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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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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.

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.

Warning & Encouragement

Father, there are days when it seems as though the end is right around the corner. There are days when we see that things could still be much worse than they seem. Your grace & patience with us exceeds my understanding & at the same time I know there are people who have not yet heard the Gospel & so You extend Your grace for them. A broken world produces broken people & broken situations. We long for everything to be made right & so we wait in Your timing, mercy & grace. Please give us strength & conviction to do Your will in the days that are left. You have given us words of warning, hope & purpose in Your Word. Help us live in them. In Jesus’ Name I pray, amen.

Luke 21
10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Political news cycles feed our insecurities. Reporters, announcers & personalities drive division deep into our hearts & they make bitter enemies out of us all. We are markets & demographics to be played, one against the other & it is done for a profit. Rallies are held, positions are laid out & civil conversation between opposing viewpoints becomes impossible. There is an expectation for aggression & so many are all too happy to fulfill that expectation. Jesus warned of wars & rumors of wars. This is the consequence of living in a world broken by sin. Dividing lines become boundary markers & eventually markers of delineation & peaceful discourse is traded for angry glances & presupposed opinions.  Not all wars involve physical front lines. The deeper ones, the spiritual kind,  just require hate & distrust, a line in the sand.

Jesus warned of natural disasters & signs from heaven. Famine, loss, pain & hopelessness. People will hurt, suffer & know deprivation from life giving food & water. But lack isn’t a sign of the end’s arrival, just of its coming. We don’t like to see suffering, & sometimes ignorance keeps it at arm’s length for a while. We don’t like to see suffering, but sometimes anger with a system helps to remove compassion’s responsibility for action from us for a moment. We still have to bear witness in these moments & hard times. We speak up & we act.

Jesus told us we wouldn’t know what to say in these moments & that we wouldn’t need to worry about what to say. He promised to give us a mouth & wisdom that speaks undeniable truth. He told us that these moments of division, fear & hardship would be our opportunity to bear witness for Him & the Gospel. We do not compromise the truth, but we also communicate the truth in love, with gentleness & respect. We do not play the world’s games. Are there moments for righteous indignation? Yes, but we are not perfect in it like Jesus, and we must be on guard in those moments not to lapse into sin.

So, then, listen. We who follow Christ are not like those who get swept up into the fray with political pundits & cultural furor. We avoid foolish arguments & emotional pleas meant to divide. We don’t get sucked into Fox News & MSNBC’s net of arguments & carried away in the torrents of fear & suspicion of one another. Jesus said this was our moment to bear witness, not step in conformity with secular mindsets. We take every thought captive & we live in awareness of the times. We look for signs & we interpret the hour of mankind, but we do not get carried along in the waves of hopelessness that makes deeper enemies of us all. We identify the real enemy that thrives on division & distrust & we live aware of his methods & plots. We stand firm. We bear witness & we show this world a better way. Jesus said we would see these days, but that it was our opportunity to bear witness, not get swept away by them.

We will be delivered up to authorities & family members alike because we walk with Jesus. In following His lead, we will see persecution, but we do not operate as this world does. We bear witness to it without becoming like it. We see & observe, but we do not stoop down to their tactics. We have a cross to bear as witnesses for Christ. We have an expectation & a model to live out as we show this world God’s plan for peace. We will be mocked. We will be hated. We will be fought against. Jesus promised us as much. But we live differently, we walk & talk differently & we have different objectives. We long to see people saved & brought into the family of God, no matter who they are. Secular divisions drive us apart, but in Christ we seek out anyone & everyone & we love our enemies. We pray for those who persecute us. We bear witness to the world & we don’t play according to their rules. We bear up with the endurance Christ offers & the strength given through the Holy Spirit. We are wise as serpents & innocent as doves. We are different. We bring hope.

Season your speech today & let the Lord have His way in your heart, uncovering motives & removing worldly impulses, tearing down walls that keep you from first expressing love. There will be wars & rumors of wars. People will continue to divide, playing politics & games that draw out differences. But we bear witness to the truth, to mercy & peace as we walk daily with Jesus in the rhythms of His grace, we endure to the end.
He is our hope & nothing else will do.

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…

A Perspective of Fire

Father, let us never forget Your presence & the wrath we have been rescued from through Jesus. Let us remember the consequence of hell that we once deserved, and the weight of our sin that He bore on the cross. May we walk in repentance, and also walk in joy, liberated from death and from ourselves. Your grace is greater than all our sin, Your love is deeper than the pit we were rescued from. May we praise Your Name forever, remembering Your holiness, mercy & grace with deep appreciation, thanksgiving & celebration! You are our joy! Amen!

Hebrews 12:12-29
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

God has given us so many visuals over the course of human history to help us understand and cope with the concept of Him & His holiness. He has taken every effort to help us hear, see & understand His nature, His righteousness, His wrath & His justice. And the wonder of it all is that He didn’t just tell us made up stories, but that He actually has done these things, in close proximity to humankind so that we can see and feel and hear and experience Him & His presence.

Hopefully, we have all had opportunities to be in places and experience times where we know we have been in the presence of God. And while there may not have been a burning mountain top to commemorate the experience, His whisper & still small voice of direction & discernment can be just as revalatory, just as powerful as His large displays of power & majesty.

It is very important that we do not forget those moments where He has spoken to us, that they do not become pieces of history, stories to recall in conversations alone. But we need to live in that remembrance. That is why God’s children have repeated these accounts daily & weekly for millennia, to keep them fresh upon our hearts. God gives us these moments, locked in present memory so we never forget the burning mountain top where the Law was given and so we do not forget the bloodied mountain top where grace was poured out on the cross.

Through these remembrances, we find ourselves inexorably intertwined with the tapestry of His story, woven into a living memory of Him. We see Mt Sinai & we see Mt Zion and we remember them in our own hearts, as if we were there. This is our heritage. This is our faith. We live in a perspective of fire & blood so that we may also live with a perspective of hope, wisdom & mercy given so richly for us who are not worthy of such affection. Living in the rhythms of this grace helps us, reminds us to speak the same mercy, love, grace and wisdom over those who stand apart from Him. This perspective draws our hearts in as living memorials to His faithfulness & righteousness.

Memorials are meant to be revisited, experienced and shown off. These memorials are our doorway to celebration, thanksgiving & mission. Every tribe, every tongue, every nation gathered in celebration, sharing in the abundant love of Christ, equals at the foot of the cross, in life, in faith & in mission to those who have not yet seen, to those who have not yet heard. We are celebrants of hope, living memorials of His loving-kindness.

Father, let us never forget Your presence & the wrath we have been rescued from through Jesus. Let us remember the consequence of hell that we once deserved, and the weight of our sin that He bore on the cross. May we walk in repentance, and also walk in joy, liberated from death and from ourselves. Your grace is greater than all our sin, Your love is deeper than the pit we were rescued from. May we praise Your Name forever, remembering Your holiness, mercy & grace with deep appreciation, thanksgiving & celebration! You are our joy! Amen!

Listening to Faith

Father, You call us each to things that must be done for Your glory, to tasks that are both big and small, the seemingly mundane and the very public. Thank You for making us fit to serve You and bring You glory in a variety of ways every day. Please give us the strength to serve You in strength today and to echo this great crowd of witnesses that have done the same before us. May we sacrifice self and comfort in order to follow Your will. Amen.

Read the words of author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, slowly today.

Look and listen to the examples of faith and what each has given, in its wholeness, and prayerfully consider what God calls you to do for His sake.

Do not quickly dismiss these times of listening, rushing through them, but prayerfully seek His will above your own.We are all part of something more through Christ, our work of love and thanksgiving is brief, but we work for His eternal glory.

Just like these below, we focus on a reality that already is, and that we must also work and wait for in this season.

We are not alone in this walk, in this rhythm of grace.

Hebrews 11:1-22
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

Father, You call us each to things that must be done for Your glory, to tasks that are both big and small, the seemingly mundane and the very public. Thank You for making us fit to serve You and bring You glory in a variety of ways every day. Please give us the strength to serve You in strength today and to echo this great crowd of witnesses that have done the same before us. May we sacrifice self and comfort in order to follow Your will. Amen.

 

We Do Not Shrink Back

Father, You have granted us a boldness in Christ. You have opened up the door that we might approach You and Your throne in full confidence. This is a deep, deep blessing. Thank You for providing this to us so that we might approach the difficulties of life, the trials and temptations, with this knowledge and expectation. If You have granted us this, then we can be that much more bold about the things of righteousness, moving forward in Your love, mercy, grace and honor. Thank You for this deep, deep blessing. May we use it to bring You glory & to draw others near to You. Amen.

Hebrews 10:26-39
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

It’s funny to me how consistently we test out limits. We touch the paint by the “Wet Paint” signs, we stick our toes just over the lines that say “Do not cross.” The speed limit says 55 and we push 75 because everyone else does, and that seems to be the expectation. Sometimes we flirt with the line, sometimes we jump right over it. But when it comes to entering the presence of God, there had always been a historic line that meant death for any who would draw near without being prepared. Even those who were prepared entered with uncertainty. Priests who spend hours and days sacrificing, praying and preparing to enter the Most Holy Place in the Temple in Jerusalem would still enter with a rope around their ankle and bells on the fringes of their robe…just in case they fell dead in God’s presence, they could be removed without risking danger to their supporters.

But in Jesus, we have been offered full entry into the presence of God. The curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The veil separating us from the presence of God was eliminated. In fact, for those who are in Christ, He even went deeper than this. Rather than us needing to approach Him, He has approached us, and dwells within us. This is why we can move with such impunity before God, because He Himself indwells us.

There should be no lack of boldness (not arrogance) for those who are in Christ, then. If God Himself lives within us all, then there is no place, no effort where we do not go with Him. We pray and ask and seek that God would go before us, but we do not remember the fullness of this fact, He not only goes before us, but He moves in step with us as we go throughout our day. Whatever we do, wherever we go, we carry God with us. That is a major point of accountability, and it is a major point of encouragement.

Whenever we feel inadequate, we need to remember this great promise. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and the Holy Spirit of God is God indwelling us. There is then no dividing line between God and man anymore once we allow God to deal with the sin within us. All we have is boldness & hope as we move with Him within these 24 hour rotations, within His rhythms of grace.

Do you want to move in boldness today? Remember who goes with you & suddenly everything seems a lot more doable. Even in sharing our faith, we will find His presence to be a comfort. Give it a shot today. Point someone to our-God-Who-dwells-in-us.

Father, You have granted us a boldness in Christ. You have opened up the door that we might approach You and Your throne in full confidence. This is a deep, deep blessing. Thank You for providing this to us so that we might approach the difficulties of life, the trials and temptations, with this knowledge and expectation. If You have granted us this, then we can be that much more bold about the things of righteousness, moving forward in Your love, mercy, grace and honor. Thank You for this deep, deep blessing. May we use it to bring You glory & to draw others near to You. Amen.

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.

Shared Purpose

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My wife and I recently went to The Speed Art Museum for a date day. The Speed has a variety of art styles spanning centuries of human history. One room or gallery will exhibit one style or era or culture’s art or art history, and when you turn the corner, you may walk into a room with a completely different feel, cultural background or context than the space you were in 30 seconds ago. There is a shift in perspective then, that is forced or coerced so that the visitor is taken on a journey throughout the breadth of human creativity.

While we were walking, my wife asked me if I thought that ‘high school me’ would have anywhere near the appreciation or understanding that I have today. And, of course, the answer would be no. I used to be very skeptical of ‘Modern’ art, and openly mocked efforts that I deemed possible for a toddler to reproduce. Even some classical art fell under my scrutiny for various reasons. I didn’t understand individual movements, let alone the progression from one form to another. I didn’t see value where I didn’t understand value to already exist.

Pictured here is Sfumato,by Teresita Fernández, a piece made very recently in 2005. It’s a simple piece containing glass cubes placed directly on the wall. It’s the type of piece that I would have seen in high school, thought was interesting, but would have passed over as being ‘actually art.’ It falls under the realm of ‘cool’ or ‘interesting’ but would not have left me with any more reaction than a passing glance would have afforded.

Today, as an adult (as someone who spent hours and hours in a humanities program in college and who is married to an art lover) I can see more clearly, and I can extend appreciation for art that doesn’t sit bounded in by a frame, for pieces that don’t require a Leonardo or a Pablo attached to it in order for me to see its value.

When I looked at Sfumato last week, I saw the church. I saw all the individuals who gather in Christ and who reflect and redirect His light. I saw individuals making up a collective whole. I saw individually crafted pieces, set in a particular way, that while they do not directly interact with one another, they complete a larger image. I saw people with different talents, different backgrounds, different cultures coming together. Remade, re-imagined and re-purposed by the one who is setting the scene of eternity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you turned one, twisted it, removed it or replaced it with something else…it would have been glaringly obvious. Each one has its place for a reason. Each one spaced closer to one and farther from another with a greater vision in mind.

I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My wife and I have different styles that appeal to us more so than another, and that’s totally fine. And she may look at Sfumato and see something totally different than what I see. But I see Romans 12 at work on a wall in a secular art museum.

I see the body of Christ being drawn in and carrying a single identity as she is in process of coming together. Each one sculpted according to one standard. I see as casting off of individual desire for a greater will. I see uniformity in purpose, a shared purpose. Each one receiving the same light, standing on the same pure white field, but still maintaining its own perspective, its own place and its own context while still pointing toward that overarching, external influence.

We all see different things from wherever we stand, but we who are in Christ must also keep in mind that the end result is not about us, but about God and what He is doing. He is the artist, we must trust in His plan.

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