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Seeking Peace Along a Hard Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

The Lord & The Pretenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Wicked Tenants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has mercy and grace for us.

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

Purified, Redeemed & Given Peace

Father, bring us Your peace. Through Jesus Christ You have offered to us grace beyond measure. You have inaugurated our entry into Your presence with His blood, purified us and saved us from the wrath due us in Your judgment. Thank You for putting away our sin by this sacrifice. Thank You for promising us life beyond life and death. Thank You for the blessing of the greater picture of existence with You through Him. Thank You for the presence of Your Holy Spirit in this in-between time. Amen.

Hebrews 9:15-28
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

This is a lot to take in, isn’t it? Centuries of human effort, ritual purification, sacrifice and an obvious inability to maintain moral standards left us reeling. We were desperate, the children of God were in need of relief, and the world needed a savior without even knowing they needed Him. Try as we might to deny sin’s presence in our life, we rationalize all our decisions, seek out our own way and call the effort worthwhile. We stubbornly stand in pride and deny correction when it comes.We’ve all stood silently in this place. We know our own hearts, even if we don’t speak what we feel all the time.

Emotionally and spiritually bankrupt, God saw our deep need to be cleansed, redeemed and brought into real peace with Him. We need to remember this, drink it in & rest in Him.

And so comes Jesus.
Pause a minute. Breathe & speak His Name.

Heaven’s sacrifice once for all who would come.
Final.
He loves You deeply.
Pause again. Breathe & speak His Name, Jesus.

We needed Him so badly. Our efforts always temporary, we needed relief. And so He brings us peace by removing the need for the effort, and taking it upon Himself. This is the richness of the love of God, this is the depth of His grace. This loving Father, making sacrifice on behalf of His children, so that we might bring Him glory and that He might sing over us in His peace.

Jesus is the One who stood in the gap. The Father the One who sacrifices. The Holy Spirit the One who indwells us as we are being made holy – Our Triune God gathering us into His love.

Pause a minute. Breathe & abide in the rest He provides. Breathe. Trust in our Great High Priest who offered Himself up as the sacrifice.

Breathe.
Rest.
Speak the Name of Jesus.
Trust in Him & Praise His Name.
Walk in the rhythms of His grace today.

Father, bring us Your peace. Through Jesus Christ You have offered to us grace beyond measure. You have inaugurated our entry into Your presence with His blood, purified us and saved us from the wrath due us in Your judgment. Thank You for putting away our sin by this sacrifice. Thank You for promising us life beyond life and death. Thank You for the blessing of the greater picture of existence with You through Him. Thank You for the presence of Your Holy Spirit in this in-between time. Amen.

The Bible Project // Review

If you teach/disciple others, I hope by now that you’ve heard about The Bible Project. From their site, www.thebibleproject.com, they say:

The Bible Project is a Portland based non-profit that utilizes short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. We create videos, podcasts, and study guides that explore the Bible’s unified story by focusing on its overarching themes and each book’s literary design. We are committed to understanding the Bible in its historical context and communicating its wisdom for the modern world.

This is one of those resources that would have been wonderful to have when I was teaching 7th grade Bible at Christian Academy of Louisville all those years ago, or the 14 years when I was leading youth groups & children’s bible studies. The videos are fun to watch, the artwork is always engaging and the method they use for story telling captures the viewer in this grand, overarching look at the history of the movement of God among human kind.

bible-project-youtube

The Bible Project YouTube page is an easy way to engage someone when you are on the go.

Add to that the visual progression through the story board of the book or subject being covered and you wind up with something that you can quite literally carry with you as they offer printables, downloads & other bonus features that help to put the lesson right in the hand of the learner. I have been teaching the Bible for almost 20 years, and these are the types of resources that I love to use when walking people through the story of God. Using a physical story board (in hand or downloaded on your phone/tablet) you can walk backwards and forwards in big, sweeping motions or maneuver in fine detail with ease.

01-02-genesis_fnl

Every book they cover has a study guide and a downloadable storyboard/poster like this one.

But here’s the bonus-bonus: Every adult that I have shown this to has been engaged by the methods employed by Timothy, Jonathan and their team. This isn’t kid’s stuff, but a tool to be utilized by anyone and everyone who shares the Word of God with someone else. Our world is intensely visual, and the team at The Bible Project has latched on to this in a wonderful way. This method of teaching isn’t just for people under 18 years old. God has wired us with a variety of learning styles. The Bible Project allows for audio, visual & kinesthetic learners as they give you the tools to work in each of these realms of learning. This is a great tool for everyone.

If you know someone who wants to know more, but maybe isn’t a big reader, then why not give them a glimpse into the concepts of key biblical themes like Holiness, Covenants & the Gospel of the Kingdom. These are topics that we might not bring up in casual conversation, but we can definitely shoot someone a link to watch a video so we can talk about it later over coffee (always a good idea!) or a meal. You may not get them to read through Leviticus, but I’ll bet you can get them to watch it in less than 9 minutes.

This is still a work in process, as they are adding in videos & resources every week (as of the time of writing,) but they have done so much so well in such a seemingly short time.
They have done a good job to leave non-essential doctrinal issues out of the mix so that the teacher/disciple-maker can engage those in their own way.

On the other hand, they do not shy away from being bold with core doctrinal issues & topics. They do not try to tame God, limit the Holy Spirit or write off the miracles of Jesus. They are open and honest with the flaws of every person God has used throughout history and that transparency leaves us with an honest retelling of God’s righteous handiwork among sinful men & women.

With high quality visuals, an open heart for the Gospel & an obviously gifted team behind these efforts, The Bible Project is definitely a worthwhile addition to your teaching toolbox. It works great in large settings with discussion groups or a single point person, or one-on-one in a cafe or living room. This versatility & mobile format will give this group serious longevity in a quick-change world. I’m looking forward to what is yet to come from this crew. They also have a blog with details and news where you can keep up with what’s in the works or find a place to dig deeper into difficult subjects. And please remember that great content like this doesn’t happen for free. If you like what you find there, you can sponsor their efforts with a donation.

(There is no sponsorship of my blog or affiliation with TBP implied.)

Have you seen The Bible Project before? What are your thoughts? Any other resources in this category that you like enough to share? Let me know in the comments below.

Join The Bible Project on Facebook & Twitter

You _are_ an example.

George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends wrote, “People must be led out of captivity up to God. Be patterns, be examples that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

In Genesis 12, Abraham has his encounter with God that sets the course and pace of his life and radiates forward through time through the lineage of his children in faith. We have been blessed to be a blessing. Just as God called Abraham, He calls out to us. Listen:

“Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said,
“To your offspring I will give this land.”
So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.”
Genesis 12:1-7

We have to leave behind what is comfortable, what we know and have feelings of control over and fall in step behind Jesus. Where God directed Abraham to Canaan, Jesus guides us today to live and serve outside of what is comfortable and brings us to places where others hurt, where others struggle and where others have need. Because God, in His infinite wisdom and compassion, knows that if we take the focus off of ourselves and point our hearts toward the need of another, we will be filled in the process.

Abraham could have stayed on the family land, Terah could have remained where he knew everyone and understood how everything worked, and where he had respect. But God took them to a new place where their reputation would be built on the activity of God in their midst. Where people wouldn’t see Abram the shrewd herdsman, but they would see God’s blessing on the life of this man who just moved into the countryside, they watched his blessing increase and so Abram’s business with them brought prosperity to those around him. But God isn’t just some initiator of an economic engine. No, God worked this way through Abram so he could build positive relationships with the people in this new land, so they could see his life and his example, and with the handiwork of the Lord in their sight, they would receive a testimony about the goodness and provision of God.

Abram’s life and relocation and business and family all made up the components of the sermon of his life. When you and I look at what God is doing in our life, at all of the components that He has seen fit to incorporate in our life, then we will begin to see the story of His glory at work in us, and we will understand a little bit more of what it means to submit our lives to Him so that He can do it more and more, making an impact on the world and communities around us by His good blessing. And when we see that, we, like Abram, will want to build a point of praise into that moment, and give up even greater offerings to the Lord our God.

Whether or not we are looking to be one, we are an example to the world around us.
What would our world look like, what would our church look like, if everyone followed and was devoted as we are? We have one life to live, one Lord to serve. Find your joy in submitting to Him and bringing others to Him as worship and a sharing of blessing.

Acts 20:1-12 // Time Well Spent

“1 After the uproar was over, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and after saying good-bye, departed to go to Macedonia. 2 And when he had passed through those areas and exhorted them at length, he came to Greece 3 and stayed three months. When he was about to set sail for Syria, a plot was devised against him by the Jews, so a decision was made to go back through Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. 5 These men went on ahead and waited for us in Troas, 6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread. In five days we reached them at Troas, where we spent seven days.

7 On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he extended his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were assembled, 9 and a young man named Eutychus was sitting on a window sill and sank into a deep sleep as Paul kept on speaking. When he was overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, embraced him, and said, “Don’t be alarmed, for his life is in him!” 11 After going upstairs, breaking the bread, and eating, Paul conversed a considerable time until dawn. Then he left. 12 They brought the boy home alive and were greatly comforted.”

Acts 20:1-12

==

Our Western culture is very time conscious. We want things to begin and end on time when we say they’re supposed to and to 3-5 minutes beyond that begins to encroach into personal territory. I have heard preachers apologize for the length of a church service because people were making decisions and getting baptized. I have seen people rush out the moment the invitation hymn started. I grew up at a mega-church and there were days where the number of people leaving at invitation became such a distraction (because they wanted to get out of the busy parking lot and off to lunch early) that the Senior Minister had to take time to explain to people why it was rude and inappropriate to leave right as someone was being given the opportunity to have their eternal desitination changed. Wouldn’t that be worth sticking around for? Wouldn’t that be worth celebrating? The population of Hell has just been decreased, let’s praise God together for that, right?! But people still hold their own schedule and time as more valuable. There is still an issue with ‘timing’ at church services. “Let me have my hour and then let me go.” It’s a self-centered focus that has nothing to do with the Gospel message and everything to do with honoring self. 

Paul knew his time in Troas was short, he was leaving in the morning, so he wanted to invest in this church family as much as he could before he left them. This meant a marathon session of unpacking the Word and filling their hearts with the things of God. And so Paul began speaking. It became dark, so they lit a few lamps. It got darker, so they lit a few more. They grabbed every lamp they could, so that everyone could see and be seen, and they invested themselves in the exposition of the Word and the Gospel message. It was time well spent. They were disciples of Jesus, after all, and so what better use of their time than to see what their Master desired of them, to learn more of what it meant to walk like Him? And so, no one was trying to leave, rather, they were settling in for the night to hear what mattered most. They wanted to hear from God. 

We devote so much time to so many things, but how much of our time is truly well spent? How much time do we spend that is truly devoted to God each week? Are we tithing our lives like we tithe our income? Are we serving, worshipping, reading the Word, all in equal measure, so that we grow closer and closer to Christ every day? Is our time well spent? Or is much of it wasted? How much is spent in front of screens, time we call ‘me time,’ that should be spent in other, more God-honoring ways? Is there work that needs to be done? A neighbor that needs to be reached? Can we find a few more minutes to crack open our Bibles and listen for the voice of God? 

This isn’t to make us feel guilty, thinking about these things. It is to help us remember what our priorities should be, and what it means to have time that is truly well spent. Because we spend our time in ways that we would never spend our money, or any of our other resources for that matter. The one thing we often claim is most important is often the one thing most poorly used. 

We have been commissioned to GoLove people in Jesus’ Name. That is our primary responsibility as His disciples, to share His Gospel. But how much of our time is devoted to that task? How much of our lives do we actually give to see others come to Him, to make sure they hear about Him, to speak into their hearts of the infinite grace of God poured out for us through Immanuel’s veins? Is our time well spent? 

I pray that God is merciful. I also pray that our eyes are opened & that we all become better stewards of the time He allows us to use & occupy. 

Psalm 119:89-96 // ל Lamed // The Word Preserves

“89 Lord, Your word is forever;

it is firmly fixed in heaven.

90 Your faithfulness is for all generations;

You established the earth, and it stands firm.

91 They stand today in accordance with Your judgments,

for all things are Your servants.

92 If Your instruction had not been my delight,

I would have died in my affliction.

93 I will never forget Your precepts,

for You have given me life through them.

94 I am Yours; save me,

for I have sought Your precepts.

95 The wicked hope to destroy me,

but I contemplate Your decrees.

96 I have seen a limit to all perfection,

but Your command is without limit.”

Psalm 119:89-96

Think about how the Word of God helps to keep you on the right path. Think about the difference it makes in your life. Think about the strength and certainty we have because of the presence of God in our hearts through His Word. He has already done so much, yet He speaks to each one of us as e come to meet with Him here in His Word. 

Read through Psalm 119:89-96 again, but a little more slowly and make David’s words your own. Speak them to God from your own heart.

Read it a third time, line by line, and give God praise for what He has done in your own heart and life. 

Read it a fourth and final time, giving Him praise for His sovereignty over you, confessing your sin and need for Him and His Word.

  

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