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Sifted & Strengthened

Father, thank You for understanding our weaknesses & loving us enough to expose them to us. Thank You for revealing the depths of our need for You & uncovering our insecurities. Your love for us is infinite & Your mercies are new every morning. Jesus, You have been our Advocate in a way that no one else ever could be. Our flesh is weak, but Holy Spirit, You bring strength to our bones & stamina to our hearts. Please embolden us for today & sustain us until tomorrow within Your peace. We lack nothing with You & remain impoverished without You. We praise You for Your great grace, O God. Carry us through our season of need & be glorified in the process. We are Yours.
This we acknowledge in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 22:31-38
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

I think we all know what it feels like to be sifted. Shaken & tossed, who we are at the core is exposed & we feel like we have been left bare to the world. Any covering we may have had is removed & we are left open & we feel vulnerable. I’m sure Peter felt exposed when Jesus spoke about this, his own fears & weaknesses laid bare before his friends. It probably hurt, I guarantee it did. I imagine that Peter’s face went ashen when Jesus spoke to him about this & even when he tried to defend his love for Christ, Jesus revealed how quickly his denial would come.

We all have aspirations for ourselves within our faith.We have an image of our own devotion & strength for Jesus, & this ‘best case scenario’ of our faith-life is rarely reality when the pressure is one & it’s time to speak up or take steps of real faith. We tell ourselves stories, we are creative in justifying what we do & how we live. But when it comes down to it, we will deny, just like Peter did, that we have the capacity for such a quick falling away. But the proof is in the pudding, & belief is tested by pressure. We revert quickly to who we actually are when those moments come & Jesus wanted Peter to be prepared & to hear a word of grace before it came for him.

No one want to be left feeling inadequate, especially for the One who conquered death & sin & saved us from facing the wrath of God. But it wasn’t our strength that sent Jesus through His Passion & it wasn’t our righteousness that allowed Him to serve as our perfect sacrifice. We brought nothing to the table in this regard, we were continue to be inadequate when it comes to strength & saving ourselves. But Jesus is sufficient. Jesus is more than enough for us all. So when Peter was told about his coming failure & when you & I see our own moments of stumbling coming along, we can be reminded that it ids Jesus who brought grace & it is God’s Holy Spirit that fills us with the grace we need & provides us with strength for every obstacle.

Satan will always be our accuser, until the day he is defeated with a word & God’s judgment comes for all of us. He desires to ruin us & break God’s heart in the process. Jesus said it best, that he comes to steal, kill & destroy. But Jesus came so that we might have life & have it abundantly. When the enemy tries to attack or to remind us of past failures, we need to remember that Jesus has already opened the doorway to forgiveness with His own blood & that the devil holds no authority over us & his accusations fall flat. When we receive Jesus as Savior & Lord, our names are covered by His Name. Our identities are found in Him, not in our past, not in our mistakes & not in our weaknesses.

All glory & honor & praise go to Him for His great grace & love. He calls us to walk daily in those rhythms, not the old discord that used to define us, but in new rhythms of His grace & His love. We may still stumble, but He has already stooped to serve & help us stand again. May we be bold for Him & trust in the depths of His strength & His awesome forgiveness. He alone is worthy & makes us worthy in Himself. Thank God for that today.

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Acts 26:1-11 // Paul’s Defense, pt1

“1 Agrippa said to Paul, ‘It is permitted for you to speak for yourself.’

Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense: 2 ‘I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that today I am going to make a defense before you about everything I am accused of by the Jews, 3 especially since you are an expert in all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.’

4 ‘All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem. 5 They had previously known me for quite some time, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 the promise our 12 tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve Him night and day.’ 

‘King Agrippa, I am being accused by the Jews because of this hope. 8 Why is it considered incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? 9 In fact, I myself supposed it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. I even pursued them to foreign cities since I was greatly enraged at them.'”

Acts 26:1-11

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When we stand accused by someone, when they are frustrated with us, angry or let down, there is a proper way to address their concerns & frustrations. Typically, our gut reaction is to lash out, to express frustration in return. Looking at the example of Christ, who stood silent before His accusers, and who only answered briefly to Pilate, and to the example then of His servant Paul, we see that we are given the right to answer for ourselves and that there is a proper way to handle those situations. 

Like Jesus, Paul clarely states the facts of what is going on and where he stands. In this first part of his defense, he is laying out his past and his understanding of how his accusers think. He is not being irrational, he is not yelling or angry. Instead, he is focused on the issue at hand. He isn’t speaking from his frustration at being held for two years as a prisoner. He is simply stating fact, and he is being respectful as he does so.

So often, that is more difficult than anything, to express ourselves factually, in the midst of our frustration and to do so in a way that honors God. What this requires is a humility that is Holy Spirit powered. We must let go of the situation, and give it over to God before it even begins. I guarantee you that Paul had been praying about this day and this opportunity. It did not sneak up on him unaware, he was not taken by surprise. Instead, he anticipated it (as any prisoner would awiting a trial) and he had his heart ready before God when the moment came. He trusted God wholeheartedly with his life and in his defense. This internal preparation went a very long way to see him give a defense that was coherent, well planned and given in a way that did not attempt to lash out at or insult his accusers. There was no attempt to demean them or to give them a hard time. 

And in this, we see one of our greatest needs, the need for prayer and God-honoring counsel. Whenever we ffind ourselves struggling with an issue, we need to seek out God first in prayer, not run from the seat of our pants. We need to express our concerns to Him, and ask Him for wisdom & patience. We need to seek out His glory in the situation, not seek to simply correct a perceived wrong. It is still about Him, after all, and not about us. We do need to point toward the truth, and we do need to make an honest defense, as Paul begins to here, but we must take charge of our own attuitude in the process and hold it in check, taking every thought captive and examining it in the light of Christ. And when we are angry or frustrated, this is going to be very difficult and probably will not be what we want to do in the midst of the situation. But again, we must remember, this is not about us, this is about the Name of Christ and His reputation. If we are to GoLove anyone and everyone, then this also includes our accusers. 

1 Peter 2:11-17 – “11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.

13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is Gods will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 As Gods slaves, live as free people, but dont use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.”

1 Peter 3:13-17 – 13 – “And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, 15 but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be Gods will, than for doing evil.”

Acts 25:23-27 // Things Even Pagans Know

“23 So the next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the auditorium with the commanders and prominent men of the city. When Festus gave the command, Paul was brought in. 24 Then Festus said: ‘King Agrippa and all men present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community has appealed to me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he should not live any longer. 25 Now I realized that he had not done anything deserving of death, but when he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore, I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after this examination is over, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner and not to indicate the charges against him.'”

Acts 25:23-27

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“13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, You have brought me this man as one who subverts the people. But in fact, after examining Him in your presence, I have found no grounds to charge this man with those things you accuse Him of. 15 Neither has Herod, because he sent Him back to us. Clearly, He has done nothing to deserve death.” Luke 23:13-15

“11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:11-12

Paul’s circumstances are nothing out of the ordinary for a follower of Christ. He was not the first jailed, nor would he be the last. Instead, he finds himself in a position that will become common to many who follow Christ. This life we lead then, continues to be remarkably important as it stands in testimony for us. If we truly are walking as Jesus walked, then our conduct should reflect that same life, His. ANd when we live as Christ, any honest examination, any unpolluted scrutiny, will point toward the fact that we have lived according to the truth. The Holy Spirit reminds us, through Peter, that this life lived in holiness will be so apparent that even pagans wil recognize it as being honorable. This is the declaration of Pilate ater examining Jesus, Felix & Festus after examining Paul, and Agrippa will come to the same conclusion shortly. 

Our Christian character matters. That our walk is open and honest and matches up with the walk of Christ stands as witness to His handiwork. Anything else simply mirrors the flesh and does nothing to build the Kingdom or our testimony. So, again we see that it’s not enough to simply claim Christ, we must also walk as He walked, living out a life of faith in Him. Our walk must match up with our talk, and it must all come back and point past us and to the work of the cross in our hearts, minds and lives. A life of belief is more than a life that just ‘knows,’ it is a life that lives what it claims to stand for…in every way imaginable. 

We cannot pick and choose what we want of Christ, trying to make friends with the world as much as we want. Instead, we walk with Christ, fully expecting the world to disagree with us like it disagreed with Him. This is how we GoLove others, by serving as faithful ambassadors for Christ. 

“18 If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you: A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they dont know the One who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin. Now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 The one who hates Me also hates My Father. 24 If I had not done the works among them that no one else has done, they would not have sin. Now they have seen and hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened so that the statement written in their scripture might be fulfilled: They hated Me for no reason.” John 15:18-25

You are blessed when people hate you,

when they exclude you, insult you,

and slander your name as evil

because of the Son of Man.

23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note — your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

Acts 24:10-21 // Stand with the Truth

“10 When the governor motioned to him to speak, Paul replied: ‘Because I know you have been a judge of this nation for many years, I am glad to offer my defense in what concerns me. 11 You are able to determine that it is no more than 12 days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. 12 They didn’t find me disputing with anyone or causing a disturbance among the crowd, either in the temple complex or in the synagogues or anywhere in the city. 13 Neither can they provide evidence to you of what they now bring against me. 14 But I confess this to you: I worship my fathers God according to the Way, which they call a sect, believing all the things that are written in the Law and in the Prophets. 15 And I have a hope in God, which these men themselves also accept, that there is going to be a resurrection, both of the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 I always do my best to have a clear conscience toward God and men. 17 After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my nation, 18 and while I was doing this, some Jews from Asia found me ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar. 19 It is they who ought to be here before you to bring charges, if they have anything against me. 20 Either let these men here state what wrongdoing they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin, 21 or about this one statement I cried out while standing among them, Today I am being judged before you concerning the resurrection of the dead.”

Acts 24:10-21

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We have a supreme confidence when we stand on the side of truth. There is never a reason ro waiver to wonder what we might say next. We don’t have to remember what story we told to whom or what details are supposed to remain silent. Either we speak (and we speak truth) or we choose to remain silent and maintain our integrity. Standing with the truth leaves us standing on a solid rock. 

Paul, as he gievs his defense here, we able to state everything as it actually happened. There was no need for evasive talk or side-stepping language. He spoke things as they happened. He revealed his purposes plainly and he challenged those who accused him to come and speak plainly as well. He made no effort to hide his allegiance to Jesus, or the fact that the Jews who pursued him did so because of his adherence to the Way. 

When we encounter people who would stand opposed to us, we can do so with confidence. We don’t have to be brash or tactless, but ebenfit instead from speaking the truth calmly and with gentleness. Truth doesn’t need to raise its voice or make a fuss. It simply needs to be presented, laid bare for all to see and examine. The truth doesn’t need us to validate it. It doesn’t need our backing. It stands alone, it stands firm & unshakable. Even in the face of vehement denial, it withstands onslaughts & rings in the ears of those who would accuse. 

2 Corinthians 4:1-2

“1 Therefore, since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up. 2 Instead, we have renounced shameful secret things, not walking in deceit or distorting Gods message, but commending ourselves to every person’s conscience in Gods sight by an open display of the truth.”

Let the light of truth shine. Stand gladly in its light.

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