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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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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.

Acts 28:17-22 // Seeking Receptive Hearts

“17 After three days he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them: ‘Brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 After they examined me, they wanted to release me, since I had not committed a capital offense. 19 Because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar; it was not as though I had any accusation against my nation. 20 For this reason I’ve asked to see you and speak to you. In fact, it is for the hope of Israel that I’m wearing this chain.’

21 Then they said to him, ‘We haven’t received any letters about you from Judea. None of the brothers has come and reported or spoken anything evil about you. 22 But we would like to hear from you what you think. For concerning this sect, we are aware that it is spoken against everywhere.'”

Acts 28:17-22

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There really isn’t anything new under the sun. From the beginning of the Church, people have been speaking against it. This last exchange by the Jews in Rome could have been said just today. So many people speak against the Church even today. When we stand firm in the truth, people are offended, uncomfortable and often respond with ugliness. Rumors and untrue stereotypes abound, and the world lashes out at us through their misguided understanding of what we believe. They want us on the defensive, they try their hardest to throw us off balance.

Paul seeks out those people who should know better, who should be at least -familiar- with the Scriptures. He always went to the synagogues first, even if that meant a difficult exchange was coming. And while the Jews in Rome hadn’t heard anything about what had been going on with Paul, they had heard about the Church and they had heard people speaking against it. But that will not deter Paul, he was always faithful to try speaking and sharing and witnessing to those who should have a base to help them understand the Gospel message, the people of Israel, the children of promise. 

As we GoLove people in Jesus’ Name, we will find individuals who already ahev some basic knowledge of the Sciptures, maybe they were raised in church and fell away, maybe they are the spiritually ‘curious’ person who has actually taken time to read portions of the Bible. These people are going to have a sensitivity to what we have to say, but just like Paul found, that also means that you will probabaly find yourself battling misconceptions and wrong ideas that have been painted to look like they belong. 

Paul’s strategy also included the opportunity to walk away from the Jews & those gathered in the synagogues after he had made a legitimate attempt to share Christ with them. After they had heard the Gospel, and after they had some time with him to ask questions and have some conversation with him, he would move on. Those who had accepted, accepted and those who would not were left behind.  Paul then moved on to the slightly more difficult task of sharing the gospel with the pseudo-religious or irreligious crowds & pagans. 

Sometimes the hardest thing we must do is step away from trying to share Jesus with someone that we want to see come to Christ, but has no desire to actually make a move toward Him. We must also remember that God simetimes uses one person to plant a seed, another person waters it and still another gets to take part in the harvest. When we step away from someone, it’s not giving up on them, it’s giving control of the situation over to God. You keep praying for them, but you also allow some time and space to see them come to Christ by the power of God and the witness of another person. 

Paul had to exhibit a lot of trust in the hand of God in these trying times, and we must learn to do likewise. We must also remember to be good stewards of our time and to make an effort to reach out to others that may have been off our radar. Don’t beat yourself up because someone won’t respond. It just might be that the best thing you can do is let someone else have a chance & give the situation over to God. Paul is going to find this out in the next few verses of this last chapter of Acts, pray and ask God to see when those occasions come up for you & when to move forward elsewhere. Pray to be sensitive to the leading of His Holy Spirit. 

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 20:13-21 // What’s Your One Thing?

“13 Then we went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there. For these were his instructions, since he himself was going by land. 14 When he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 Sailing from there, the next day we arrived off Chios. The following day we crossed over to Samos, and the day after, we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so he would not have to spend time in Asia, because he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, for the day of Pentecost.

17 Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: ‘You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time — 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews — 20 and that I did not shrink back from proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching it to you in public and from house to house. 21 I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.'”

Acts 20:13-21

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Paul is beginning to wrp up his missionary journeys. He is making a B-line for Jerusalem as fast as he can manage. And even though he was planning on just skirting the coast and passing on by Ephesus, Paul knew that his heart wouldn’t let him do that. He had spent too much time, invested too much of himself in them and so he stuck his head in the door to say one last thing. And what was that message? 

“Hey guys, I love you, be good!”? 

“Hey, don’t forget to dress up nice for the gathering. Your appearances matter!”

“…and remember, do whatever you have to do to get people in the door. They’ll figure things out on their own later.”

No. Nothing even resembling those sentiments or viewpoints. It was nothing shallow, nothing vapid. Paul’s one thing, his one message, was this: “…repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” The Gospel message. The most basic thing that also meant everything. This is what needed to be repeated. Over and over again, Paul drove this message home with them. Over and over again, their hearts were turned toward repentance and what God accomplished through Christ. This is the beauty and majesty of the  Gospel, this is what is worth repeating.

If you were in prison, and had the opportunity to make just one phone call a year, who would you call? What would you say? If you were on your deathbed and given a live news crew and a streaming video feed, what would your last words be? Would you try to be clever, say something pseudo-profound? Or would you have just one thing that mattered above everything else? One thing that could atually change the course of someone’s life and eternity? If you had one thing to say that actually was profound, and could do all that, wouldn’t you say it? If your words could create a legacy worth following in a family’s storyline, in a city’s culture, in the world itself? 

Of course you would! And so Paul grabs the bull by the horns and cuts to the chase.

#1. Repent, be honest about it. You’re a sinner, too, deserving of death and hell.

#2. Be hopeful, God has taken care of everything through Jesus. 

Everything else is in an infinitelly distant second place. Not even a blip on the radar. This is what matters. We GoLove people by sharing the good news of the Gospel with them. Work, hobbies, sporting schedules, tv shows…none of this temporal, temporary stuff matters in comparison to the good news that Christ has saved us from ourselves. 

Paul knew it would be difficult. He could feel his heart trying to leap up through his throat as he speaks these final words. But he also would have had complete confidence that he had said what needed to be said the most. And that’s the peace that God offers to us. If we will simply be faithful, do what is required of us, we can live each day in peace, and leave this life (in the end) with peace, knowing we have done what needed to be done for the people around us. What else could you possibly desire?

Acts 15:36-41 // When Pride Divides

“36 After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord and see how they’re doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. 39 There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. 40 Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers. 41 He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”

Acts 15:36-41

— 

There are times when being right matters and times when being ‘right’ becomes destructive. We have all experienced those moments where we took an argument a little too far. These are the moments that we replay over and over in our head, either trying to desperately self-justify what we did, or in deep regret, we try to identify the moment when we went over the line hoping we can begin to reverse what we’ve done. 

Human pride is a terribly dangerous thing. It separates friendships, like we see here, it destroys families and divides churches. The “My way or the highway” mentality is never going to promote unity. Screaming matches and “because I said so” statements aren’t likely to get someone to come over to your side. Even when speaking like reasonable, compassionate human beings, we can take something too far, or be too set in me pattern of behavior or one philosophy of ‘how things must be done’ that we wind up creating a destructive environment that is hard to recover from. 

Humility in Christ must be at the core of our being, a willingness to listen and to have flexibility in our plans (so long as they honor God & adhere to His Word) must become a part of how we do things. We must prayerfully approach situations that we know are going to be hot-button issues and seek out God’s way over our own ego’s desire. This isn’t easy to remember to do. It requires a very intentional self-awareness and an active knowledge of our own flaws and tipping points. 
Sometimes, the best response to a heated argument is to step away, prayerfully think through everything that has been said and to take careful consideration of the other person’s point of view. Our hearts are not naturally inclined to do this. It takes a great deal of discipline & humility. But if it really is just a matter of opinion and has nothing to do with maintaining the truth of the Gospel, then we need to be willing to preserve unity over preserving our own ‘rightness.’ 

A disjointed church is not the best witness that she could be, and every church congregation has her own issues and struggles. But we should all do whatever we can to see her shine bright and be a consistent witness as we GoLove others in Jesus’ Name.

  

Mark 16:1-8 // Just as He told you

“1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so they could go and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb at sunrise. 3 They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?”

4 Looking up, they observed that the stone — which was very large — had been rolled away. 5 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; they were amazed and alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he told them. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been resurrected! He is not here! See the place where they put Him.”

“7 But go, tell His disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see Him there just as He told you.”

8 So they went out and started running from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them. And they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid.”

Mark 16:1-8

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This is further evidence of our inability to remember and act upon good things that God has promised us. Just like the disciples heard that Jesus was going to die and be raised on the third day over and over again, we tend to hear the good news of the Gospel and forget parts that have been distinctly promised to us. 

If anyone had been paying attention, if their hearts and minds weren’t darkened, they would have seen and heard and understood about the resurrection of Christ. I’m not sure how much of their lack of understanding came from the fact that the Holy Spirit was not indwelling them yet, or how much was fear or a different expectation of what Messiah was supposed to be like and how He was to reign and rule. 

There may have been multiple contributing factors, but suffice it to say, it wasn’t clicking for them. The angel even said ‘just as He told you’ to help drive it all home, but they still lacked understanding as they ran back to the upper room. 

When you and I forget that we have been promised various things through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the giving of the Word, we find ourselves living a lackluster Christian walk. We have been given power. We have a singular handle on the truth. We have a hope that the rest of the world cannot grasp or understand. We know the end of life’s big story and we know what it takes to be on the right side of judgment day. We have more than we remember sometimes. ‘Little is much when God is in it.’ And when we, in our tiny, finite lives, understand that the infinite Creator of the universe has chosen to indwell us through His Holy Spirit, we will remember just how big a punch that packs. 

We are an empowered people, just as He told us.

We are entrusted with the truth, just as He told us.

We are to GoLove with a purpose, just as He told us.

We are the purveyors of hope, just as He told us.

We are going to be hated by the world, just as He told us.

We are going to face persecutions, just as He told us.

We are going to go before governing authorities, just as He told us.

We have a cross to carry, just as He told us. 

We must die to self, just as He told us.

He will be with us always, just as He told us. 

Mark 2:1-12 // What real authority can do

“1 When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home. 2 So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the doorway, and He was speaking the message to them. 3 Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was. And when they had broken through, they lowered the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
5 Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there, thinking to themselves: 7 “Why does He speak like this? Hes blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Get up, pick up your mat, and walk? 10 But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, 11 “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”
12 Immediately he got up, picked up the mat, and went out in front of everyone. As a result, they were all astounded and gave glory to God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!””
Mark 2:1-12

There’s a little temptation to embellish our stories when we are meeting people for the first time, or when we’re in scenarios when we know we’ll probably never see the other person again. They won’t be able to verify them, and if it makes things more entertaining, then who can it hurt, right? But a lie is a lie, and the truth is the truth. No reason we can think of makes a lie okay to tell, and even ‘creative embellishment’ needs to be made known. Truth either is or is not being spoken, and that is all people have to work with when they speak with us. Sometimes it is verifyable, other times, not so much. But the fact of the matter is that people should be able to take us at our word, trusting what we say.

Sometimes, the truth seems to be too much to swallow, but even then, we need to be trustworthy in what is said. And when we are speaking about the things of God, He is the One who vindicates us when we speak truth. He needs no embellishment, no extra help. His truth is what it is, and no one can contest it. But in our sin & pride, we still seek out those moments of ‘clarity’ almost asking the same questions that the enemy did in the garden of Eden, “Did you really just say…?”. Now, it’s okay to seek the truth and verify that a message comes from God, but in this moment in Mark 2, Jesus is present there with them, and He pronounces forgiveness of the paralytic’s sins. There is no questioning what He meant or what He said, and because this can only be spoken by the One with authority, the scribes don’t know what to do with this statement. They cannot comprehend that God is there with them, that Emmanuel is real, and that this Jesus fellow should keep His comments in the accepted range of what is ‘safe’ and verifiable by examining it against the commentary of other rabbis & teachers of the Law.

But Jesus didn’t come to be ‘safe,’ He came with authority, as the authority, so that lives would be forever changed and so God would be glorified. And in this moment, amidst the debris of Peter’s roof and a man’s pain, Jesus speaks the truth, He speaks with authority, and God is glorified because of it. He wasn’t there to tell cutesy stories and bad ‘preacher jokes’ but instead, He was there to speak what we needed to hear, to speak freedom, redemption and holiness into the darkness, to be our point of light and the commanding voice that calls us home from our wanderings. Jesus’ words have power because He is the Word of God. We either take Him at His Word, or we call Him a liar. There is no middle ground to stand on. And so to prove His point that He has already done the more difficult thing in forgiving sins, Jesus, in His authority, gives the man back the use of His body as well.

His message is what drew people in. His authority is what verified what He was saying as it was being spoken. He doesn’t need outside sources or independent review boards to make sure He is saying what needs to be said. He is truth. He is the Word. And He even invites us to GoLove others by sharing what He has already said, promised and brought into being. Because Jesus wasn’t just about delivering a message, an encouragement. He was about His Father’s business, and that message put an end to sin, sorrow, pain, shame and guilt and brings purpose into the lives of the lost and hurting. This man that Jesus healed is still called ‘the paralytic’ so we know who he is, but in reality, he should be called ‘one of the redeemed.’

Mark 1:21-34 // Authority & Belief? A Life passionately given.

“21 Then they went into Capernaum, and right away He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach. 22 They were astonished at His teaching because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority.
23 Just then a man with an unclean spirit was in their synagogue. He cried out, 24 “What do You have to do with us, Jesus — Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God!”
25 But Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit convulsed him, shouted with a loud voice, and came out of him.
27 Then they were all amazed, so they began to argue with one another, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 News about Him then spread throughout the entire vicinity of Galilee.

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went into Simon and Andrews house with James and John. 30 Simons mother- in- law was lying in bed with a fever, and they told Him about her at once. 31 So He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all those who were sick and those who were demon- possessed. 33 The whole town was assembled at the door, 34 and He healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him.”
Mark 1:21-34

How funny is it that we come to a New Year, a time for initiating change while reflectively looking into the past and looking hopefully into the future? How many Christians spend their walk in Christ always looking backwards, always hung up on what used to be? This man who was possessed by a demon was given a fresh new start, just like all the sick and possessed people in Capernaum. I guarantee you they weren’t all spending the next days obsessing and hung up over what used to be, but instead they were looking forward to what was now possible since Jesus had touched them and changed their circumstances. But so many Christians sit restricted, tied up by their past, almost forgetting that Jesus has done the work, removed the evil influence and broken the fever brought on by sin.

We sit with the power, might and strength of God at our side and we act like circus elephants with a band around our ankle, falsely thinking we’re “trapped” but actually free. What a shame that so much could be done, but we listen to the lies of the enemy, self-doubt and ignore the rich inheritance given to us in Christ. We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God with us, and we act like an invalid who has been abandoned by their caretakers.

It is long since past time for the church to rise up and be the church. How many generations have spoken these words, passionate, emboldened, and then we kowtow to fear and culture and quiet down again? When will we listen, take up our crosses and follow Him? When will we grasp a hold of our renewal, own it and live it out?

The time is now. The day is here. The hour and minute are upon us, and the world cannot afford for us to stay quiet.
Stand up.
Claim your inheritance.
Be bold.
Ignore the enemy’s incessant lies and live as Christ.

Christ has spoke into our lives with His authority. He has commissioned us to GoLove, and there is no question about whether or not we should, it’s just a matter of how & the Holy Spirit has already gifted all who have been baptized into His death, burial and resurrection to do the work that is required of us. BE bold. BE the Church.
Abide in His love and let the Gospel message flow from your lips and lives!

Hebrews 9 // The One who tore the curtain

“6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

I love that God gave us rites and symbols and a rich spiritual heritage that all served as a foreshadowing to the coming of HIs Son and our salvation. I love that He chose to be creative, that He chose to give us glimpses through the fog of our reality into the deeper reality of heaven through those devices. So that these articles in the Tabernacle and Temple weren’t just pointing toward Christ (which would have been more than enough) but that they even pointed us toward heaven which we cannot see or perceive. His care and concern for us amazes me!

What is heaven like? Look at the Tabernacle, then the Temple and then to Christ Himself and His Church and peer through those overlays and layers and seek discernment from God. He has given us so much, not just in the realm of grace and hope, but even to the point of helping to satisfy, in different ways, the curiosities of our hearts and minds. He provided the way through Christ. He shared this with his people through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. He spoke of this through all His prophets and apostles. He has provided us with so much, and yet there is still so much more left se see and perceive and understand and glorify Him through! And once we’re with Him in eternity, serving and worshipping Him? My mind cannot comprehend what it will be to live unending, unaging in the presence of the perfect source of all truth, justice, love, wisdom, beauty, grace and joy.

But in Christ, we have been promised this amazing grace, that He has gone on ahead of us through the curtain, into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for us and then tearing that curtain open, revealing the way to God for all mankind through HIs perfect sacrifice. Our baptism into His death, burial and resurrection is yet another pointing toward God and His grace, another layer in the overlay to point our hearts toward Him. And as we GoLove others in His glorious Name, we do not do so from a thin conviction or a baseless foundation, but layer by layer, we speak from a richness and depth that cannot be lightly spoken or lightly taken when we speak the full Gospel message honestly and with conviction.

Praise God for the richness of HIs love!

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