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Seeking Peace Along a Hard Road

Blessed Father, we desire to break bread with You, to walk with You & enjoy Your company. Make our hearts burn within us as we meet with You, unfolding Your Word in our hearts. Help us to see, hear & gain wisdom. Prepare us for the difficulties & joys of the day, so we may rely on You & give You glory no matter what may come. We seek You out for these blessings of faith & for the sake of Your glory being shown through us.
We pray this in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 24: 13-35
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I long for these moments & experiences. As Christians, we long for the Lord’s presence, we desire to walk with Him, listen to Him & experience what these two experienced along the road to Emmaus. There is no greater joy than to be able to give our whole selves over to the will & mystery of the Lord, to be bundled up in His arms & to close out every sound but the sweetness of His voice. Swift & powerful, His tongue comforts & convicts, He cuts to the root of our sin & draws us up into the highest heaven. It is almost indescribable. But we long for these moments. We want every weekend worship gathering to be a place where we meet with Him like this, every moment spent in the Word like this, every encounter with a stranger, friend or family member like this when we share our faith with them.

But we must also be reminded of these two on the road. They were consumed, troubled & sad. They had expectations, desires for redemption & they wanted to see God’s hand move in a mighty & powerful way. And it took Jesus’ presence to bring them comfort. His Words, His presence, His laughter, teaching & prayer to open their eyes to what God had done & was continuing to do.

If we would feel His presence, then we must draw near & listen. We must hear what He says, and leave behind what fills our mind, giving it all over to Him in these moments where we need to draw near. While Jesus spoke, they were silent. They listened. They didn’t interrupt every third word, they weren’t engrossed in another activity. Their focus was undivided & therefore laser focused on everything He had to say. It was time spent just with Jesus. Unrushed, untouched, unadulterated. Just them & just Him.

If we want to feel the comforting presence of Jesus, then we need to give Him our attention. We need to listen & remove distractions. If we are broken & hurting inside, if life’s events are too much to handle & understand, then we need to trust Him with those moments & draw near to Him & Him alone.

Praise God for His Holy Spirit who can & does walk with us, even within us, through these moments of our day-to-day life. What a precious gift to know He is with us, moving, present & speaking to us. We simply need to seek Him out for peace & be still, trusting in His footsteps along the way.

Father, we bless Your holy Name! We praise the movement of Your Word in our hearts!
Teach us to listen & be still. remind us of Your presence & may we feel that sweet stillness in our spirits as we draw near to You along life’s road. Again, we pray in Jesus’ Name, amen.

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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.

The Intention of Agony

Father, these moments of remembrance, the pauses in prayer, the pleas from Jesus for support from His friends, even today we can feel the tension & difficulty of the moment rising, time closing in & the plan of redemption bearing down in the fullness of its weight & urgency. This was not a desperation of confusion, but a desperation for Your glory & for the saving of many, many souls. The garden was pregnant with intention & Your preparation that night, Father. Jesus was not ignorant of what was coming, even if it was heavy beyond reckoning from a human perspective. Betrayal happened in darkness, but darkness cannot overcome You. May our hearts be reminded of Your great love, patience & design as we walk through Holy Week with You. May we keep watch with Christ in anticipation of Your good grace. We pray in His Name, amen.

Luke 22:39-53
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

This makes me uncomfortable.
This passage begins the portion of the Passion that is easier to read through quickly than to stop, slow down & be intentional about meditating & praying through. The agony of Christ in the garden that night was & still is, an agony that I have contributed to, personally. The suffering that began its work, pressing sweat & blood through His skin came from what I have done, will probably do today & haven’t yet done tomorrow. My brokenness, my sin, my intentional, willful disobedience & my momentary transgressions that I am tempted to pass off as if they are nothing all combine here. They press upon the heart of the Lord of Heaven, the Lamb of Glory, perfect & pure, & my struggles become His struggles. This is hard to think about. This is hard to come to terms with every time I read it. The reality of my shame & the unbearable weight of the separation it has caused between my heart & the heart of God comes crashing down in this moment, & Jesus steps in to take that weight, that blow, so that I, so that we, are not utterly destroyed.

This should make me uncomfortable. This should bring me face to face with my brokenness & my absolutely desperate need for Jesus & the grace of God. I would be lost, crushed & dead before I made it to my own cross if I had to begin to wrestle with the wrath of God for my sin. The suffering I would endure would be beyond comprehension, beyond weighing out & I would be utterly spent from the first moment, destroyed. But Jesus begins this struggle, wrestling with the brokenness of man & the glory of God, here in the garden. This isn’t the moment of redemption, but the doors are closing on the first leg of the human journey to sanctification by grace & the weight of the Law, & opening to the relief of grace by faith & the new rhythms it would bring. Relief is on the way, but this struggle cannot pass if it is to come. This cup must be drained to the dregs & Jesus alone can carry it, lift it to His lips & drink the fullness of it all.

And so we find ourselves, here in the darkness of the garden that most of us will never visit in person, but where our hearts remain present with Christ, keeping watch with Him, as His disciples sleep for grief. We count the hours, we see the suffering beginning & we account for every drop of blood that presses its way through His precious forehead. We want to take our portion from Him, but that is not ours to decide & we know we cannot bear it. And so we watch, & we wait with Him & We pray that we may not fall into temptation. We do not rush through this moment, but we keep watch with Him. We thank Him & we are brought to that place of repentance again, knowing our part in this scene. He bore it because we cannot.

Precious Jesus…our Wonderful Redeemer, we watch & pray & praise Your blessed Name.

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.

The Way of Deepest Honor

Father of mercy & grace, I praise You this morning for Your consistency & faithfulness. You are deeply loving, and amazingly generous with us who are so broken & so desperately in need of You. It is so easy for us to get hung up in ourselves, to focus on our own accomplishments & struggles. Thank You for these reminders about Your authority, grace & humble servanthood. Remind us again today what it means to serve like Jesus, having the same attitude humility. I pray this in His Name, amen.

Luke 22:24-30
24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“But I am among you as the one who serves.” We should probably reread that sentence every morning at least, shouldn’t we? Maybe we should put it on Post-It Notes, and tack it up around our home & work spaces, put one on our dashboard in our car & stick one on the handle of our grocery cart on days when we’re in a hurry, too. Jesus says, “Look, I see this world & it’s structures, I really do. I understand the social pressures & the expectations you put on yourselves & your culture presses on everyone…but I am different. And because I’m different, I want you do be different just like I am different. Look at my example. Examine what I’m doing. Look more deeply into me & put less stock into what this world says. Follow Me.”

For those of us who’ve spent any time with Jesus, we know this is the right answer. We know what His example is for us, but we still struggle like the apostles did with this expectation we see the world cramming in our faces. Humility is a trait that is definitely admirable, but in this world it will get you run over, left behind & forgotten. People who really accomplish things are bold & make a name for themselves. They are pacesetters & captains of industry. People take notice of them & they build a name for themselves, These are the people set as our examples. They write books & do interviews. They get things named after them & they gain the admiration of everyone. That’s what we’re trained to shoot for in this life.

Count Nicholas Von Zinzindorf said this though, and he is more on track with Jesus than this mindset of looking out for number one. He said, “Preach the Gospel, die & be forgotten.” Inspirational, right? We’re probably not going to see a poster made of that one & hanging on the wall of a Fortune 500 office anytime soon.

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This isn’t the way our world works. But this is the way of Christ. This is the reality that we are adopted into when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior & Master. Listen to Jesus again. Hear what He has to say.

“But I am among you as the one who serves.”

What would change in your world today if you and I really adopted that mindset? What will you do differently today if you choose to be forgotten so that Christ might be exalted? Who will you find to focus on if you take the efforts of your heart today and turn them toward that person in an attitude of servanthood like Jesus showed us? What kind of impact would you have on your family? Your friends? How might Jesus be lifted up & how might God be more deeply praised & glorified because of you?

Be among your peers today as one who serves. Walk among your family today as one who serves. Don’t seek your own way, your own priorities today. Walk like Jesus walked. Move in the rhythms of His grace. Wrap a towel around your waist & pick up the basin of water as you bend to wash the feet of those around you in His example & in His Name. You’ve seen the example of this world. You’ve seen what temporary things that accomplishes. Look instead to Jesus & serve today as He would serve.

 

Poor Contributions

Father, humble hearts are precious to You. Healthy perspective of the limitations of human effort & our brokenness, an understanding of our deep & unending dependence on You, & a faith that reflects both seem to go a long way in Your eyes. It isn’t big gestures that win You over, but the small daily obediences that come from this faith. Grant us eyes to see & hearts to comprehend this measure of faith. Give us the grace of Your strength to measure to the stature of the generous & faithful widow in Luke 21. We should all depend on You so freely, trust in You so deeply as we walk in these precious rhythms of grace in Your Spirit. Let us abide this deeply with You today. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 21:1-4
1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,
and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Self-promotion & humility rarely seem to go together, do they? When we see people who claim to honor God with their life constantly drawing attention to their piety, naming things after themselves, building stadiums and lavish homes for themselves, it can be difficult to take them seriously. I was blessed to grow up with a preacher who had an obvious God-given talent for drawing people to Jesus. His ministry flourished, the membership grew & the buildings did, too. But all the way through, he was also gifted by God to do something amazing, he remained humble. He refused a lavish salary. He stayed in the same unassuming house for years & he never bought himself a fancy car.

And God honored his humility & the primacy of the Gospel in His life. It was obvious. He was a wonderful example (and still is) of what it means to serve faithfully and humbly, despite the evidence to the contrary that said he should have had more attention & accolades.

This day in the temple, Jesus looked. He saw what people were doing as they came into the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem. God notices who we are. He knows what we do & He has no issue discerning the intentions of our hearts. We come to Him with all manner of motivations, our hearts & minds crowded with thoughts, worries & concerns. We hurt for someone who is hurting. We are stressed over income. We long for a friend or family member to leave addiction behind, to find help in their struggle with drugs or pornography. We grieve with the weeping mother & father who lost their days-old infant. We carry guilt from our own sins. And with these burdens we come to God.

You would think that concerns like these would keep us on our knees, humble before God as we approach Him. The messes of our life, the lives of our friends & family, the brokenness we struggle within this world…these things should bring us to a place of open, honest reflection as we come before the King of Creation. He is holy, righteous & perfect. We are so obviously not. He needs nothing. Apart from Him, we are nothing. Humility & perspective shouldn’t be a problem.

But these rich people enter into the Temple complex with pomp & ceremony. They bring along their entourage, a porter to carry their gifts in front of them. They make a big show & blow horns as they give their ‘gift’ to God & draw more attention to their self than to Him. The show matters to them. They want to be seen. They want to be impressive. They want things their way. They want people to want to know them, to desire their company. They make idols of their own façade & shrines to their ego. They do not understand humility, at least not publicly, and so they over compensate with inglorious displays.

The offering box sat in the doorway of the Temple. It was there for ease of use as you came in & went out. It was placed in a location where you didn’t have to come in, walk up to the front & draw attention to yourself. Rich & poor, men & women, young & old would all pass by it & there was no preference, position or power honored above another as people came in to worship God. The focus was on Him.

So, in stark contrast, the widow drops in two very small, very thin copper coins. They would make no noise when they fell into the box. They would draw no attention to her status or income level. She had no entourage, no pomp. So, Jesus looked & saw her heart.

He had no words to praise the rich that day. But He stopped what He was doing to pay attention to & praise the heart of this nameless widow. No husband, no job, no family entering in with her. She comes to God, an impoverished, undervalued individual. But she knows her God. She understands His faithfulness. She has full confidence in His provision & His love over her & so she gives Him all she has. No reservation, no ego to block the intent. She loves God, trusts God & allows Him to be the one who cares for her even if no one else can or will. There is beauty in this humble love, this complete trust & Jesus cannot let this moment pass.

Giving from abundance is still acceptable. God blesses some people to have much in this life. They have been entrusted with a gift that spreads & blesses others. They can give to multiple charities, employ large numbers of people & surprise those in need with gifts from the Lord. Being rich is not a crime. Being rich does not constitute a lack of favor in God’s eyes. But Jesus did say it as easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Wealth isn’t all advantages. Stewardship does matter. Humility & an understanding of God’s place in what we have is an absolute imperative. Otherwise we fall into the traps of wealth, and the pits of arrogance.

Giving from poverty isn’t always a guarantee of God’s favor, either. You can be poor & have a terrible attitude toward God or generosity. You can make a big deal about the $2 you put in this month & talk to people about how proud you are that you remembered to give two weeks in a row. You can talk about the struggles of giving & generosity, drawing attention to your situation, seeking pity for yourself & admiration for being able to give anything at all.

I’ve seen both sides of both of these coins over the years and there is one thing that remains through every situation, every heart:

God loves a heart that gives cheerfully, freely & humbly.

Generosity that matters comes from faith & trust in Him. Generosity that makes an impact comes from trust in Him. Generosity that speaks to the heart of God is generosity that lays everything else aside & reveals an unfettered reliance on Him & a seeking of His glory as the first-fruits of our life. Time, talent & treasure all belong to Him. They are given to us by Him for His glory & we give them back as gifts & tithes & offerings for the exact same reason. John the Baptist has it right: He must become greater, I must become less. Humility matters. Generosity matters. The two go hand-in-hand every time.

Resurrecting Hope

Father, You bring us hope over and over again. You remind us of things that are here, present before us, but that we simply overlook. In our attempts to look important, in our trying to build a life & world for ourselves, we gloss over basic truths & simple things. When we do this, we build from our own broken foundations, and develop worldviews that fit within our own expectations. Give us hope beyond our own understanding. Open our eyes so we can see the basic truths. Remove the corrupt lenses that we have placed over our own eyes & reveal Your hope-drenched wisdom to us unworthy souls. We pray this in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 20:27-40
27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

Have you ever come to Jesus like this? Have you come with your own answer already in your pocket, ready to hear from Him what you think you already know? I do this all the time, I’m sure we all do. We talk and talk and forget to listen. We come in a way that gives an impression of asking, but in reality, we are doing more telling than anything. We don’t seek to receive we seek to have our own ideas confirmed. We see it in these Sadducees in Luke 20. They come to Jesus prepared with both question and answer in hand & He brings them to a place they were not prepared to go. This is why listening is such an important part of our prayer life. This is why time in Word, coming to hear from God, is so vital.

These men & their cohort come to Jesus with this pre-loaded Q&A, thinking themselves awfully clever & ready to show up those guys from across the aisle, the Pharisees, who haven’t been able to stump Jesus quite yet. It’s a simple question, there’s even a degree of humor to it…a seemingly impossible scenario needs to be explained. As Sadducees, they do not believe that anything happens after death, you simply cease to be, & so the whole scenario feels ridiculous. They have seen Jesus break down the arguments of the Pharisees over & over again, & so they have come ready to either have Him confirm their understanding or to begin a debate they feel they cannot lose. This must be one of their favorite questions to tear down their opponents arguments & they bring it to Jesus.

This is something so common to mankind. This whole situation is repeated in different ways in different times, over & over again. We live this life of ours, and we feel like we get a pretty good handle on how things work and why. We talk with some people who disagree with us, but more often than not, we spend a lot of time with people who think the way we think, who do the things we do, who support the things we support even & we build up this wall, a fortress of understanding that helps us to feel secure.

The problem is that the other people, who live behind other walls, feel just as secure, just as protected by their understanding, their worldviews, as we feel behind our walls. They feel their foundations are just as unshakable as ours and they trust in the power of their arguments just as much as we do. And then someone starts lobbing stones over the wall the moment they notice something in your perspective doesn’t line up with theirs. We don’t want to hear ‘different’ because is shakes us. It doesn’t just shake our walls, it shakes our foundations, & that feeling is sickening, frightening & we fight against it every chance we get.

But Jesus doesn’t just answer to the question in the way we would expect Him to answer. Jesus always has a twist ready for us, something that turns our understanding on its head. Jesus reveals truth to our understanding, & He gets to work opening up our misconceptions, exposing our vulnerabilities. He shows us we don’t know all we think we know. And He does it in the Name of love.

So Jesus shows us something better & it rocks our assumptions.

Jesus shows us a new state, in this case, when we return to where we were pre-Fall, we will live on a different foundation than the one we see & experience today. Our worldview will be radically changed. It’s not simply a matter of this world transported with all its present components & intricacies already in place, but it is something new altogether. Yes, this woman had 7 husbands, but that was this life & so that scenario has nothing to do with the next. There is more to this argument than you can see, a wider view to this world than your constructs allow you to see.

We are more than we think we are. Listen to His words, “…for all live to Him.” Examine for a moment the depth of implication that lies within these words of His. Oh, these words! There is a lot of meaning wrapped up in them, if we hang out here & look at them, letting them soak in for a while. Jesus isn’t just talking about death & life here. He is opening up a massive hole in their understanding of the world. He is pointing toward the true source of meaning & glory & He is letting them know that this life isn’t even about all these petty squabbles &misunderstandings, those little distractions aren’t at the core of what really matters.

There is so much more.

“…for” = Here is the meat of the matter, here is what breaks down your assumptions & self-made logic. This is where the boulder of truth comes smashing through the walls you’ve built.

“all” = Everyone, all parties concerned are affected by this coming statement. Truth isn’t just for one faction or another. This is a foundational, universal truth & if your foundation is lacking this bit of reinforcement…it will come a’tumbling down. Pharisee, Sadducee & CantYouSee alike are all affect by this thing that coming. You cannot build a wall that includes only certain groups or that excludes others.

“live” = Exist. Currently. As in, right now. There isn’t a loophole to jump through here. Everyone lives, even if you can’t see them now, they’re alive. Sadducees would have argued against the soul, the immortal soul, &here Jesus very plainly shows us that there is an existence beyond this physical stuff that we slog around in every day. There is a spiritual realm that isn’t affected by physical death. It’s a point of transition, sure, & when we reach that point, that doorway, there are some things that we need to have come to grips with before we cross through. But everyone crosses through…& they continue on. What you see is not always what you get. What we perceive is not all there is to this world. We are constantly unlocking & exposing new things in this universe through the “marvels” of science. And how often do we hear scientists say that things aren’t ‘behaving’ they way they expected, or that a model will need to be re-looked at or revamped according to the new evidence at hand? It happens all. the. time.

“to Him” = This isn’t simply a state of being. This is also a state of purpose. We all live to Him. We all live to Him. All answers must spring from Him & point to Him. That’s the way this works. We all live for God &are alive in His eyes. Alive or dead by human reckoning means nothing in terms of permanence. Once life comes it remains. Period. Conception, cradle, college, career, care-facility, casket, carried over to eternity…we are alive. We live this life for God & we will always be because of Him. We were created to be immortal after all. Finite, but immortal. And we were created for His good pleasure & purpose, not simply for ourselves.  This is all about God, & the sooner our foundations contain that base platform, the better off we will be.

Look, questions are good, it is great to ask questions. God is cool with us asking Him all sorts of questions. And they are good so long as we come expecting an answer for our lack of understanding. We should not come to God expecting Him to always cater to what we think we know. We should come to Him expecting to be changed & to have our eyes opened. He develops our apologetic, not our own experiences. Jesus comes with an answer that blows open the foundations of the Sadducee worldview, & it’s a beautiful thing. It shuts them up immediately, but it’s a beautiful answer. Jesus resurrects hope, & they don’t know what to do with it at all. When we walk in the rhythms of His grace, we will experience this on a regular basis…&that’s a very good thing. In fact, it becomes a point of joy if we are ready to receive it. Let’s pray that we are…

Taxing Questions

Father, in You is the house of Wisdom. Lord, within Your heart & mind we find the origins of all truth & knowledge. Help us to see our lack, assist us in our foolishness and give us good counsel. We are prone to twist things & we try to distort Your truth to meet our own agendas. See if there is any offensive way in us and lead us according to Your good grace & mercy. Help us to see plainly beyond this world’s distortions. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 20:19-26
19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.

21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

Sometimes I wonder how tiresome it was for Jesus to deal with these Jewish leaders & authorities. They’re obviously jealous of the attention He gets. They cannot begin to speak with real authority like He does. He constantly breaks down the walls of their sanctuary of rules, and exposes their inner thoughts and weaknesses. He draws the affection of the people, while they can only muster up loyalty through fear and misused authority.

He is everything they are not & the people see it.

So, Jesus deals with these people who should be leading the nation in a God-honoring way, but who can only seem to focus on polls and perceptions. And rather than working with Jesus to bring the hearts of the people to God, they are authoritarian aggressors, always seeking out new plots, plans and schemes. And they’re moving beyond the boundaries of discourse & debate and sliding into the realms of intrigue and isolation. They plot and scheme and send others out to try to ensnare Jesus with words & social perceptions.

They ask pointed questions meant to trap & polarize the people. They want to lay hands on Him, but are relying on these spies and unruly people to stir up trouble. They pray for mobs to rise up against Him, because they lack the skill, wisdom and courage to do so themselves. These men who are not used to being contested suddenly find themselves marginalized & they simply cannot handle it.

There is nothing of God in their attitudes. Their god is their own image, their own expectation, their own fleshly desires. They may call it G-D, but they have an idol in their own hearts. And so they use flattery, and send smooth talking saboteurs to weave a web of misdirection.

What do we do when we find ourselves faced with people who should be in authority, but who cannot wield that authority properly? Paul has an encounter with the Sanhedrin later on in Acts, and after being struck by someone at the direction of a man who turns out to be the current High Priest, Paul corrects his language after lashing out at him in return. We are not free to bully our way past human authority figures, but we can stand in defiance of them like Peter and the other Apostles had to when they were told not to speak in the Name of Jesus anymore. We must respect the office, but we follow God first and foremost.

So we do not use their tactics: false flattery & misdirection.
We do not use their motivations: being thought well of, lording over people.
We do not follow their examples: plotting & planning in order to ensnare.

Jesus does tell us to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves, because He knew we were going to have these encounters. He knew we would find ourselves standing in places & dealing with situations that would press our buttons and leave us desiring to play by those same twisted rules. And so He sets an example for us that shows us a better way.

These shrewd speakers start asking Jesus about what is lawful & right, & since Jesus knows their hearts and motives, He responds with plain, rightly given truth. He distinguishes between the authorities these men deal with: God & Caesar. He then speaks to the limited realm of human authority & it’s physical limitations. If Caesar wants this slip of metal with his picture on it, then let him have it. Everything belongs to God, it all has his fingerprint on it anyway. Caesar’s reign and power comes from having his image on a coin, God’s power is not so small & finite.

When I was in elementary school I was at a friend’s house, and we walked over to play at another kid’s house because he had this great swing-set in his backyard. We were all having a good time, but my friend and I were a year or so older than this kid. He wanted to twist the rules and be in charge of the games we were playing because it was his backyard & his swing-set. He started getting agitated with us, made us sit down on the edge of his play area and wait for him to come back out.

When he came out of the house, he had a full sheet of yellow legal paper in his hand & he said, “If you all want to keep playing on my playground, then you have to watch me eat this whole sheet of paper. If you don’t then you have to leave.” Now, I’m sure he thought he was coming out to impress us, and he thought we would all be wowed by his digestive prowess. But about 1/3 of the way into the sheet of paper, you could tell that his mouth was drying out & that there was no way he was going to finish.

I’m not sure what he thought this little show would accomplish, but it fell flat and we all just got up and left. He was a child & so he behaved childishly when he felt he was loosing ground on his own turf. Now, we weren’t being mean to him, we weren’t excluding him from play. But it was his yard, his stuff & he had an expectation for being in charge of everything that went on there.

Jesus deals with this attitude over and over again. He has to stop teaching and pay attention to these men who should be leading the people, but who fill their mouths with nonsense in order to maintain control. And so Jesus’ approach should be our approach. When we deal with difficult people who struggle with authority, then we look into their motives, rather than lashing right back at them. We examine the power structure they operate within & we set that understanding & worldview next to the things of God with an understanding of His authority over all mankind. And from the origins of truth, we speak simple truth. We cannot play by their rules, we cannot run by their expectations. We do not walk down convoluted paths of deception, but we speak plainly, allowing God to be our guide.

The simple answer is powerful. True authority stands up to scrutiny. Looking to the base of where aggression finds its beginnings will reveal much. Truth often silences foolishness, but when you deal with fools, their silence is not often guaranteed.

We, as Christians, should continue to examine Jesus’ response to people like this so we might gain wisdom, be slow to anger & slow to speak. We must unlearn what the world has taught us, and gain wisdom from seeking out the heart of God instead. This doesn’t come overnight, but with discipline and wisdom gained from experience. If we walk with Jesus daily, in the rhythms of His grace, & if we are patient with others and with ourselves, we will find that God provides all we need in dealing with difficult people & difficult situations.

Father, in You is the house of Wisdom. Lord, within Your heart & mind we find the origins of all truth & knowledge. Help us to see our lack, assist us in our foolishness and give us good counsel. We are prone to twist things & we try to distort Your truth to meet our own agendas. See if there is any offensive way in us and lead us according to Your good grace & mercy. Help us to see plainly beyond this world’s distortions. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Wicked Tenants

Father, I thank You for the grace of Your Word. I praise You for being present in my life, and for revealing Yourself to me as I take these moments to draw near and listen to Your heart. I ask you to speak to me, grant me Your mercy, convict me of my sins, and work correction in my heart. Shape me and sculpt me, may I be a better reflection of Jesus because of this encounter with You today. Let me learn peace from You, be glorified because of the faith You have provided me, and use me to share these gifts and mercies with others today. May my life be used to bring You glory today. All of this I pray in the Name of Jesus and through Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 20:9-18
And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone’?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

Let’s walk through the basics of this parable today and examine what it is God has for us to hear. We know that God is the One who plants the vineyard. It is His from its inception and it will always be His vineyard. He is the One who marked its boundaries, tilled the soil, built walls and planted the vines. In every way imaginable, this vineyard is the Vineyard of the Lord. The Owner then becomes the Master as He takes on workers/tenants.

He gives them a task to do. These are the people of God, the workers of His own choosing. The tenants, by definition, are not the owners of the vineyard. They have a relationship with the Owner, they have been assigned tasks by the Owner, but they do not have a say in how this vineyard is operated. They cannot dictate new policy or change the goals laid out by the Master. As Jesus says later, they cannot reject the cornerstone, the basic/core point of operation and direction, as laid out by God. They are employees, and while they will share in the fruit of the vineyard, every grape, every vine, every clod of dirt, every ounce of juice and every drop of rain that falls on that land belongs, ultimately, to the Owner. They have part, they have roles, but they do not have mastery over the vineyard. It belongs to Him.

“When the time came…” The Owner of the vineyard knew when His vines should bear fruit. He knows the seasons, He has an expectation of the plants and the workers. So He came in the moment when fruit should be appearing, expecting to find what should rightfully be there, and what He planted the vineyard to accomplish. He did not send to them at a time when the vineyard would be budding or blossoming. He did not relay a message to them after the first rain. He sent to them at the time of harvest, expecting what was His. These conditions were laid out to the tenants when they began to work for Him. He would have laid out these exact specifications and plans to them when they began the job. This was not a surprising moment. This was not unexpected. Vineyards produce grapes.

And since this is a very thinly veiled parable, let’s look at the harvest itself. When God talks about harvesting, pretty much everywhere else in Scripture, we know that He is talking about people. Fruitfulness in the Kingdom instantly equates to multiplication. Faithfulness equates to each and every individual doing the work that God has required from the beginning. We have been commissioned to do this work of growing, cultivating and harvesting from the relationships that God blesses us with.The Kingdom’s harvest comes from disciples making disciples.

We all have a part, we all have a responsibility and we all have a task to do within the walls of the vineyard. And while we can busy ourselves with all manner of tasks within the walls of the vineyard, all the while making ourselves feel very useful. But if we are doing anything and everything other than tending to the vines, and working toward that harvest, then we are sorely mistaken. He has laid out our role within the vineyard and we will be under a great deal of conviction and we will have many things to answer for when the Master comes expecting His harvest.

Now, for me, I know what it is to be hurt by people who are supposed to be workers in the vineyard. I know what it is to be hurt by leaders and laypeople. I’m sure we all know what it means to have people insult us, let us down or to abuse us. And these are people who are supposed to be fellow workers within the vineyard. So we are tempted, when we look at this parable and see where others have mistaken the messages of God plainly sent to them to point the sword-point of the parable toward their heart and deflect it from our own. We may remember instances where someone else did us wrong, and we feel a degree of satisfaction knowing that they will be called to the carpet for their wrongs. But this is not the parable of the unmerciful servant. This is not a parable where Jesus is calling us to look at others and to feel better about their impending judgment. If we are all workers in God’s vineyard, then this message is for us.

If we read parables or passages of Scripture and we remember how someone else needs to hear this passage, because we really want them to experience some kind of conviction, to get what’s coming to them, or to see God’s justice come down on them, then we are no better than Jonah, sitting on our hilltop and just gleefully waiting for their Nineveh to burn. If that is how we read these parables and wrongly interpret that point toward conviction, then we are not really reading the parables. These are for us, the conviction belong to us, and is not to be pointed toward anyone else. Yes, we can identify bad workmanship in the efforts of others. Yes, as Christians it is our responsibility to talk with our brothers & sisters who wrong us & then to forgive them (Mt 18) and to seek help in bringing them to correction (James 4&5) but it is also our duty to listen to the words of the Master and see what He is trying to bring about in us.

Christian, we are all workers in the Master’s vineyard. The Kingdom belongs to Him and Him alone. He will return one day, and He will expect a harvest, the work of multiplication and the growth and fruit of the vineyard.

Sometimes we think the vineyard is ours. We want to live and operate within it as if we are the ones writing the rules. So we set up our own little kingdoms within the greater vineyard and we expect things to always go in our way, in our timing, and within our expectations…and when they don’t? We kill the messenger…or at least the message.

Why do we think the vineyard is ours? what happens in our hearts and in our minds that we suddenly think ourselves to be owners rather than workers? Why do we respond with arrogance and selfish ‘ownership’ rather than with humble obedience?

This parable is for us. The Master is returning & He expects a harvest. We can either work and produce one, giving Him His due and living in obedience, or we can reject the message and face His wrath when He comes. For the Jews listening to Jesus’ parable, their time working the vineyard on their own was very quickly drawing to a close. They didn’t like what Jesus was telling them, and no one likes to hear that they’ve been doing it wrong. That is why they cried out, “Surely not!” when Jesus told them there would be new workers coming (the gentile peoples.)

Sometimes we work for a while, doing what we want instead of doing what we should. That is the message of this parable. No matter what tasks we set our hands to, the Master has an outcome in mind for us. There is a harvest expected from our handiwork, and if conviction is going to spring from this message, then we have to take it personally and listen for the correction that comes from love.

He has mercy and grace for us.

The Master gave these workers multiple chances to listen and to do what was right, but He didn’t change the guidelines or His expectations in the process. The same goes for us. God speaks correction and expectation into our lives and into our work, and we can either accept it or reject it, the choice s ours. But either way, the Master is going to come calling and seeking His harvest. We can either share in the celebration of the harvest (yes, please) or be crushed by His coming. Let’s pray the we are receptive, each one personally, to the message He sends, be mindful of our role & put our hands and hearts to work for Him. Let’s work toward multiplication and the harvest in the rhythms of His grace & giving God the glory.

In Step. In Unity. In Boldness.

Father of lights, Lord of Creation, Author of my life, Sovereign over me,
Please grant us the strength today to stand in service of You. Purify us from all the filth that clings to this sin-drenched, mortal life. By the blood of Jesus, poured out over us, cleanse us from human brokenness & chart a pathway through the wilderness of our hearts that they might become springs of life by the power of Your Holy Spirit at work in us. Remember our sins no more, as You have promised, and grant us confidence in Christ, united together, to step boldly into the day You have created and lay at our feet. We pray this in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.

Hebrews 10:11-25
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Paul reminds Timothy (2 Timothy 1:7) that God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but a spirit of power through Jesus Christ. There is boldness that should inherently come from being made pure by the blood of Christ, and by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. There is a confidence (not an arrogance) that should come from knowing whose we are and what it is that we are up against. There is  a strength of character that comes from walking with Jesus, as He works His will in us day after day after day that should exhibit that handiwork and the Master Craftsman behind it.

If Jesus grants us the confidence to enter the holy places by His blood, how much more so those places where He already holds victory over the enemy? Why should we cower in fear? Why should we worry? If we have been washed with pure water, why would we not walk in that newness of life, throwing off the faithlessness that used to bind us, but that binds us no more?

This is one of the reasons why the author of Hebrews is encouraging us to continue gathering together. This is just one reason why it is good that we look other Christians in the eye, shake their hands and give them hugs. We need to be in the presence of other people who have seen victory at work in their own lives. We need to see people whose faces have been lifted up to heaven, whose eyes have looked upon the cross and we need to stand in boldness with them as we unite in Christ, our Great High Priest, and stand in bold assurance against the schemes of the enemy.

Standing alone is wrong & dangerous. God did not design us or example to us this stand-alone mentality. Instead, we are gathered together with our people to receive this encouragement: God has the victory. He is in charge. He loves us dearly. He has paid the price. He will bring change about in us. He will see change happen in the lives of others through the work He is doing in us today. We are meant to be together, walking in the rhythms of grace together. Praise God for that.

Father of lights, Lord of Creation, Author of my life, Sovereign over me,
Please grant us the strength today to stand in service of You. Purify us from all the filth that clings to this sin-drenched, mortal life. By the blood of Jesus, poured out over us, cleanse us from human brokenness & chart a pathway through the wilderness of our hearts that they might become springs of life by the power of Your Holy Spirit at work in us. Remember our sins no more, as You have promised, and grant us confidence in Christ, united together, to step boldly into the day You have created and lay at our feet. We pray this in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.

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