The Unexpected Jesus You Need: Eric and Erikah Rivera
Authors and speakers Eric and Erikah Rivera have wandered roads complicated, bleak, and uncertain. But in the worst of times, they've encountered an unexpected Jesus. Tap into a hope that just might surprise you.
We can have great failures that are followed by tons of shame and regret. We're just so disappointed with ourselves. Peter was there. We can say, “God is done with us now.” Do you know God didn't tell us that? We can make that conclusion for God because we just are so ashamed of what we've done. In that place, in that mess, Jesus shows up. --Eric Rivera
About the Guest
- Connect with Eric Rivera on instagram: @drericrivera
- Watch the Rivera's on the Awesome Marriage Podcast When God Meets Us Where We Are
- Get Erik's book, Unexpected Jesus: How the Resurrected Christ Finds Us, Meets Us, Heals Us
- Find resources from this podcast at shop.familylife.com.
- See resources from our past podcasts.
- Find more content and resources on the FamilyLife's app!
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When your mess is deep, where’s Jesus? Authors and speakers Eric & Erikah Rivera have been gut-punched by life—and witnessed Jesus in personal encounters.
The Unexpected Jesus You Need: Eric and Erikah Rivera
Ann: Hey, before we dive into today’s episode, we want to invite you to an exclusive Art of Marriage® preview event on November 1st.
Dave: Yes, you heard that right. FamilyLife is releasing an all-new version of our flagship marriage study, The Art of Marriage®. You will get previews of the sessions, exclusive marriage teachings, and hear from us as well as other teachers. You can sign up in the show notes or on FamilyLife.com/ComingSoon.
Ann: We hope you’ll join us.
Eric: We can have great failures that are followed by tons of shame and regret. We’re just so disappointed with ourselves. Peter was there. We can say, “God is done with us now.” Do you know God didn’t tell us that? We can make that conclusion for God because we just are so ashamed of what we’ve done. In that place, in that mess, Jesus shows up.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
We had been married 10 years, and I was pregnant with our youngest.
Dave: I have no idea where you’re going.
Ann: I know you don’t. I was on bed rest.
Dave: Oh, yes. That I remember.
Ann: I was 21 weeks, and so I had two boys, and I would be on bed rest for the rest of my pregnancy. Anyone with boys knows, with a two- and a four-year-old, how difficult that would be. Dave, you became Mr. Mom. You helped me; you did everything. You were cleaning—well, actually, I had a cleaner. I had never had one, and thought, “This is amazing!”
Dave: You could have said I cleaned. I like that better. [Laughter]
Ann: But you were helping with the boys all day long, and you worked all evening long, and it was probably one of the scariest valleys that we were in, because I came so close to losing this baby. I remember in that time pleading with Jesus, pleading: “Lord, please, please allow us to have this child. I pray that You would hold on to him.” In that time, I remember feeling like, “I’m so glad that I have Jesus with me.”
But I was also so glad that you were my partner, and that we were walking through it together, because in life we have no idea where it’s going to go or what turn we might take that was so unexpected. That leads us into where we’re going today.
Dave: We’re going to talk about me, it sounds like. [Laughter] That’s what I heard.
Ann: We’re talking about a book called Unexpected Jesus. We have Eric and Erikah Rivera with us today, who are speakers with FamilyLife. You guys have been speaking at our conferences for how many years?
Dave: Eight years.
Eric: About 8 years.
Ann: Eight years. Welcome back to FamilyLife.
Erikah: Thank you.
Eric: Thank you.
Dave: Hopefully you’re going to look like us, and you’re going to be speaking 35 years. [Laughter]
Eric: There you go.
Dave: No, I’m jealous of your hair and your beard. Man, you’ve got it going on. [Laughter]
Ann: I wish you all could see them as a couple. They’re beautiful, not only physically, but spiritually. You have three kids. You are a pastor and pastor’s wife. The subtitle of your book is How the Resurrected Christ Finds Us, Meets Us, Heals Us. We ended yesterday, Erikah, hearing your diagnosis of MS. Eric, you’re talking in your book about how, after the resurrection, Jesus would meet one of His followers or a group of them, and He would ask a question.
Let me ask you, when you guys found out what the diagnosis was, did Jesus ask you a question?
Eric: Wow. That is a great question. I don’t know if I can remember or pinpoint it like that, but in essence He really was. I think in this regard, Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene, and He said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” and in many ways, “Eric, why are you weeping?” For Mary, her hope was in the fact that, “I am actually resurrected. I have defeated the grave.”
Dave: Is that the Unexpected Jesus part?
Eric: Absolutely. She came to the tomb looking for a breathless body, a crucified corpse, but she found the Living Savior. In our trials and what we’re going through with Erikah’s diagnosis, in many ways—not to downplay the fear, the grief, but—there was the reminder, “I’ve defeated the grave. I’m alive. I am the Resurrected Savior. Eric, why are you weeping? I’m making sure I’ve got you guys.”
And that really is the comfort that we found in the midst of the journey. That’s why I’d say, “Yes, that would be the question that was posed to me.”
Ann: “Why are you weeping?”
Dave: Yes. We had Paul Miller on, and I think you know his writing. He has a situation in his family that requires a man to lead and love in a powerful way. So we’re going to play a clip from some things he said. I’d love to hear you respond.
Paul: The very first resurrection appearance of Jesus, Mary Magdalene has come back the second time. She’s weeping. There are a couple of angels in the tomb, and she’s talking with them, [asking] if they know where the body is. Jill [Paul’s wife] would be that way. If she had something on her mind, she wouldn’t care if she was talking to Moses. [Laughter]
Ann: I like her.
Paul: And then she turns around, and there’s Jesus standing there, just looking at her. He’s been watching her whole conversation, and He’s not said anything. And then He says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? What are you seeking?” He’s just cracked the code that has held all of creation in death, and He’s looking at one person. He’s attentive to one person, and He asks her questions.
She thinks He’s the gardener, and she says, “Do you know where His body is?” And that’s when Jesus says, “Mary.” His announcement that death has been destroyed, that hell has been broken, and that billions of people are going to come to faith, and there’s going to be new heavens and a new earth, and He Himself is the first piece of that resurrection is one word—it’s her name. It’s the name of a person.
The way He leaves space so that she can enter that space, so we can discover what Mary Magdalene is like—it’s pure Jesus.
Erikah: That’s so good. It’s a reminder of how personal Jesus is. I was thinking about the fact that He says, “Woman, why are you weeping? What do you seek?” I know that can be my tendency, too, to forget, because she’s thinking Jesus is not alive. She’s looking for His body, not knowing yet or not experiencing yet [that] He’s alive.
Even just that question, “Am I seeking Jesus to be alive and active in my life? Am I seeking the fact that He wants to speak to me, have a relationship with me, and for me to pursue Him in that way?” I love that; the fact the Jesus now tells her, “Now, go,” and she gets to be the first one to tell everyone that He’s alive. Not only did He give her purpose, but she gets to be part of His plan of evangelism to the world.
And He calls her by name. At that moment, there are so many unexpected things that come into her life, right? But I want to expect that Jesus wants to be there, Jesus wants to meet me, Jesus wants to call me by name. That’s so beautiful.
Dave: When I hear it again, I remember the day Paul sat where you’re sitting and shared that. We were almost all in tears, just the way he described the scene at the tomb. You can almost see it. He has a special-needs daughter and, as a dad, he has to lay his life down every single day. It’s never going to end; it isn’t like she’s going to get to an age and be able to leave his home.
When you’re going through—and you write about this, and we talked about it in the last episode—when you’re going through a valley, you don’t need a dead Savior. We don’t have a dead Savior.
Dave: I don’t know how people do it without a living, resurrected Christ, but when you have an unexpected, living, resurrected Christ, there’s a power and a hope and a perspective. I could keep going, word after word after word, that is available to get us through those moments in an unexpected way, that I don’t think we can do without, right? That’s sort of what you’ve had to live through as well.
Ann: Well, Dave, I’m even recalling when I was bedridden with Cody, and you and the boys went to Christmas without me in Ohio. So, I’m all by myself on Christmas Day, in my pajamas, thinking, “What am I doing?”
Erikah: I did that on Thanksgiving.
Ann: You did?
Erikah: I made them leave because I wanted them to enjoy Thanksgiving, but I couldn’t.
Ann: Yes, exactly. And I remember, Jesus asked me—because I’m venting all of my frustrations, my fears, my hopes—“Where are You?” And I heard one question in my heart, “Ann, can you trust Me?”
Ann: “Can you trust Me?” At first I wanted to say, “No! What are You doing? Do You know what’s happening?” I think that’s why we need the Word—the fact that you guys are standing together as a family, quoting Scripture, and knowing what God says. As you said in the first episode, “We have a choice of either drawing closer or pulling away.” I’m drawing closer, because He is my hope. He is the resurrected King of kings, and that’s where our hope lies.
Erikah: Yes. Amen.
Erikah: I’m so grateful that, in small ways, we built that up. It’s really hard to have that in the moment.
Ann: The foundation.
Erikah: Yes. If it’s not something that you guys have been building your life upon—
Dave: I don’t know who it is—I think it might have been Tony Evans—who said, “You never pour a foundation in a storm.” Obviously, you don’t see anybody when there’s a storm out there pouring cement. They go home, and they pour it; and then, when the storm comes, it’s already poured.
So, you already had the foundation, and now you’re doing it for your kids. "Here’s the foundation, because storms are coming.” You just don’t know when, but you can’t build it then. You think, “Oh, I have to find faith now.” No, Jesus meets you in an unexpected way because you’ve already met Him, right?
Eric: Yes, absolutely. And the thing is, even when we have these foundations, it doesn’t mean that the storm doesn’t throw us off.
Ann: Yes, that’s good.
Eric: I think of these different folks who Jesus reveals Himself to upon His resurrection, and they were those, many of them, who had remarkable faith, and they believed in Him. That’s why it was so hard when He died. They didn’t know what to do with that; they didn’t have a category for that. That’s why Mary wept at the tomb. It wasn’t just because her friend died, although that was very tragic. But this is the man who had rescued her from her seven demons. This was the man that she had followed.
Erikah: Saved her life, everything.
Eric: Right, yes. You look at all the other disciples. They had the foundation, and the storm was tough, but God still met them there. That is a sweet reminder, because it doesn’t mean that, when we have a great foundation, we are now invincible in the midst of whatever storm. We still feel it, we still feel the pain and challenges of them, but God is still there with us.
Ann: Eric, take us to another question that Jesus asked.
Eric: Yes; I love when Jesus speaks to Peter. He says, “Do you love Me?” What I love about this story—many of us appreciate Peter because we can relate to him. He’s the foot-in-mouth kind of guy. He’s the guy who’s very zealous, very courageous. He speaks up when others are afraid to, and he’s also the guy who denies Jesus three times in Jesus’ greatest moment of need.
Jesus had revealed Himself alive. Peter knew Jesus had been resurrected, but it was as if Peter didn’t know, though, if God was done with him. We’re told in the end of John that Jesus walks with Peter along the seashore, and that’s when He says, “Peter, do you love Me?” What I love about that whole questioning of Jesus three times, asking Peter that, is, it’s as if Peter was done with himself. In that moment, Peter learned that God’s not done with him, even though he was done with him.
To me, I love that question because we can have great failures that are followed by tons of shame and regret. We’re just so disappointed with ourselves. Peter was there. And we can say, “God is done with us now.” Even though God didn’t tell us that, we can make that conclusion for God, because we just are so ashamed of what we’ve done. In that place, in that mess, Jesus shows up, and says, “You might be done, but I’m not done.”
But in order to get to that point, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” I’m thinking that has to be heart-wrenching, because this is the guy who just denied Jesus. Now, He’s saying, “Do you love me?” Peter said, “You know I love You.” Jesus said, “Well, feed my sheep,” and [He] does this three times. I’m thinking, “You know, Jesus, You could have just asked him once.” [Laughter] “This hurts. It’s kind of painful, right?”
Ann: Yes, don’t rub it in!
Eric: He’s kind of twisting the knife, I mean. But I think what Jesus is doing is helping Peter understand, “Just as your shame and regret is deep, so is My restoration and My healing.” At the end of that whole sequence, Jesus says, “Follow Me,” and that’s when Peter learned the lesson, “I’m forgiven,” and he follows Him. So, I love that line of questioning that Jesus gives to Peter.
Dave: Have either one of you ever had that feeling Peter probably had, like you were describing: “I’m done. I’ve blown it to the point—?” Your first chapters were all a mess, so you’ve messed up so bad you think, “God might forgive me, but I’ve sort of crossed the line that I don’t know if I can forgive myself and move on.” Have you ever been there?
Eric: I think when we look at our Christian life, we realize we don’t run a straight line all of the time.
Eric: We have our failures. We’ve lacked faith, we’ve been afraid to speak up, we’ve made decisions we shouldn’t have made, and it’s easy to say, “I think God’s probably done with me now.”
Ann: Have you had anyone in your congregation who thinks, “I’m unusable. God must be done with me.” Have you had those stories?
Erikah: Yes, absolutely. I know Eric shares a few of them in the book, but I’m just thinking specifically of a woman who just really felt exactly that. She came to our community and felt like, “I don’t know how God can do it for me.” It was the message of Mary Magdalene, who lived a really difficult life, and that was her thing. She said, “Well, if God can do it—if Jesus can do it—for Magdalena, then He can do it for me.”
That was the day she put her faith in Christ. I get emotional thinking about it, because she’s walking with the Lord, and she’s thinking of heading out to a mission trip. We planted a church here in Florida, but from our congregation, I just see what a beautiful thing happens when we give God just a little opportunity in our life, that, “I believe You, even just a little bit.”
Ann: You give God your “Yes.”
Ann: “Yes, I’ll take a step.”
Erikah: A step, yes. “If Jesus can do it for her, maybe He can do it for me.” And that was the door to purpose in her life, and freedom. It’s been a journey, and it surely hasn’t come without its trials for her, and yet she has something that she would have never had before: eternity, hope, peace.
Dave: Yes. I don’t know if you would agree, [but] I think the most underestimated thing in the Christian walk is the power of the resurrected Christ in a believer—
Dave: —the fact that He—
Dave: —what we’re talking about. He lives right here. This temple, the human soul, is His residence, and we walk around every day with the power of God in us, and we are defeated.
Dave: Like you said, we’re still a mess, and we’re still going to make mistakes, and we’re still going to fall, and we’re going to continue to fall, but I think we underestimate the living God of the universe walks into every room with us. Even if you’re sitting, listening right now, and you’re thinking, “My marriage has no hope,” it has hope because of Christ. There’s a different life we could be living if we understood He is longing to give us resurrection power in every situation.
Eric: A hundred percent. I firmly believe that as well, Dave. You think of Peter, who denies Jesus three times, filled with so much shame and regret, and four days later, he’s preaching the gospel to thousands—
Eric: —boldly saying, “You crucified Jesus.” You’re thinking, “Where was this Peter on Good Friday?” Well, that Peter is that one who hadn’t seen the resurrected Jesus, nor was that Peter who had been empowered by the Spirit; but now, as one who was an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ, the power of Christ dwelling within him, the power of the Spirit, he is courageous and bold.
We can read that and say, “That’s good for Peter.” [Laughter] Yet we are post-resurrection believers. We’re post-Pentecost believers. The Spirit of God, the resurrected Christ, is a reality for us. So, absolutely, whatever room we walk into, we go with the power of God, and we go with the hope of a resurrected Savior Who meets us in our mess. That’s a game-changer.
Ann: Yes. I’m a walker. I walk a lot because—
Dave: She is.
Ann: —it’s good exercise.
Dave: Let me tell you—I have to add this: I walk with her sometimes, and I can’t keep up. [Laughter] She’s like a speed—
Eric: You need a scooter, right?
Dave: —“Can we just—?
Ann: “—take a stroll?” I’m not a stroller. I’m a quick walker. But in that time, I connect with God through nature when I see His creation. I often think, “This God that created the heavens and the earth, the beauty and the majesty of oceans and mountains and the fall—” You guys know, Chicago in the fall is majestic! “That same power that in a word created the earth lives in me.” It just changes things when I feel like, “Nothing can be done. Nothing can change.” It’s such a good reminder.
Erikah: It is.
Dave: Yes, and I would just say—and it’s what you said through this whole book—wherever you are right now, you could be on a mountain, you could be in a valley. Your marriage could be thriving, it could be struggling. Your son or daughter may have just walked away. There is an unexpected Jesus that wants to surprise you, right?
With His power, with His peace, with His strength; whatever it is you need, He is literally standing outside that empty tomb saying, “I’m right here.” Actually, He’s saying, “I’m in you, and you can trust Me, and I can walk with you, in you, through you, to the future you’re longing for.”
Eric: And can I add, we don’t get to dictate the terms on which Jesus meets us. What I mean is, when we’re in a difficult place, we can say, “God, if You showed up right now, right here, in this way, that would be great.”
Eric: And He just doesn’t always do that, and that can be really discouraging. I’m thinking of Thomas. Jesus revealed Himself to all the disciples, and Thomas is out buying milk or something. [Laughter] He comes back, and they say, “You won’t believe what you missed! We saw Jesus!” And Thomas thinks, “You can’t be right. No, I’m not believing you.”
I read that and think, “Jesus, why not bring Thomas along? Just show up and say, ‘Hey, I’m here, Thomas!’” Because that’s not the way Thomas needed to know. He needed to find out. We’re told that, eight days later, Jesus reveals Himself to Thomas. So, I think when we think about our doubt or our grief or our shame or our messes of all sorts, Jesus may not show up the way we want Him to always at that moment, but that doesn’t mean He is disinterested in us.
He in fact knows what we need. He’s committed to revealing Himself to us, and He’s going to do so in a way that He knows is best for us, because He loves us. So, He may say, “Hold on. Be patient.” But know [that] He says so because He loves you, and He’s working something beautiful out in your heart.
Ann: Eric, that’s a perfect way to end. What’s our responsibility? We’re not putting any terms on Jesus. What’s our job?
Shelby: We’ll hear how Eric responds on what our responsibility is in all of this in just a second, but first, Jesus will show up, maybe not in the way you want Him to, but always in the way you need Him to. I love that.
I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Eric and Erikah Rivera on FamilyLife Today. The Riveras have written a book called Unexpected Jesus: How the Resurrected Christ Finds Us, Meets Us, and Heals Us. You can get a copy of their book at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800- “F’ as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
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Okay, let’s hear how Eric responds to what our responsibility is when life is in the valley.
Eric: Our job is to say, “Lord, have Your way with me.” It’s just to say, “My hands are open. God, I don’t understand.” This is how I pray in those moments: “I don’t understand. I don’t know why. I’m even a little upset, but Lord, I’m holding on to You.” Like Erikah said, “I’m holding on to what I know to be true, even if what I’m feeling right now isn’t there. So God, have Your way. I’m Yours.” He’s so kind. He loves us. He’ll meet us there.
Shelby: Well, I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you get a chance to worship Jesus together with your family in your local church. I want to ask you to pray for the Weekend to Remember® marriage event that is happening starting today and is going through Sunday in Destin, Florida.
And you know, there are over 40 Weekend to Remember events across the country that are still happening between fall and spring, and there’s still time to find a location near you. You can go to WeekendtoRemember.com and find all the information you’ll need.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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