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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!

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Good for the Worst

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

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

Luke 22:54-23:56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember.

The 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

If you’re going to get worked up over something…

Father, grant us an eternal perspective today. Help us see what we hang on to that is really just temporary, and what we ignore that we should treasure. This life is something we live quickly through, and there’s only so much that really maters in the middle of the noise. Give us wisdom to latch onto those things, and to leave what is worthless or fleeting behind. Give us ears to hear & eyes to see what maters most of all. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 21:5-9
And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

The disciples just heard about the widow’s offering moments before. Jesus talked to them about how her gift from the heart mattered more than someone else’s impressive looking gifts and offerings. He let them know it wasn’t about the pomp and ceremony, the first glance. Was this a ‘Nice story, bro.’ moment for the disciples? It sure sounds like it.

“Jesus, we get the widow, that’s sweet & she definitely has faith, but this place? This is still impressive. You can’t deny how awesome this building is.”

And we see a quick course correction by Jesus, again. He picks up right where He left off. This Temple was being freshly rebuilt. There was still work being done on it.The shine hadn’t worn off the steps or gutters even. In the face of a massive, moving human effort, Jesus was letting them know that it wasn’t going to stand for long. In fact the hinges on the gates wouldn’t even get a chance to start squeaking real good before the Romans came along and decimated the place. This impressive stuff was temporary, too.

It’s not the big offerings, the big stones that matter. We’re reminded by Solomon that life is temporary. He wrote Ecclesiastes as a treatise on the fleeting nature of pleasure, purpose & significance of human life apart from God. “Building projects?” he asks, “Meaningless.” Chasing after human passions, again he says, “Meaningless.” There is no eternal meaning in just doing things for the sake of doing them. There is no reward that actually comes from our little projects or attempts to draw attention to ourselves. It all turns to dust. Sounds uplifting, doesn’t it? But at the end of the book, Solomon brings it all back around and says that the end game for you & I is to honor & obey God with everything we have. That is where meaning comes from.

So the disciples ask a question of timing. They want to know when all this is going to happen. And that’s no surprise. Anyone would want to know that little tidbit. If you knew you were going to have a wreck on the way to work Monday, wouldn’t you change your route? If you knew a meteor was going to hit your hometown next Thursday, wouldn’t you warn people? Of course you would!

How do we prepare for the inevitable? How do we make sure that we are safe & square & that the people we care about have ample time to get clear, too? That is a perfectly sane & logical question to ask. What are the signs? How can we know?

Jesus doesn’t give them a day, hour or minute though. He warns them about something that is more pressing. More distractions & lies are coming. The Pharisees & Sadducees already had a hold on people and distracted them from God’s real desires for their lives. But now, after He goes, there will be more & times will be harder. But we aren’t to be distracted by that anymore than we are distracted by these big, impressive, temporary buildings & impressive offerings by impressive people.

Even the worst sorts of things are not to consume you. We have been given something better to consume our time, talent & treasure. There is a Kingdom on the move, a movement away from these temporary things & an eternal perspective to gain which propels us so far beyond this tangible, most, rust & thief prone things we see every day. If we will look to Jesus, and walk in the rhythms of His grace every day, then we will see what really matters. If we serve humbly & spend our life’s efforts on those things that really matter, we will see why timing is of the essence & why our concern needs to be for those who will find themselves unprepared when that day of wrath & judgment comes. We don’t build sandcastles in the face of waves. We work for the One who parts the sea itself & dries up the water so we can move beyond into promise & deeper things.

Eyes up. Heart aligned. Move in what matters today & leave the rest behind.

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.

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!

Acts 25:1-12 // Character in Adversity

“1 Three days after Festus arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 Then the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews presented their case against Paul to him; and they appealed, 3 asking him to do them a favor against Paul, that he might summon him to Jerusalem. They were preparing an ambush along the road to kill him. 4 However, Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was about to go there shortly. 5 ‘Therefore,’ he said, ‘let the men of authority among you go down with me and accuse him, if there is any wrong in this man.’

6 When he had spent not more than eight or 10 days among them, he went down to Caesarea. The next day, seated at the judges bench, he commanded Paul to be brought in. 7 When he arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him and brought many serious charges that they were not able to prove, 8 while Paul made the defense that, ‘Neither against the Jewish law, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned at all.’

9 Then Festus, wanting to do a favor for the Jews, replied to Paul, ‘Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem, there to be tried before me on these charges?’

10 But Paul said: ‘I am standing at Caesars tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you can see very well. 11 If then I am doing wrong, or have done anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die, but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!’

12 After Festus conferred with his council, he replied, ‘You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!’

Acts 25:1-12

==

Paul has been through the wringer, it would be easy to just give up and be done. But, as a Christian, he knows that his integrity matters and that any charges against him, even false ones, would bring a bad reputation to Christ and His Church. Paul stands as a representative of the Gospel at the highest levels of their society, and if he admits to wrongdoing that he was not a part of, just to settle things out, then he would be guilty of defaming Christ. 

As Christians, our moral integrity matters. It matters every day in every situation. How we conduct ourselves, what reputation we build, all of it matters because we stand as the representatives of Christ. Whether that is before the President, Governors or our co-workers, family & neighbors, it makes no difference. We are Christ’s ambassadors, created in Him to do good works. Our actions and reputations point toward the Gospel, and that can either be for good or for bad. We are each responsible, we will each be held accountable. 

Paul was being persecuted because of his allegiance to Jesus Christ & His Gospel. The Jews who were seeking to kill him could not be satiated by anything but his blood. The world is not going to compromise when it comes to us either. We cannot hope to ‘make things work’ or seek to compromise just so we can all get along. We cannot afford to compromise our Christian principles, to compromise the Gospel message or the authority that comes inherent in the Word of God. Paul couldn’t back down here, so he appealed to the world’s authority in the face of his accusers. We must do the same. Paul knew the systems and arguments and philosophies of his opponents. We should do likewise. 

If we are going to be good ambassadors, we must know whom it is we are dealing with. We must understand to what lengths they will go to accomplish their agendas. We have to understand that every inch of ground we give up they will occupy and keep on pressing. Paul knew that the Gospel’s reputation mattered. He knew that he couldn’t just fold. This was the moment to stand firm in the truth, to trust in the will of God and to see justice done. For us today, as Christians, we have the Great Commission that compells us to GoLove anyone and everyone for the sake of the Gospel through service & the ministry of the message of the Gospel. We cannot forget that great hope that we have been given simply because the sinful and fallen world tells us to be quiet, to keep our faith to ourselves. A sinful world doesn’t want to be confronted. A sinful heart doesn’t want to be exposed. Truth is its enemy, and that is what we bring when we bring the Gospel. 

Paul had to stand firm, even at the cost of his own life, to see Christ honored in it. We have the same call on our hearts, the call to lay down our life, our own ambitions, in order to see Christ honored. Even if the world hates us, rallies against us, we stand firm & in doing so, we bear witness to the faithfulness of God. He gives us the strength we need for the day, for the moment, so that we can continue to be faithful witnesses for Him, to His glory. 

“7 Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution, we were encouraged about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God for you in return for all the joy we experience before our God because of you, 10 as we pray very earnestly night and day to see you face to face and to complete what is lacking in your faith?

11 Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we also do for you. 13 May He make your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. Amen.”
1 Thessalonians 3:7-13

Acts 23:11-22 // Have Courage!

“11 The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’ 

12 When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under a curse: neither to eat nor to drink until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than 40 who had formed this plot. 14 These men went to the chief priests and elders and said, ‘We have bound ourselves under a solemn curse that we wont eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 So now you, along with the Sanhedrin, make a request to the commander that he bring him down to you as if you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly. However, before he gets near, we are ready to kill him.’

16 But the son of Paul’s sister, hearing about their ambush, came and entered the barracks and reported it to Paul. 17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander, because he has something to report to him.’

18 So he took him, brought him to the commander, and said, ‘The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, because he has something to tell you.’

19 Then the commander took him by the hand, led him aside, and inquired privately, ‘What is it you have to report to me?’

20 ‘The Jews,’ he said, ‘have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow, as though they are going to hold a somewhat more careful inquiry about him. 21 Don’t let them persuade you, because there are more than 40 of them arranging to ambush him, men who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they kill him. Now they are ready, waiting for a commitment from you.’

22 So the commander dismissed the young man and instructed him, ‘Don’t tell anyone that you have informed me about this.'”

Acts 23:11-22

==

I have been in situations before where I was the only Christian in a workplace, and all some of my co-workers wanted was to see me fall apart, to drop my guard and to do something that they wanted to do. Whether it was through a confrontation or temptation to stray from the path, they simply wanted to see me fail. And the reasons behind this varied. Some of them were people that fell away from the faith and thought  they ‘knew better’ now and they were trying to do me a service by pulling me away from Christ. Others never had anything to do with God or His church and simply wanted my behavior to match theirs. I was pressed on my beliefs, I was mocked, I was run through an inquisition over the course of many shifts. I was offered drugs, alcohol & the promise of sexual encounters with loose women if I would just go along with them, be like them, and do what they did for ‘fun.’

But I was always able to stand firm in my beliefs because I knew that Christ was there with me in those moments. God gave me the strength to stand my ground, to say ‘no’ and to still maintain my integrity. Was there temptation to fold, to cave in and just run with what seemed easy? Honestly, many of the things people offered were so vulgar and against my character that it wasn’t difficult to refuse them. (This is the credit of the Holy Spirit working in me.) But other times, it would seem easier to just run with the attitudes of the world and to act like they were acting, to maybe joke like they were joking, to be a part of their conversation to ‘fit in.’ And we’ve all encountered these situations, arguments and debates in the workplace, school and out in the world if we’ve been living our faith in Christ. 

Because a life lived publicly for Christ is going to draw attention. It’s going to make some people angry, some people uncomfortable and we must be prepared to stand firm no matter what that may bring. Paul was certain he was doing what was right, there was no question. But it would have been easier to just be quiet about Jesus once he had arrived in Jerusalem. There may not have been temptation to live like a Roman, but there may have been temptation to look like Saul the Pharisee again. There may have been temptation to live that old life, or to at least compromise a little, in order to get people to like him, trust him or even just leave him alone. But Paul knew that a life lived for Christ, a life where you GoLove others rather than just seek to protect yourself, was going to be a life that required sacrifice. And in this sacrifice, he would find resistance from others who were still living for self or in a way that acquiesced to public opinion. 

In all these instances, Christ promised to strengthen us, to give us courage and even that the Holy Spirit would give us the proper words to say as we stand before those who would accuse us of wrong doing  or wrong thinking. For those who ridicule us because we are ‘narrow’ or ‘closed’ minded, we can stand against their arguments & ridicule. For those who are morally loose, we can resist the temptation to live like them. For those who encounter us with anger in their hearts, we can still respond with love because of what Jesus Christ is doing in us as we are being daily sanctified for God’s glory. Our witness matters, the courage we have in Christ speaks directly to His goodness, His mercy, His grace and His Lordship over us. If our life just looks like the life around us in the world, then what good does Christ do? If we choose to live like everyone else, why on earth would there be anything compelling about a Christian walk? We haven’t been called to cave, but to conquer sin through the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in us! The old life in us is dead and gone, and in Christ we stand victorious! There is something more, something better, something of eternal significance when we will leave behind that old dead life and be renewed in our heart and mind, as Paul was, and pursue the life that God offers to us in Christ Jesus.

“When we walk with the Lord/ in the light of His Word/ what a glory He sheds on our way./ While we do His good will/ He abides with us still./ Never fear, only trust and obey./ Trust and obey/ for there is no better way/ to be happy in Jesus/ but to trust and obey.”

Acts 22:22-30 // Bought vs. Born

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

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

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

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

‘Yes,’ he said.

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

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

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

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

Acts 22:22-30

==

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

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

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

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

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

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