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Letting grace move us

Father God, Lord of life, You provide us in every way & for every need. You keep us running, direct our hearts & sustain our souls, body & mind. You bring us life & a hope we can call on every single day. We come seeking You out in all these ways & more every day, because outside of You, we have nothing. On our own we have no hope, no strength, no provision, only empty promises we make to ourselves, but have no power to see through to the end. Forgive us our failings & pride, guiding us to completion in Jesus Christ instead. Empower us through Your Holy Spirit to walk with You today. We need to desperately & deeply. You are our rock & refuge. Restore us & bring glory to Yourself. We bless Your holy Name. Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do you feel called by God? Can you sense His will at work in your life? Have you ever felt sent by Him to do a particular work? Do you know what that connection feels like & what it is He compels you to accomplish?

Here’s what we find to help us answer those questions. Paul begins by acknowledging these callings in his own life. God has made them abundantly clear. He says that he is called to do these things & that the church in Corinth is called to be a gathering of saints that call upon the Name of Jesus Christ. He acknowledges the call of an individual & the call of the gathering of believers collectively. There are things that we must do on our own & there are activities that we participate in together. That’s not revolutionary or difficult to comprehend, but there are temptations to neglect one of them or both, from time to time.

We often make excuses & tell ourselves it’s okay that we aren’t doing something that God has called us to as an individual, or that it’s not a big deal that we aren’t serving corporately with the rest of the body. But when we look at the second part of the passage today, we find out just what we are missing when we stand apart from this work of God in us.

Paul begins talking about grace & peace that comes to us through Christ. He acknowledges that this same grace is a gift from Christ and how He enriches us in every way through that grace. He blesses our strength. He blesses our knowledge. He blesses our speech & fills us so we do not lack in any gift. This all comes from walking in His will & in being obedient to the call of grace on our lives.

Grace doesn’t call us to simply rest in Him, which it does provide. Grace doesn’t call us to simply know about itself, which is part of how peace works its way in us. Grace calls us to an active participation in the Gospel work in us, it leads us into a new way of living, a movement in the rhythms it provides us, and in those rhythms, we find a new cadence for our lives that brings fulfillment, hope, peace & joy that we can in turn share with others. None of this is passive. None of this is meant to belong only to us. We live this & share in this together. This is what grace does. We are called, provided for & encouraged by grace into a deeper love, a full life & a living hope.

Because of this grace, we can also stand guiltless before God, and that is the greatest gift of all. This is what Jesus has provided for us through His life, death, burial & resurrection. Grace makes the calling & the life of dedicated obedience possible & it brings us to God’s unending well of joy, peace & fulfillment. It’s a wonderful place to be & a deep joy to walk out day by day. Christ is revealed in us through it all. Let Him reveal Himself in your life today. Seek His leading. Walk in His rhythms.

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Thank God.

LORD of reconciliation, Master of mercy, Author of true joy, there is no greater hope to be found than the hope You have provided through Jesus Christ. You alone have the words of life, there is nowhere else to turn. Peace flows from the veins of Christ across all of us who were once at war with You, & You have drawn us near, glorifying Yourself. This is not our effort, but Yours, not our battle, but Yours, not our righteousness, but Yours & You alone are praised for the defeat of sin & death & victory over the grave rests with You. Open our eyes, revive our hearts & continue to draw glory to Yourself as we spread the Gospel around the world. We pray this through Christ our Lord, amen.

Luke 24:36-53
36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

I am real
You wouldn’t think you would ever read through the Scriptures & come out thankful that Jesus ate fish. It’s such a simple action, a basic thing to do. Look at His life with His disciples, how many times do you think Jesus ate fish? Grilled fish, baked fish, boiled fish, broiled fish, stewed fish, smoked fish & I’m sure the possibilities continue. But Jesus takes this common basic thing, this simple sign of something comfortable to reassure His disciples that He is indeed really there with them, present & constant. He’s no spirit, no ghost, no hallucination & He proves it by eating something they themselves prepared. I would have done some small miracle before them, shown myself through a divine sign, proving myself in that way. But He chooses something they can do & duplicate & I think that says an awful lot more.

He wanted them to know without a shadow of a doubt that He was indeed alive, present & moving forward into the next phase of life & covenant with them. A risen Savior is a real Savior, & this crew of confused & disheartened disciples needed something they could sink their teeth into, like a piece of fish. Jesus provided that for them that wonderful morning.

Forgiveness is real
Not only did Jesus want them to see & understand that He was & is real, He wanted them to remember the context of everything that had just happened & that not one moment of it all was coincidence or accident. He reminded them of the Scriptures they were raised with, a comfortable & familiar remembrance. He reminded them about Moses & the prophets & everything the Father had promised & been promising over the preceding millennia. This was the plan the whole time.

And why? This didn’t happen for nothing, right? This wasn’t something that was done simply for the sake of saying it would be accomplished. This is the promise of God to glorify Himself by the redemption of creation & humanity to Himself. This was all about God offering forgiveness to rebels like them & us & bringing peace & righteousness back into creation. This was the first step in seeing holiness win out over sin & evil. The foot of the Savior was bitten by that serpent, but his head was now thoroughly crushed. This has been the plan since the garden had to be cleared out  & Adam & Eve first perceived their own nakedness & brokenness entered the world. This was all about God’s glory & how He would provide forgiveness to all who would come to Him.

You are witnesses
And Jesus didn’t leave them out, either. In this moment where disbelief & joy slam into each other, Jesus reminded them that they had a part to play in this whole wonderful affair. This wasn’t just something done for them, but to them & would now happen through them. They are -the- witnesses to this universe altering news. They are the ones who would take this first-hand account of holy truth into the world. They are the ones with these words written on their hearts because they lived it, every single moment of it. Where they were feeling hopeless just hours before, & confused just moments ago, Jesus was letting them know from the onset that they had what everyone else needed. They have a purpose to fulfill. They are the bearers of the Gospel of love, peace, mercy, grace & forgiveness, & if this world is going to learn how to walk in the rhythms of grace with God, the it’s going to happen through them sharing all of this good news.

Joy is real
The world needs to know that joy is real. There is so much trouble, so many hurts, so many reasons to mourn & feel trapped in the brokenness & God doesn’t desire for another moment to pass from this one where people don’t know about the beacon of joy that will draw them back into wholeness with Him. Jesus knew that people outside of that room would struggle, & so He was sending out people who had struggled. Jesus knew that people outside that room would doubt, & so He sent out people who wrestled with doubt. He knew that people outside that room would deal with loss, sorrow & pain & so He sent out these people who had those feelings fresh on their hearts.

He knew the world needed joy, so He sent these out who were first to experience it. This fresh message, this amazing truth was needed more deeply than anyone could imagine & this firestorm of joy would burn without ceasing for the millennia to come. The disciples carried it, you & I who are in Christ carry it & the world still desperately needs to know about it. There is work to be done, joy to be spread. The Savior is real. Forgiveness is real. We are the witness to true & lasting joy. Let the whole world hear our praises!

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.

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.

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.

 

The Sacrificial Lamb hosts a dinner

Gracious Father, Sweet Holy Spirit, Precious Jesus, this moment of remembrance catches me in my heart every single time. It is difficult thinking about those who betray you, let alone sharing a meal with them where you pour out your heart for them. You looked them in the eye and You saw their brokenness. You knew what they would do, and so soon. What an awesome example You have set for us. What an amazing grace & love You’ve shown. Please bless us with this grace, may we do the same & may You be glorified in it. In Jesus’ holy Name, amen.

Luke 22:7-22
“7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.”

If we needed an image for shocking compassion, this is certainly it. To say that the act of remembering is beneficial is a gross understatement. When I try to think through, in detail, the events of this evening, picturing myself as a silent observer, I am shamed along with the apostles & wonder if I have let my Lord down. It is easy to stand up like Peter and say that we would draw our sword & die for Him, but it proves to be much more difficult in practice. Jesus knew all that would happen with these men whom He called friends, and yet the Sacrificial Lamb hosts a dinner for them.

He gives them ownership, a part in the proceedings, and tells them to “…prepare so we may eat.” They have a task, a mission, to perform for the One they love. Their Master has asked them to do something they are capable of doing, something familiar, something they grew up experiencing, a meal they could recite by heart.

When He gives them this task, though, the elements are already present. The place is already secured. They are to do the work of preparing the meal, a hands on experience, remembering what each part means, remembering the story of Moses, the people enslaved & the bitterness of their lives. They folded napkins, prepared the bitter herbs, laid out the matzoh & lamb shank. Each part a reminder of something written deeply on their hearts, something that resonated even more deeply into their present condition & lives. The thing they wanted to see so much from the Messiah they followed: freedom & restoration.

In faith we find it so, even today. Jesus has prepared the dinner, He Himself the Sacrificial Lamb. He has tasted the bitterness, was moved in haste, broken & hidden away like the afikomen. As He moved through the dinner with those who would desert & betray Him, I have to wonder if their hearts were awakened to something new happening before their eyes. I have to hope that they saw something different this time. I wonder if the Time was bearing down on them like it was on Jesus, if there was a sense of urgency & expectancy like on that night in Egypt thousands of years before. I wonder if the air was electric that night, if pauses were pregnant with meaning & if Jesus allowed them to feel the weight of that gathering.

He brought them to His rest before suffering. He invited them in between the warp & the woof of the tapestry of time & showed them connections prophesied and planned. They were integrated forever into this holy plan, this divine coming together of God & man. This reclining would be His last rest before He suffered for them & for us. He invited them into this moment that the rest of us would have probably spent alone, withdrawn. He gave of Himself, served them, a meal with broken people before He would be broken for them.

The New Promise given by the New Sacrifice. Given so we may live. It is right & good to pause & remember this, watch & listen. You are invited into the rhythms of His grace, a seat at the table where Master serves the servant. Acceptance is found, repentance brought to mind & love is deepened at the table of Christ. Pause. Be present there & remember. He has invited you.

No Surprise

Father of Peace, Lord over creation, Sovereign God –
Thank You for Your Word. It’s a blessing to rest in Your promises & Your revelations bring us strength. You give our hearts a place to rest & our souls confidence through darkest days. It is easy to see why people live in distress over what is left to come. It’s not hard to understand how they get wrapped up in concerns & fears regarding the destruction of civilization & the end of all things. But You have given us confidence beyond these moments, a hope that presses beyond the temporary hardships of life, no mater how severe. Thank You for Jesus, who reveled these things, and for Your Holy Spirit, who sustains us even today. You bless us & keep us in Your presence, no matter what storm rages. I thank You & bless Your Holy Name today. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 21
20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Have you ever walked in on a situation already in progress? People are distressed. Something bad has happened, but you weren’t there to witness it & so you have a moment to assess & an opportunity to be a calming voice. Last year, Beth & I were in Florida while I was speaking at a school & we ran out to do a few things before meeting some friends for dinner. On our way back to our condo, we came across a woman lying in the street, bleeding out from her head. She was on her bicycle & had been struck by a car that was pulling out of a gas station parking lot. She wasn’t wearing a helmet, & she was almost unresponsive. I used the rental car to block that lane of traffic & my wife went out to assess & protect the scene while I called 911. We didn’t witness the accident, we were just far enough back on the road to have missed it just before coming up to it. We lacked the shock value of being direct witnesses, but we were still compelled to be compassionate & do whatever was needed to make sure this woman was taken care of, that the driver was consoled & to answer whatever questions the police & first responders may have had for us.

I have spent countless hours over the course of my ministry in hospitals & have seen almost anything & everything you can think might be found in a trauma setting. My wife grew up with a dad who is a doctor, a family full of medical professionals & has received multiple hours of training herself in the course of her college education that focused on the workings of the human body. We had knowledge & experience & were prepared to help handle the situation, knowing how to assess, how to help & even what not to do, because others were more qualified & had the equipment to do what needed to be done for this wounded individual.

Jesus gives us these glimpses of the future for a very similar reason. John is given his revelations to pass along to the church for the same purpose. God wants us to be prepared. He wants us to know what will happen, even if we aren’t to know then when or how of the situations that will arise. He has given us what we need to assess the times, He has provided us with insight to secure & help those who are wounded. He has also provided us with wisdom, through His Holy Spirit & the Word, to know what is ours to be done & what must be accomplished by others. However you slice it, we have work to do in the days & years leading up to these events. We can be a stable help for others more than we need to look out for ourselves.

We see that Jesus also spoke to those who were right there with Him about the destruction of Jerusalem that would occur in 70AD at the hands of the Romans. He speaks to us today about what is still yet to come. Our world, & all the nations in it, experience these times of roaring waves, of distress & tragedy. These events are terrible, but we are not ill equipped to handle them, nor should we be distressed to the point of only seeking to help ourselves rather than lending a hand for others. Jesus told us all these things so that we might point others toward YHWH Ma’on, God our Refuge. He did not share these things so we would feel distress, but to build up hope & trust within us. It should be no surprise that the world will end one day & that God will place His judgment upon everyone, separating sheep from goats, the faithful from the faithless. Even secular people in the Western world know about this day, even if they don’t believe in it personally.

And so as one day progresses to the next, we go about our work for the glory of God & the growth of the kingdom. We walk in the rhythms of grace, secure & unshaken by what goes on around us. We have hope in the One who secures our future & in Whom we find our peace. As the world takes steps in pain due to sin, it is our task to assess, to help & to speak healing to them in the Name of Jesus Christ so they might be prepared for that day, too.

If you need help talking to someone about their future & their relationship with Christ, let these boys be an example for you. The 3 Circles Method

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.

The Lord & The Pretenders

Father, we see in Your Word how humbled people become the moment they see Your glory or have a personal encounter with You. Moses stands on Holy Ground just to hear Your voice. The Israelites later say that they will not be able to live through listening to You speak. Prophets cower, apostles shy away &the psalmist says that You make Lebanon skip (the actual ground skips!) when You speak. Father, may we be clothed in humility when we come to You, when we speak with You. A blast from Your nostrils shatters the mightiest trees, & stars are born when You say the word. But You also grace us with Your presence in Your Word, & through the whispers of Your Holy Spirit within us. We praise You & Your mighty works, we remain humbled before You, as is right. Speak now, for Your servants are listening. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 20:41-47
41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Jesus had so many questions asked of Him throughout His ministry, but when He was confronted by the Sadducees, Pharisees & Scribes there were often questions of authority batted around. This time, Jesus is the One asking the question, seeking a deeper answer & understanding for those present. He has a point to make about Himself & human authority. Any religious expert worth their salt should have been able to answer a question about David & the Messiah. That should be a softball question. But here, Jesus again takes them somewhere they weren’t expecting to go. They know who David is, they know who the Messiah is, in theory, but Jesus sees & knows that they lack understanding about authority & the deity of the Messiah.

When God asks questions of us, He does so to open our eyes beyond the worldview that we have set up for ourselves.When He speaks, revealing Himself, He does so to bring understanding & wisdom into the picture & into our hearts. He asks questions that lead us to His wisdom & will. He opens doors for us so we might leave behind what we thought we knew & grab a hold of His truth. Jesus does the same right here with this crowd.

Jesus references a commonly know psalm & prophecy for the Messiah, one that reminds them of His lineage from David, but also poses a question in regards to position & timing. It would not seem right that a father should call his son “Lord” or that a son would have authority over his father. We do see this happen with Joseph as he ruled in Egypt, & was in authority over his father, Jacob. But this was not the normal way of things. This passage about the Messiah probably perplexed them a little because they couldn’t break from their regular understanding & so Jesus seeks to open their eyes to real authority & His own identity in that regard.

Human authority is always temporary. Sin sees to this for us. At the best, we live a long life & then we go the way of our ancestors, but our authority does not go with us. Human authority is always temporary & it is always transferred/conferred to another person, either on purpose, at our death or by force. Position is fleeting, power cannot be maintained. We are limited because of the truth of death as a result of the Fall in the garden. But this psalm, & Jesus Himself, speak of the Messiah whom King David calls “Lord” & who is also supposed to be his descendant. This isn’t because of a twisted family tree, this is because the Messiah, who is David’s heir, also has another quality that exceeds David’s humanity. Jesus is revealing to them that the Messiah will be (and is) both fully God & fully man. It’s not one or the other. The Messiah is both David’s heir, born of flesh from his lineage, & also fully divine. Not part of each. There is never 50% of God, or 75% of God. God is whole. He is one God with three Persons, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. So the Messiah is a mystery in that regard (among others,) & He breaks open our understanding of authority.

The people needed to hear this. The Sadducees, like the Pharisees & Scribes, profited from buffering the people from God. They set up their own hierarchy, maintaining an air of distinction between themselves & ‘regular’ people who could never know God or the Scriptures like they did (sarcasm intended.) And so Jesus straight up calls them out for dressing for the part they scripted. Big hats, flowing robes, lofty (but false) human grandeur on display simply to elevate themselves above the rest. He points out how they abuse their power & take advantage of people because of it all the while having a fresh reminder of the Messiah who was sent to rescue God’s children. He exposes the deceit of the religious elite while exposing the divinity of the Messiah. And so He gives a warning, look to the Messiah, He is more than you expect. Look at the scribes & their lot, they are less than they appear.

Real authority isn’t a badge worn or a degree held. True authority comes from God, & it remains with God, & the Messiah was entrenched in every understanding of the word. You & I will encounter people every day who hold temporary authority, & Scripture reminds us as Christians to honor that position, even if the person is hard to respect. David’s son King Solomon said this:

Proverbs 21
1
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;

    he turns it wherever he will.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
    the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
    but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
    is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is just.
The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright.

As we walk daily under the authority of God, & with Jesus in the rhythms of His grace, we must trust the authority that God has over us all, even while we still show respect for those who hold temporary authority over us. His Holy Spirit speaks to us & within us as Christians, & His authority is right there ready to guide us if we will be still & listen.When we stand before the King of kings, we should do so with reverence & awe & with a fair bit more listening than talking.

People will always let us down & human authority has a tendency to be poorly wielded. But God’s authority is perfect, & He will always point us toward His glory rather than the shallow things we tend to reach for in life. Come now, let us bow down & bend the knee before the Lord our Maker.

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.

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