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Beyond the Shadows of Life

Lord, do not let us accept what is temporary in place of what is eternal. Do not let us look in the dim mirror and prefer what we see over what is true. Father, unfold our hearts within this life to long for what is yet to come so strongly that all we see here is what You are pointing to eternally. Let us shake off then, what is temporary and pursue what lasts. Amen.

This morning we continue our meditation on our Great High Priest, Jesus. We have seen His heart as we read through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd parts of His High Priestly Prayer in John 17. And so we return to this place in Hebrews where we get to sit & listen & be reminded of who it is that serves as our mediator. This is mystery to me, wrapped up in grace beyond measuring, that God would be the go-between for us and Himself in this way. We are certainly unworthy, we can see and feel that every day. It’s not hard to see the evidence there. But His grace catches us off guard and reaches down deep within us and offers up this wonderful, expectation-shattering truth. Read through this reality slowly, listening to God’s love song over you. Listen to the words of the prophet Zephaniah and then listen to the author of Hebrews explain how God brought that to pass. Rest and be reassured in the rhythms of grace in the song of God over you.

Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is in your midst,

    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Hebrews 8:1-13
“1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,
a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.

Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

Lord, do not let us accept what is temporary in place of what is eternal. Do not let us look in the dim mirror and prefer what we see over what is true. Father, unfold our hearts within this life to long for what is yet to come so strongly that all we see here is what You are pointing to eternally. Let us shake off then, what is temporary and pursue what lasts. Amen.

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Foolish Hearts

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Psalm 14

1The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread
    and do not call upon the Lord?

There they are in great terror,
    for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is his refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

 

There aren’t a lot of praises coming from 2016 in Western Culture this year. Most people in the media and online have made it clear that they are glad that the books on 2016 are closed and that there’s a new year laid out before us. There always seemed to be news of celebrity deaths, we endured one of the most excruciating political seasons in in recent memory and if there was ever a year to complain about something, be offended by something or to get upset over seemingly trivial things, 2016 was the year.

As Christians, we have long since learned to look to God for what is good in this life. It isn’t prepared for us by our culture, it isn’t fostered by the mass media and it certainly isn’t perpetuated by trends on social media. The world cries out, lost in its godlessness, and is repeatedly upset and devastated when things don’t go in a way that perpetuate the image for life that they have built for themselves. It is an adolescent mindset, an entitled worldview that constantly screams for everything to go the way they want.

This world is broken, and in our obvious need for a Savior, those whose hearts are set alongside the agenda of sin and worldliness continue to cry out that there cannot be a savior. They want so desperately to be their own. But what hubris! What a mass of pride wells up from within this mindset, from within these hearts! You would think that the evidence would be plain in front of them, but sin-stained hearts create blind eyes, deaf ears and hard hearts.

They openly mock the ones who find hope in the wasteland, who claim a joy they cannot obtain. They shame us, revile us and try their best to silence us, but the Good News of Jesus Christ cannot be silenced. Behold! There is a voice that cries out in the wilderness: “Make a straight path for the LORD! ”

Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Where Herod silenced John the Baptist, the world tries to silence us. John called out Herod’s sin, and as bearers of the Truth of Jesus Christ, we call out sin still today. And the world will not have it, through anger and violence and loud rhetoric, pounded relentlessly in our faces, we are told to be silent, to be still, to keep our beliefs to ourselves. And we feel like Jeremiah the Prophet, persecuted by those within our own culture, workplaces, families and schools. We are denounced, rejected and ridiculed. The truth is not welcome.

Jeremiah 20:1-13
O Lord, you have deceived me,

    and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
    and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
    everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
    I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
    a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
    shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.
10 For I hear many whispering.
    Terror is on every side!
“Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
    say all my close friends,
    watching for my fall.
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
    then we can overcome him
    and take our revenge on him.”
11 But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
    therefore my persecutors will stumble;
    they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
    for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
    will never be forgotten.
12 O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous,
    who sees the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
    for to you have I committed my cause.

13 Sing to the Lord;
    praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
    from the hand of evildoers.

But even when things seem bleak, when we feel like we aren’t allowed to have a voice, we must remember that God is with us. Jesus promised us this before He ascended into heaven (Matthew 28,) we are never alone. Even as Elijah had to hide in the wilderness and was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17), God will sustain His church, He will provide and be a refuge for those who bear His Name and who stand boldly for the truth.

Be resolved to be bold. It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.(Psalm 118:8) The Lord is with you.

Lord, help us believe, that we might see You come.
Let our souls rise up to meet You, as the day rises to meet the sun.Give us the boldness of John, the endurance of Jeremiah and the faith of Elijah.
May we honor You above our own need for comfort, may we never be content in siding with the world’s agenda. Let us instead be your ambassadors of grace through Jesus Christ our Lord, standing firm in Your truth. Amen.

Acts 7:51-60 // Jesus and the story of redemption (pt 6)

“51 You stiff- necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53 You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”

54 When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, 56 “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

57 Then they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. 58 They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They were stoning Stephen as he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin!” And saying this, he fell asleep.”

Acts 7:51-60

This is the end of Stephen’s sermon, but not the end of his witness. A Christian life, well lived, leaves a legacy in the faith…and Stephen did just that. His boldness was not for his own glory, but sparked by the Holy Spirit in Him for the glory of God. His passion for the truth of the Gospel drove him to speak truths that were difficult for people to hear. He obviously didn’t sugar-coat anything, but laid out the raw facts of what had happened between the people and God over the years and their treatment of His one and only annointed, Jesus Christ. 

Their reaction to his message mirrors exactly what he claimed of their fathers & ancestors. Nobody likes being called ‘betrayers & murderers’ but Stephen was speaking firmly and directly to a group of very hard hearts. Soft pedaling around with pretty words and overly kind analogies wouldn’t have made any headway either. This type of direct speech was necessary, even if it was unlikely to garner any results. But there was at least one heart present that would be changed by Christ. Saul’s presence at the martyrdom of Stephen must have replayed in his heart and mind later in life as the Apostle Paul. All the murderous threats, all the beatings and imprisonments that he committed, supposedly in the Name and will of God, culmintaed in acts like this. 

As we GoLove people for the sake of Christ, we must know and realize that we will definitely encounter hearts like hard-pack soil. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still try to scatter some seed. It’s not easy work to share with resistant hearts, but we are better off taking the time to share the truth at least once with people while we have the opportunity to do so. We have the knowledge, and the faith, and so we also harbor the responsibility and have accountability to God Himself to do so. No Christian is exempt from evangelism. No Christian is given a free-pass out of sharing the truth of the Gospel message, and we cannot pretend that silence is a viable option. in 1 Peter, we are reminded that suffering for the sake of the Gospel is to be counted as an honor. Paul & Silas sang hymns as they were jailed for their faith. Peter and John rejoiced after being flogged because they had been counted worthy of suffering for the Name. 

Stephen’s example is a reminder to us that we are not to hold our lives so dear as to ignore the calling put on them. We are Christians first and foremost. We do not seek comfort, but the salvation of souls. Time is of the essence, opportunites should not be allowed to slip by. As we GoLove, we find that that love does things, it moves and speaks through us & we must absolutely own it as a first priority. A passionless Christian is probably just someone wearing a mask crying, “Lord, Lord.” It’s not a fun thing to say, but the salvation working in us changes us, and someone who claims Christ, but remains unchanged has likely developed a loose allegiance to an idea, desiring a savior, but not submitting to His Lordship. 

Stephen submitted to the uttermost. He wasn’t extraordinary, just first in a long line of devoted hearts. If our discipleship doesn’t bring us to uncomfortable places and times, then we need to seriously reevaluate what we say we believe and come humbly to Christ, ready to submit our whole selves to Him. 

  

The Simple Life in Christ // 2 Corinthians 1

“For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”
2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
Supposedly spoken by Mark Twain, this simple statement rings very true. If we live simply, if our conscience truly is clear, if we behave with godly sincerity and in His grace, our lives will become far less complicated and much easier to navigate. I don’t say completely simple or easy to navigate, because life is still complicated and difficult from time to time. But, when we live simply, when our hearts and eyes are less cluttered, and focused on God rather than worldly distractions, we find that living in that simplicity brings many benefits and it is a testimony all by itself.

To attempt to live in two worlds at once, chasing after Christ while still in pursuit of the world, we will always find ourselves torn and waivering. But as we live solely for Christ, our hearts and minds minutely focused on Him, our vision will become much more clear and our purpose much more striking.

We live in utter contrast to the world. Our lives in Christ were never meant to be so complicated that we couldn’t tell which end is up, or which direction to go anymore. Yes, there are still decisions to be made and options to be investigated, but our lives in Christ can be very simple if we will allow them to be.

Simple in that our allegiance is not divided.
Simple in that our hearts have been claimed by One.
Simple in that our souls have a new, singular Master.
Simple in that our battles are being fought by One greater than our own strength.
Simple in that our minds are being renewed and the clutter of sin is being removed.
Simple in that our end is already mapped out.
Simple in that we are new capable of real sincerity.
Simple in that we are operating under His wisdom, and not a chorus of warring influences.

Simplicity comes more and more as we meditate on Him and His Word, as we speak and listen in times of prayer. Simplicity comes as our reliance rests on Him, not self, and simplicity comes when we die to self and let Christ reign over us.

Again, we will still have our struggle with sin, the flesh and this world.
But simplicity comes from listening to the clarion call of our Lord & Master over all the clamor and chaos. In the midst of the storm of life, our spiritual ears hear the voice of our shepherd, calling us to safety in His fold. His trumpet call piercing through the thrumming, thrashing cacophony, calling us to find our rest in Him.

This is simplicity, not that we are somehow removed from the world and are not affected by it any more, but that we can, in Christ, silence our hearts, listen in anticipation for our Shepherd’s voice and follow His call. Shutting out the noise, we seek His face in submission and humility. He has evidenced His great love for us in this, while we still struggle with sin, He died for us, paving the way for grace. In this grace, we find our hope, it cannot be found otherwise. In His resurrection, we find the joy that propels us forward in the promise of new life. And so motivated, we GoLove as we have been loved. Witnesses to a world stumbling around in the dark, surrounded by pitfalls and deceptions, we can act as guides to the simple light of truth in Christ.

GoLove as you have been loved. Do it simply and consistently.

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