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Good for the Worst

God Almighty, Lord of Heaven & Earth, God-Who-Sees, God-Who-Provides, Judge & Counselor, our sinful lays before You revealed, nothing is hidden, everything is known to You. The darkest corners of our hearts & the false impressions we put on to impress others are exposed for what they are in Your sight. There are no secrets we can keep from You, nowhere we can run or hide from Your gaze. You know our going in & our coming out, our lying down & our rising up again. Grant us this mercy today, remind us of Your best, the good You have provided because of our worst. Let us see You & be reminded of our own condition in the light of Your glory. Let us remember today, pace ourselves with the footsteps of Jesus along the Way of Suffering & the Hill of the Skull. May we be present there today & turn our hearts heavenward. Remind us, sweet Jesus, of Your love, mercy & grace over us. Forgive us our deep failings, every one & restore our hearts with Your blood & Spirit. We pray this in the power of Your precious Name, Jesus, amen.

Read slowly.
Close Your eyes & imagine at the paragraph breaks.
Be present, an observer in the crowd today.
Walk through today aware of what He did for you as your day progresses.

Luke 22:54-23:56

(Friday, Early Morning)
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance.
And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”  And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.”  And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly.

 Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him.  They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”  And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.  But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”  So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”  Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”

(Friday, Morning)
Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate.
  And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.”  And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.”  Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”  But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”

 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!”  A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’  For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

(Friday, About 9am)
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

(Friday, noon)
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,
while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

(Friday, 3pm)
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man,
who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
(Friday, ~6pm)

Remember.

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Acts 28:11-16 // Friendly Faces, Hospitality & Humility

“11 After three months we set sail in an Alexandrian ship that had wintered at the island, with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed three days. 13 From there, after making a circuit along the coast, we reached Rhegium. After one day a south wind sprang up, and the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days.

And so we came to Rome. 15 Now the believers from there had heard the news about us and had come to meet us as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. 16 When we entered Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself with the soldier who guarded him.”

Acts 28:11-16

==

What a relief to be done with sailing! Enough difficulties had happened, enough hardship had been experienced that the prospect of going to Rome, even under arrest, must have felt like a God-send. But on top of the relief of finally being on Italian soil was the fact that these small, precious groups of people were driven by love and hospitality to come meet up with Luke & Paul, not even knowing them personally, but ready to greet them and care for them as if they were long-returning family members. What a comfort to the heart, what a joy for their spirits!

As Christians, we don’t need to have a blood connection with someone in order for them to be family. We don’t have to have a history with someone in order for them to be our friends. If we share Christ in common, then we have everything we need to pick up and begin our relationships. Every first time meeting can be like a family reunion, thanks to what we share in Christ. 

To the world, that’s going to sound far-fetched, but it is reality for a Christ-follower. 

We should be the first to exhibit hospitality, the first to help those who suffer. We should be first on the mark when the time comes to walk through something difficult with someone. What we share in Christ gives us more than enough reason to rally around each other, to share burdens and joys alike, and to be a support for absolutely anyone that has been washed in the blood of the Lamb. 

Paul’s previous reputation (as Saul) did not matter here. The fact that he was under arrest did not deter them. They simply saw him as a brother in Christ who needed to be loved, and so they answered the call to GoLove him in Jesus’ Name. Luke, as his doctor, friend & as a fellow believer in Christ, was also treated with equal love, care and concern. The lack of aprevious relationship on anyone’s part simply did not matter. Within the church, it isn’t a matter of ‘What can you do for me?’ but rather a matter of ‘What has Christ Jesus already done & how can I imitate Him?’ 

We don’t serve looking to be served in return. We serve because He first served us. We love for the same reason, and we simply don’t look for how we benefit from the exchange. To live as Christ means to put others first, and to receive them as we would receive Christ. There shouldn’t be such a thing as an unfriendly church, there shouldn’t be such a thing as animosity between belivers. We love because Christ first loved us, and His brand of love is joyfully & sacrificially given. 

Acts 22:22-30 // Bought vs. Born

22 “They listened to him up to this word. Then they raised their voices, shouting, ‘Wipe this person off the earth — its a disgrace for him to live!’

23 As they were yelling and flinging aside their robes and throwing dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, directing that he be examined with the scourge, so he could discover the reason they were shouting against him like this. 25 As they stretched him out for the lash, Paul said to the centurion standing by, ‘Is it legal for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and is uncondemned?’

26 When the centurion heard this, he went and reported to the commander, saying, ‘What are you going to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.’

27 The commander came and said to him, ‘Tell me — are you a Roman citizen?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

28 The commander replied, ‘I bought this citizenship for a large amount of money.’

‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul said.

29 Therefore, those who were about to examine him withdrew from him at once. The commander too was alarmed when he realized Paul was a Roman citizen and he had bound him.

30 The next day, since he wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and instructed the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to convene. Then he brought Paul down and placed him before them.”

Acts 22:22-30

==

I absolutely love the pacing and build up of this brief exchange. There is something ultimately satisfying about being in the right, and in being vindicated. It feels good to be in the right, and we all like it…sometimes a little too much. But here, we see Paul being right in a way that communicates authority and truth without being overbearing or rude. So, here we find a wonderful example of how we can handle adversity and deal with wrong doing that comes against us. 

Paul could have blustered and shouted and fought, but he let the truth be truth instead. Paul let the truth of the situation speak for him rather than trying to increase his own personal volume to ‘compensate’ for the misjustice that was being committed against him. The truth was enough, and it was all he needed. AS the opportunity arose for him to say what needed to be said, he said it and just let the truth hang out there, revealing itself. In this case, it meant that he should be arrested and bound like a common criminal without someone at least doing some fact checking. The guard just saw the mob, saw that Paul was the object of their wrath, assumed he had done something wrong, and they began to act as they saw fit. But as a Roman citizen, Paul was entitled to better treatment than that, and it was not given to him. So, Paul stands vindicated the moment a light is shed on the situation.

As Christians, we need to make sure that we don’t fight like the world does. We need to make sure that we don’t engage at a base level, resorting to crude tactics, verbal assaults, sneaky plans or gossip-fueled back-stabbing. Instead, we let the truth be truth. Simple as that. We speak it when the opportunity allows, and we are entitled to be bold with it, as Paul was here. But we are not entitled to be ugly with it, demeaning with it. Paul’s allowed truth to be truth without any extra help from him. Because, in reality, truth doesn’t need the ‘help.’ It doesn’t need a biting tongue or an angry tone. James 3 reminds us of the damage that a loose tongue can cause, and truth, while exposing wrong, doesn’t seek to wound or gouge. Truth does cut deep, but not in the way that the human tongue is prone to cut. It has its own way, its own devices.

Simply let the truth be the truth. Deliver it with gentleness. Speak truth in love.

As you GoLove others in Jesus Name, there is a prerequisite to speak the truth. It goes hand in hand with the Gospel. After all, Jesus is The Way, The Truth & The Life (John 14.) And the only way people will come to see and truly understand the truth is through Him. He does not need us to bruise hearts with our tongue in order for conviction to take place. That is the work and place of the Holy Spirit. We are simply couriers entrusted with a message of great joy.

Acts 21:26-40 // Against the Rioting World

“26 Then the next day, Paul took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering for each of them would be made. 27 As the seven days were about to end, the Jews from Asia saw him in the temple complex, stirred up the whole crowd, and seized him, 28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. Whats more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has profaned this holy place. 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple complex.”

30 The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple complex, and at once the gates were shut. 31 As they were trying to kill him, word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos. 32 Taking along soldiers and centurions, he immediately ran down to them. Seeing the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander came up, took him into custody, and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the mob were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar, he ordered him to be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul got to the steps, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the mobs violence, 36 for the mass of people followed, yelling, “Take him away!”

37 As he was about to be brought into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “Am I allowed to say something to you?”

He replied, “Do you know Greek? 38 Aren’t you the Egyptian who raised a rebellion some time ago and led 4,000 Assassins into the wilderness?”

39 Paul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city. Now I ask you, let me speak to the people.”

40 After he had given permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language…”

Acts 21:26-40

==

Christians in the West are increasingly feeling the pull to be separate from the culture around us, a culture that is rapidly fighting against the ethic we have been granted in Christ. It’s no surprise. In fact, it’s expected. Paul tasted deeply from the well of human scorn & from the dregs of the fear of others. They poured the contents of their spirituallly dead hearts out on him, and their anger was intending to do him in. 

For Western Christians today, there seems to be a desire to fit in & comply with the culture around us. It is often done in the name of being missional, but in reality, they are compromising fundamental truths and letting doctrine slip in order to accomodate the sins and sinful attitudes of the world. Compromising scruples for acceptance, these truth-wary ‘Christians’ make more of an effort to remain unoffensive so they can be ‘on the right side of history’ (I’ve heard this so often) rather than stand on the side of Scripture. They have compromised what God has actually said for what the flesh demands. 

Paul knew what needed to be done, and he stuck with it. He could have been fearful, avoided the trip back to Jerusalem and just lived out his days in Ephesus, where he knew he was loved. But that isn’t what he was called to, that isn’t what his life in Christ was meant to convey. The same is true with us. Yes, Christians are to be humble, servant minded people. But we are not called to compromise. We are not called to let the world tell us who we are supposed to be. We are defined by God, by His Word & the truth that is found there. We move and speak by the Spirit and in the mindset of Christ. 

We seek the lost, serve the needy and comfort the hurting. We visit the sick, shut-in and imprisoned, and we live a public declaration of faith. We reach out to our neighbors, serving them as we would desire to be served, and we put the things of God so far above everything else in our priorities that what might possibly be called ‘second place’ isn’t even comparable to that term. We are supposed to be different, and the world is going to continue doing its best to riot against God and those alleigances we have in Him. Expect it. Be prepared for it, be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have in Jesus Christ & do it with gentleness and respect. This is how we GoLove, we do it under the authority of the Word of God, and we pay honor to His unchanging heart and wisdom by presenting the truth with bold, uncompromising love. 

Acts 21:1-14 // Bound & Determined

“1 After we tore ourselves away from them and set sail, we came by a direct route to Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. 3 After we sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. 4 So we found some disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, 6 we said good-bye to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

7 When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them one day. 8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. 9 This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

10 While we were staying there many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into Gentile hands.” 12 When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem.

13 Then Paul replied, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’

14 Since he would not be persuaded, we stopped talking and simply said, ‘The Lord’s will be done!'”

Acts 21:1-14

==

To the unbeliever or the unstudied, this journey is becoming increasingly unusual. “Why is he going to Jerusalem? Why does he keep pressing on?” You’d think, that after all these warnings, and with all these people telling him not to go, Paul would get some kind of hint to settle down elsewhere and not go to Jerusalem, right? “Just stay in Ephesus, go back to Antioch. Be somewhere safe, and settle down in your old age. No one would blame you.” 

But that’s not what Paul is about. That isn’t his mission. Paul hasn’t been called to retirement. He hasn’t been wired to shut down in the face of adversity. Remember, this is Saul who became Paul. He is a firebrand, a zealous, passionate man! He doesn’t have it in himself to shut up & sit down. God knew this before hand, this is why Paul was chosen for this particular task. Because, while things weren’t going to go well in Jerusalem, Paul wasn’t going to die there. Jerusalem would just be the hingepin that turned his journey in a very specific direction and that will propel him into a place and situation that he could not have manufactured for himself. 

Going to Jerusalem was going to be the death of Paul…eventually. And it was the death of any hope or desire of a simple, comfortable path. Paul would have been glad to keep visiting the churches he had already planted over the course of his missionary journeys. We see just how strong the bonds are in every city that he visits. But, again, this is not the path for Paul. His fierce determination would help see conversations take place that will reach deep into the heart of Rome itself, even into the household of the Emporer. God was going to strengthen him again and again to see this done. Back in chapter 9, God told Ananias that Paul was going to suffer much for the sake of His Name. But this is a suffering that was going to be totally worth it. 

So, Paul was bound & determined to go to Jerusalem. He knew He needed to go & te warnings of the others were just confirmation that he was on the right path. He knew what was going to happen & he was prepared in his heart and mind to face those hardships for the glory of God. 

We aren’t naturally wired to act this way. We want to be safe and comfy and have things be easy. But God has never promised us that. And the ‘easy’ life? It doesn’t require faith as much & so we find a false comfort in the lack of needed effort. We think, “Oh, this is going smoothly, I must be on the right track.” And while there will be times where things are smooth and easy, God does provide those green pastures and still waters, we should be mindful that God has given us power through His Holy Spirit to do things that are more amazing and will have a greater impact than we could ever accomplish on our own if we will just trust Him and go where He leads us. It probably isn’t to be arrested and hauled thousands of miles from home. But it probably is next door, or to the next office/cubicle at work. God has places to use us that are going to require His strength, His wisdom and the determination that His Holy Spirit brings. 

The call to GoLove as we have been loved, should be a deep, resonating call within our hearts. And the more we listen and respond, the more we will experience the power of God at work in us. The difficult path is the one that most often reveals our weaknesses and His glory. Trust Him in those moments. Take the road that scares you a little, and prayerfully see what God is going to do as you must rely on Him & your faith in HIm, rather than your own strength. 

Acts 12:1-5 // In this world you will have trouble

“1 About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, 2 and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church.”

Acts 12:1-5

Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world, but that we should take heart, He has overcome the world. He also told us that the world would hate us as it hated Him. James, John’s brother, son of Zebedee, one of the “Sons of Thunder” was killed cruelly by a morally compromised puppet king. Such an ignominus death for one of the Lord’s Apostles. But honor was not going to be found coming from a Herod, or from the authorities of the day. Obviously, their concern was more with pleasing the crowd than doing what was right. They didn’t want to be convicted, they didn’t want to hear any mor about Jesus or the truth of God’s Word. They wanted to follow their own personal passions, and they didn’t mind the cost.

There were times when this scenario still sounded like something from the distant past, but anymore, today, this could e happenening anywhere at anytime. Churches are not seen as sacred spaces anymore. There is no respect for life. No honor among men. People do as they see fit, and they don’t want to hear the truth. We are living in the days of the Judges again. But rather than an individual prophet or leader, God has ordained His church to stand up and speak truth. He has ordained His church to be the ones who show a respect for all races, who speak truth into the world’s lies, who stand as the standard bearers for His cause. And the world isn’t going to like it any more than they did 4000 years ago or even 2000 years ago. We should be ready to expect trouble.

There are political & social “leaders” who seem to like the reaction they get in the U.S. when the put down the ‘religious’ and when they insult God’s people. They seek to criminalize us and marginalize us, and in reality, the times are not all that different different. While they will not put to us the physical sword here, yet, they will do what they can to use the political system and the culture itself to silence us, to shame us into being quiet. In this world, today, you will have trouble. Are you ready to still stand up, to GoLove and share the Good News, even though the world doesn’t want to believe that it’s good news anymore? Are you ready to be bold, to break free from the bonds of the social prison we are being put into? Are you ready to break free from the “American Dream” in order to live the life that Christ Jesus has ordained for you instead? Are you ready to take this seriously, sacrifice, and dig in with people, serving, teaching, baptizing? Are you ready to quit trying to just go along with the flow and hope you don’t rock the boat? Are you ready to live the life of a disicple, and just follow the Master wherever He leads you because you just love Him so much? Are you ready to die to self to see this happen?

Take heart! He has overcome the world, and He has given us the authority to give the world that Good News!

  

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