle. The city loads four barges down with munitions, parks them in different parts of the bay, then synchronizes the launch with music as hundreds of thousands of people assemble to watch an hour of explosions. Thousands of fireworks are put on display. It’s a pyromaniac’s dream. The question isn’t whether the show will burn your retinas a little bit but if you’ll get there early enough to get a parking spot and a good seat.
One year, instead of a perfect symphony of pyrotechnics and patriotism over the course of an hour, someone made a mistake and hit the wrong button. Every single firework went off at once. It was all over within thirty seconds. It was nine o’clock at night, but the sky was as bright as noon for a brief moment as thousands of fireworks all exploded on the decks of the barges. It was awesome! More than a few people in San Diego lost their eyebrows that night. The people with the best view were the dudes who pushed the button. Sure, they lost their jobs, but I bet they thought it was worth it.

When we’re really walking with Jesus, our lives look just as expectant as people in San Diego do now every Fourth of July. There’s no question that something awesome is going to happen. It might be a big success or an epic fail; the only question is how close you’ll be when all the fireworks go off.

Live a life of constant anticipation. Is it possible your big idea will blow up? You bet. Do it anyway. Trusting Jesus is like watching a lit fuse; it’s only a matter of time before He’s going to do awesome things in your life. Quit playing it safe. Press the button.

B. Goff

Your Spiritual Discipline

After Jerusalem was conquered by Babylon, it was mostly the wealthy and important people who were carried away into exile. Many of the poor and unimportant people were left behind to make whatever life they could from the ruins of their nation. When the exiles returned, they faced the difficult task of trying to rebuild the country with those who had remained behind.

But, even in this challenging time, divisions occurred between rich and poor. The poorest had been forced to sell their children into slavery just to ensure that their sons and daughters would have food and shelter. But often it was their wealthy Jewish neighbors who were charging exorbitant interest on loans that caused their bankruptcy in the first place. Even though the prophets had cited such injustice as one of the causes of the exile, the people’s hearts remained unchanged.

But Nehemiah was not prepared to ignore this situation, and so he called a meeting and confronted those who were still oppressing their neighbors. In that time of struggle, the people needed to work together, and be generous and gracious to each other if they were to survive. There was no place for greed and detachment.

In many ways our world is in a similar place. We have the means to eradicate extreme poverty yet children still die of hunger, and many poor people still live in slavery to wealthy bosses, creditors, and landowners.

For those of us who are not directly involved in these unjust systems it may be tempting to feel there is nothing we can do. However, as we take little steps each day to share what we have with others, and to use our voice and our hands to aid them, so we help to heal their world. Today, think of one small act of justice you can perform, and then go do it.

The act of giving – of time, of our expertise, or of our resources – is always an act of justice. Even small contributions to organizations that help those who are poor and oppressed can make a big difference. In these tough economic times we need to give more rather than less to support the work of justice in our world. Today, make a contribution in some small way.

Whatever I have, O God, I share with those who have less in order to bring justice to the world.

Your Discipline of Prayer

Pause before you begin your prayers. Take a few deep breaths and be aware of God’s loving presence with you.

Luke 2:46,51-52 After three days they found him [Jesus] in the temple . . . He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

At 12 years of age, Jesus was a faithful child who knew and followed he Ten Commandments. His interest in Scripture was enhanced by his discussion with the rabbis in the Temple. When everyone else headed for home, he stayed behind. Later, when found by his parents, he showed his love and obedience to the Commandments and to his parents by obeying them.

(Speak to Jesus using this prayer or one of your own.)

Jesus, lead me to love the law of God, teach me to be obedient and to help the children advance in wisdom and age and grace before God and others.

In HIS Steps

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5).

This title of endearment describes the unbroken love relationship that has always existed between the Father and the Son. The designation “My beloved Son,” is an affirmation of God’s pleasure in the perfection of His Son. It is an audible, public endorsement of Christ’s preeminence over all the universe.

Even before the ordeal of Gethsemane, the agony of Calvary, and the triumph of the resurrection, God could confidently express His complete satisfaction in His Son. He could confidently declare in advance that He was well pleased in His beloved Son. On the mount of transfiguration, God not only voiced His satisfaction of Jesus, but added, “Listen to Him!? (Matthew 17:5, NIV). This is God’s way of saying, “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, is heaven’s authentic spokesman,” By this affirmation, God verified forever the redemptive credentials of Jesus Christ our matchless Savior. God’s approval of His son was a response to Jesus’ prayer. Jesus prayed as our substitute and surety, and now the human family may find access to the Father through the merits of His well-beloved Son.

Those who accept the saving grace of Christ are drawn into the same filial oneness with the Father. The apostle Paul referred to this bond between the Redeemer and the redeemed by declaring that God chose us in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world and “made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, NKJV). What a sublime privilege! In a parallel passage, Paul declared, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13, NIV). When Jesus comes to set up His kingdom, “He comes as One equal with God, as His own beloved Son, Prince of heaven and earth. He is also the Redeemer of His people, the Life-giver.”–In Heavenly Places, p. 357.

My Prayer: Lord, I thank You that Your beloved Son is my loving Savior. Amen!

Your Spiritual Discipline

No one was prepared in the synagogue in Nazareth where Jesus read a portion of Isaiah’s prophecy and then claimed that prophecy for himself. Today, we can read the words from the prophet himself. These words were most likely written to the exiles who had returned from Babylon and were trying to rebuild their broken nation. They had experienced the pain of oppression and displacement, and knew what it was like to live in despair.

Now, although they were a liberated people, they still had to face the brokenness of their homeland. These words of Isaiah would have been comforting and encouraging, and the reference to the Jubilee (the year of the Lord’s favor) would have offered the people a vision of a new, just, and peaceful nation. Notice the words of restoration, healing and blessing that the prophet offers to God’s people.

Jesus clearly understood his ministry as a continuation of this prophecy and when he called disciples to follow, he wanted them to embody this new community of love and grace. Today, as we read these words, we, too, are called to participate in making this vision a reality in our world. How can you offer your life to God as an instrument of peace, justice and restoration in your small corner of the world?

The practice of prayer remains an important way to cooperate with
God’s restoring mission in the world. As we pray, we invite God to work
in our world and in our hearts, and we also listen for God’s voice of
direction that shows us how we can be part of the answer to our own
prayers. Try to pray like this throughout today.

As I pray for my world, O God, anoint and direct me to be a participant in your saving work.

It’s Time to Put the Health of Our Children First

I am proud to be a teacher. I’ve worked in the Canadian public school system for the past 15 years, mostly at the high school level, teaching morals and ethics.

I don’t claim to be a doctor or an expert in virology. There is a lot I don’t know. But I spend my days with our youth and they tell me a lot about their lives. And I want to tell you what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, when our school went fully remote, it was evident to me that the loss of human connection would be detrimental to our students’ development. It also became increasingly clear that the response to the pandemic would have immense consequences for students who were already on the path to long-term disengagement, potentially altering their lives permanently. 

The data about learning loss and the mental health crisis is devastating. Overlooked has been the deep shame young people feel: Our students were taught to think of their schools as hubs for infection and themselves as vectors of disease. This has fundamentally altered their understanding of themselves.

When we finally got back into the classroom in September 2020, I was optimistic, even as we would go remote for weeks, sometimes months, whenever case numbers would rise. But things never returned to normal.

When we were physically in school, it felt like there was no longer life in the building. Maybe it was the masks that made it so no one wanted to engage in lessons, or even talk about how they spent their weekend. But it felt cold and soulless. My students weren’t allowed to gather in the halls or chat between classes. They still aren’t. Sporting events, clubs and graduation were all cancelled. These may sound like small things, but these losses were a huge deal to the students. These are rites of passages that can’t be made up. 

In my classroom, the learning loss is noticeable. My students can’t concentrate and they aren’t doing the work that I assign to them. They have way less motivation compared to before the pandemic began. Some of my students chose not to come back at all, either because of fear of the virus, or because they are debilitated by social anxiety. And now they have the option to do virtual schooling from home.

One of my favorite projects that I assign each year is to my 10th grade students, who do in-depth research on any culture of their choosing. It culminates in a day of presentations. I encourage them to bring in music, props, food—whatever they need to immerse their classmates in their specific culture. A lot of my students give presentations on their own heritage. A few years back, a student of mine, a Syrian refugee, told her story about how she ended up in Canada. She brought in traditional Syrian foods, delicacies that her dad had stayed up all night cooking. It was one of the best days that I can remember. She was proud to share her story—she had struggled with homesickness—and her classmates got a lesson in empathy. Now, my students simply prepare a slideshow and email it to me individually.  

My older students (grades 11 and 12) aren’t even allowed a lunch break, and are expected to come to school, go to class for five and a half hours and then go home. Children in 9th and 10th grades have to face the front of the classroom while they eat lunch during their second period class. My students used to be able to eat in the halls or the cafeteria; now that’s forbidden. Younger children are expected to follow the “mask off, voices off” rule, and are made to wear their masks outside, where they can only play with other kids in their class. Of course, outside of school, kids are going to restaurants with their families and to each other’s houses, making the rules at school feel punitive and nonsensical.

They are anxious and depressed. Previously outgoing students are now terrified at the prospect of being singled out to stand in front of the class and speak. And many of my students seem to have found comfort behind their masks. They feel exposed when their peers can see their whole face. 

Around this time of year, we start planning for the prom, which is held in June. Usually, my students would already be chatting constantly about who’s asking who, what they’re planning on wearing, and how excited they are. This year, they’ve barely discussed it at all. When they do, they tell me that they don’t want to get their hopes up, since they’re assuming it will get cancelled like it has for the past couple of years. 

It’s the same deal with universities. My students say, “If university is going to be just like this then what’s the point?” I have my own children, a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, who have spent almost a third of their lives in lockdown. They’ve become so used to cancellations that they don’t even feel disappointed anymore. 

I think all of my students are angry to some degree, but I hear it most from the kids who are athletes. They were told that if they got the vaccine, everything would go back to normal, and they could go back to the rink or the court. Some sports were back for a while but, as of Christmas, because of the recent wave of Covid-19 cases, club and varsity sports are all cancelled once again. A lot of the athletes are missing chances to get seen by coaches and get scholarships. 

I try to take time at the beginning of class to ask my kids how they’re doing. Recently, one of my 11th grade students raised his hand and said that he wasn’t doing well, that he doesn’t want to keep living like this, but that he knows that no one is coming to save them. The other kids all nodded in agreement. They feel lied to—and I can’t blame them.

What’s most worrisome to me is that they feel deep worry and shame over the prospect of breaking the rules.

Teenage girls are notoriously empathetic. I see that many of my students, but especially the female ones, feel a heavy burden of responsibility. Right before Christmas, one of my brightest 12th graders confided in me that she was terrified of taking her mask off. She told me that she didn’t want to get anyone sick or kill anybody. She was worried she would be held responsible for someone dying. 

What am I supposed to say? That 23 children have died from Covid in Canada during the whole of the pandemic and she is much more likely to kill someone driving a car? That kids in Scandinavia, Sweden, and the Netherlands largely haven’t had to wear masks at school and haven’t seen outbreaks because of it? That masks are not a magic shield against the virus, and that even if she were to pass it along to a classmate, the risk of them getting seriously sick is minuscule? 

I want to tell her that she can remove her mask, and socialize with her friends without being worried.

But I am expected to enforce the rules.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, adults shamed kids for wanting to play at the park or hang out with their friends. We kept hearing, “They’ll be fine. They’re resilient.” It’s true that humans, by nature, are very resilient. But they also break. And my students are breaking. Some have already broken.

When we look at the Covid-19 pandemic through the lens of history, I believe it will be clear that we betrayed our children. The risks of this pandemic were never to them, but they were forced to carry the burden of it. It’s enough. It’s time for a return to normal life and put an end to the bureaucratic policies that aren’t making society safer, but are sacrificing our children’s mental, emotional, and physical health. 

Our children need life on the highest volume. And they need it now.

S. Lance

Your Discipline of Prayer

Before you begin your time with your Lord, pause for a few moments to be still. Breathe deeply and be aware of the loving presence of God as you continue this journey of growth and discovery.

1 Kings 8:58 May he draw our hearts to himself, that we may follow him in everything and keep the commands, statutes, and ordinances, which he enjoined on our fathers.

God is not bound or contained by stone, marble, or any other building material. Solomon’s words at the dedication of the Temple remind us of the nature of our relationship with God. It is not in a building but within our hearts that God dwells. The Church, the People of God united to Jesus, is the new temple of the Holy Spirit. We express the living presence of God in the world by loving others with the love of God. Jesus intercedes for us, teaches us, and shepherds us.

(Pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, using this prayer or one of your own.)

Lord Jesus, open the doors of my heart to the grace of the Holy Spirit. Help me as you work through me to open the hearts of others to your love.

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