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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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Sifted & Strengthened

Father, thank You for understanding our weaknesses & loving us enough to expose them to us. Thank You for revealing the depths of our need for You & uncovering our insecurities. Your love for us is infinite & Your mercies are new every morning. Jesus, You have been our Advocate in a way that no one else ever could be. Our flesh is weak, but Holy Spirit, You bring strength to our bones & stamina to our hearts. Please embolden us for today & sustain us until tomorrow within Your peace. We lack nothing with You & remain impoverished without You. We praise You for Your great grace, O God. Carry us through our season of need & be glorified in the process. We are Yours.
This we acknowledge in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 22:31-38
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

I think we all know what it feels like to be sifted. Shaken & tossed, who we are at the core is exposed & we feel like we have been left bare to the world. Any covering we may have had is removed & we are left open & we feel vulnerable. I’m sure Peter felt exposed when Jesus spoke about this, his own fears & weaknesses laid bare before his friends. It probably hurt, I guarantee it did. I imagine that Peter’s face went ashen when Jesus spoke to him about this & even when he tried to defend his love for Christ, Jesus revealed how quickly his denial would come.

We all have aspirations for ourselves within our faith.We have an image of our own devotion & strength for Jesus, & this ‘best case scenario’ of our faith-life is rarely reality when the pressure is one & it’s time to speak up or take steps of real faith. We tell ourselves stories, we are creative in justifying what we do & how we live. But when it comes down to it, we will deny, just like Peter did, that we have the capacity for such a quick falling away. But the proof is in the pudding, & belief is tested by pressure. We revert quickly to who we actually are when those moments come & Jesus wanted Peter to be prepared & to hear a word of grace before it came for him.

No one want to be left feeling inadequate, especially for the One who conquered death & sin & saved us from facing the wrath of God. But it wasn’t our strength that sent Jesus through His Passion & it wasn’t our righteousness that allowed Him to serve as our perfect sacrifice. We brought nothing to the table in this regard, we were continue to be inadequate when it comes to strength & saving ourselves. But Jesus is sufficient. Jesus is more than enough for us all. So when Peter was told about his coming failure & when you & I see our own moments of stumbling coming along, we can be reminded that it ids Jesus who brought grace & it is God’s Holy Spirit that fills us with the grace we need & provides us with strength for every obstacle.

Satan will always be our accuser, until the day he is defeated with a word & God’s judgment comes for all of us. He desires to ruin us & break God’s heart in the process. Jesus said it best, that he comes to steal, kill & destroy. But Jesus came so that we might have life & have it abundantly. When the enemy tries to attack or to remind us of past failures, we need to remember that Jesus has already opened the doorway to forgiveness with His own blood & that the devil holds no authority over us & his accusations fall flat. When we receive Jesus as Savior & Lord, our names are covered by His Name. Our identities are found in Him, not in our past, not in our mistakes & not in our weaknesses.

All glory & honor & praise go to Him for His great grace & love. He calls us to walk daily in those rhythms, not the old discord that used to define us, but in new rhythms of His grace & His love. We may still stumble, but He has already stooped to serve & help us stand again. May we be bold for Him & trust in the depths of His strength & His awesome forgiveness. He alone is worthy & makes us worthy in Himself. Thank God for that today.

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.

We shall not be moved

huge-boulder-at-sequoia-park
The LORD lives!
Blessed is my Rock!
Exalted is the God of my salvation!

28 For it is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
29 For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?—
32 the God who equipped me with strength
    and made my way blameless.
Psalm 18:28-32

In the words of the Folk Spiritual song,

We shall not, we shall not be moved,
We shall not, we shall not be moved,
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water,
We shall not be moved.

When we stand with God, we will always find ourselves in a secure place. Encouraged by His presence, bolstered by His love, we are agents of grace in a hostile world. What a blessing to have this assurance in our faith. God is our lamp, the light for our path. No matter what shade may cross our path, no matter what obscuring lies may attempt to infiltrate our heart, the Wisdom & Truth from God the Father will always point us in the right direction. Trust in Him, even when the world screams its heresies and when it repeatedly whispers its soft, subtle lies, trust in the light of the Lord. When hard times come, when desperate times press us from all sides, rely on the strength of Christ and the power of His presence to see you through. Even when you cannot see the way, He will light the path for us.

With God, we can withstand anything, and overcome the obstacles in our path. He is the One who provides a pathway and the one who empowers His children. We are always in a good place when we stand with the Lord. be encouraged by His good promises, be lifted up by His grace. The onslaught of the enemy cannot stand against the Lord our God. He is our shield, He is faithful and true. He is our rock and our redeemer. Find your hope in Him. Find your strength in Him today. He is with you who have put on Christ.

His way is indeed perfect, He has shown us this time and again. His grace equips us for our encounters with others in need of grace. His steadfast love enables us to love those who are difficult to love. His boundless forgiveness reminds us of our own need to forgive others, echoing His great justice and mercy. His care & provision for us reminds us that we have been blessed to bless others, to reach out to those who suffer injustice, to provide for those in need.

He is everything we need.
In Him we stand secure.
In the face of all life’s struggles, we will not be moved.

35 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your right hand supported me,
    and your gentleness made me great.
36 You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
    and my feet did not slip.
Psalm 18:35-36

The LORD lives!
Blessed is my Rock!
Exalted is the God of my salvation!
In Him may we find strength for the day’s trials & troubles.
In Him, may we find grace enough to share.
In Jesus’ precious & holy Name,
Amen.

A Song for the Brokenhearted

eastergoodbye_optimized

“1 Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
    for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.”
Psalm 147:1-5 ESV

How do you respond to someone when they’re brokenhearted? What do you say when someone’s world has come crashing down? What words are there in the midst of tragedy?
Too often, our song of peace for others in these times is silenced because we fear crossing a boundary. We are worried that we will overstep, say too much, maybe, somehow, make things even worse. And so we give someone a nod, a pat on the shoulder, and simply mutter “I’m praying for you.” Then we walk away wishing there was more we could have said, dozens of phrases begin swirling in our head. But we tell our self that the moment has passed, and it’s best not to make it any more difficult of awkward than it already is…

But that is not where we find God. The psalmist points us in the right direction here. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in his heart and hand, we find this gentle reminder that we can always share. Look at Who God is, and what He does:

1. God is always worthy of praise, no matter what may be going on.
In times of tragedy, we are often reminded of Job. And what does Job say when he has lost his fortune, and more importantly, his own children?

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Job 1:20-22

It may feel absurd to praise God in these moments, but look at what praise does in us. It restores the most basic function of our life, it reminds us of our purpose…to do just that, praise God. And when we praise God we are comforted by His presence, because when we praise Him, we stand before Him.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

We are comforted when we come into the presence of God, and praise is the remembering of the good things that He has done. In spite of whatever else may be going on, God has been good, is good, and will continue to be good. It is our world that is broken, not Him. And so we praise Him, and in turn we are comforted. He responds when we respond in faith.

2. He builds us up. He heals us. He binds our wounds.

When we feel broken, when others are shattered by the events of life in this sin-wrecked world, when death rears its head and that valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23) looms high over our hearts and heads, we find ourselves still in the almighty clutches of the Good Shepherd (John 10), the Great Physician (John 5) who has promised The Comforter (John 16), The Holy Spirit to be present with us in all things, just as He is (Matthew 28.) He is the Traveler along our road, who stops, stoops down and meets our every need (Luke 10.)
He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13) He has promised us this. He is near to the brokenhearted, and He knows our pains.

3. He reminds us that He is still in control, ordering our days. He knows all the details, and nothing escapes His watchful eye and loving heart. Listen again to what the psalmist says:

He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.

When we feel broken, when others are shattered by the events of life in this sin-wrecked world, we look to God and are lovingly reminded of this great truth. If He knows and names the countless stars in a billion, billion galaxies, surely He knows my name, too. He knows my every hurt. He knows what brings me joy, and He knows how to share His peace.

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 10:29-33

He knows us. He acknowledges us. We need only to turn our eyes back to Him, trust in Him, and remember who holds our days. Again, faith brings us to this point of healing. If we allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us, healing will be longer distant and harder fought.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Hebrews 12:15

Grace is quickly given, but we must also see to it that we allow it to rest on our hearts. It is easy to sink into the mire of depression in a dark season. It is easy to be a party of one, closing ourselves off in a solitary prison of pain. But that root of bitterness grows and strangles, and the answer to it is to seek out God, and serve someone else. Comforting others, even in the midst of our own pain, can be a great healing experience, and help us remember the goodness of God.

3. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.”

When we feel broken, when others are shattered by the events of life in this sin-wrecked world, we need to submit ourselves to this one unbending truth. God is great. He is abundant in power. We cannot grasp the depths of His understanding. And even if we don’t feel like we have the words to share in the midst of pain, this one thing we do have.
Nothing is beyond our God. No hurt stands beyond His understanding, and even when we feel utterly powerless, God is still Sovereign-over-all. He will never fail us. He is our joy, our rock, our refuge and our hiding place.

He never promises us that we will understand everything that happens in this life, either on this side of eternity or the other. But He guarantees us this: He knows, He is in control & He loves us deeply.

Comfort someone with these truths, or allow God to be your point of comfort in the midst of your own trials.

You_are_not_alone.

Psalm 118

1Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
    the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.

10 All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
    they went out like a fire among thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard,[a] so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16     the right hand of the Lord exalts,
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”

17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.[b]
23 This is the Lord‘s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
    O Lord, we pray, give us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
    up to the horns of the altar!

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Acts 27:39-44 // A Tedious Trip in Dangerous Waters

“39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land but sighted a bay with a beach. They planned to run the ship ashore if they could. 40 After casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and headed for the beach. 41 But they struck a sandbar and ran the ship aground. The bow jammed fast and remained immovable, while the stern began to break up by the pounding of the waves.

42 The soldiers plan was to kill the prisoners so that no one could swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion kept them from carrying out their plan because he wanted to save Paul, so he ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to follow, some on planks and some on debris from the ship. In this way, everyone safely reached the shore.”

Acts 27:39-44

==

All of Acts chapter 27 is devoted to the sailing between Judea & Italy. So much time is covered, so many days of tedium are passed by in just a few verses. It is clear that this is an unpleasant journey, and that God has given Paul a kind guardian to watch over him as he completes this dangerous trip. The circumstances were unfortunate, the timing of the trip was poor, the conditions were less than ideal and this could have definitely been a cause for complaining. But listening to Luke recount what happened, including the shipwreck, we don’t hear any tones of discontent, there is no frustration or anger. 

We all have seasons of life where we experience difficulty, wheer situations are less than ideal. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, we all know that life isn’t a series of cupcakes and roses. Life is difficult. But even in the midst of difficulty, we have the opportunity to live out the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. because of the goodness of God, we have a Comforter in His Holy Spirit that serves as aour guard and guide through these rough patches, nom atter how difficult or long lasting they might be. Paul & Luke knew that God as with them as they waited out those long days at sea. They knew that God was with them as they bounced from ship to ship at the discretion of another man. They knew that Jesus’ promise to be with them always was still good as the weather turned and the ship was buffetted by the waves. They were able to rest in the goodness & mercy of God as they swam to shore, having just been spared from death twice in the same occasion. 

We cannot get hung up in pity parties. We cannot look at only ourselves or our own strength in the midst of difficult days. God has given us a great blessing. He has promised us His peace. He is faithful, He is compassionate & He will carry us through these difficult stretches of life. We simply need to trust Him and lay our pain, sorrow, worries and frustrations at His feet. He is more than capable of carrying whatever we find ourselves too weak to manage.  

I am immediately reminded of this passage from Paul’s 2nd letter to the church in Corinth: 

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

“But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. 10 So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When we are in the midst of difficulty, God’s strength shines through. It is obvious what we struggle with and how difficult things are, and it is doubly noticeable when God is glorified by getting us through those times. Those are the occasions where people come and ask where or how we had the strength to move forward in the midst of such extreme difficulties. Give God glory & step out of His way. Let Him be glorified in your weaknesses. Seek Him out & then rest in Him as He guides your steps, moment by moment, day by day through the darkest valleys and into His marvelous light. In this example, we can still GoLove others, mirroring the heart of Christ who was strong for us as we lay dead in our sins. 

Have faith. God is good.

Psalm 119:81-88 // כ Kaf // When it feels like you have nothing left

“81 I long for Your salvation;

I put my hope in Your word.

82 My eyes grow weary

looking for what You have promised;

I ask, “When will You comfort me?”

83 Though I have become like a wineskin dried by smoke,

I do not forget Your statutes.

84 How many days must Your servant wait?

When will You execute judgment on my persecutors?

85 The arrogant have dug pits for me;

they violate Your instruction.

86 All Your commands are true;

people persecute me with lies — help me!

87 They almost ended my life on earth,

but I did not abandon Your precepts.

88 Give me life in accordance with Your faithful love,

and I will obey the decree You have spoken.”

Psalm 119:81-88

A smoke dried wineskin is brittle and past its usefulness. David is feeling spent and useless, ready to break. We all experience times like this, where we don’t feel like we have anything left in us. One more hit will shatter us. DAvid feels the weight of the world pressing down on his shoulders, he longs for the intervention of God. 

I often tell people that there is great value in getting familiar with the psalms because David is very expressive about the things he is experienceing, and his reliance on God is our example for what we should do as well when (not if) we experience similar situations.

Re-read this portion of Psalm 119 again. Listen to David’s heart and think through times in your life that felt similar. 

Read it a third time, and think about what God has done to help rescue you.

Read it a fourth time, and give God praise for His faithful love! 

  

Acts 8:1-8 // Persecution & Great Joy

“1 Saul agreed with putting him [Stephen] to death.

On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. 3 Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.

4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 The crowds paid attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.”

Acts 8:1-8

It isn’t unsusal to see strange pairings in the life of the Church. That persecution and joy would be so closely intertwined would be unusual in the world’s eyes and expectations, but we see God working wonder and beauty so often out of pain and unfortunate circumstances. That the death/martyrdom of Stephen would be followed by persecution, anger and hatred that then, in turn, pushed thoe who carried the same Gospel message out into the surrounding areas spurring others to come to know Christ, and salvation through Him, is something straight out of God’s handiwork. He brings good where someone else intends evil. 

Think back to Genesis, when Joseph was sold by his brothers to some Midianite traders because they didn’t want to hear about his dreams anymore. Joseph, sold by his own family into slavery, winds up being in the position to save them from starvation during a terrible famine. And not on ly his own family, but that entire region of the world. What they intended for evil, God used for good. Anger and frustration resulted in joy and thanksgiving.

Think to the next chapter in Israelite history. Moses has been born, floated down the nile, raised in Pharaoh’s household and decides to go out and see how his fellow Israelites are doing. While he is out on a walk, he sees the Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave and Moses kills him, which ultimately results in his flight from Egypt and 40 years as a shepherd. Moses had anger in his heart, he was a murderer. But God used that flight from Egypt to teach him valuable lessons and to get him to a place where he could lead His people out of slavery. What Moses began with evil, God turned into something good.

And so the stories run. God takes the messes of our lives and creates beauty from our ashes, strength form our pain. And so He is glorified. Saul, who watched and apporved of Stephen’s death would later write that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Because when we have nothing to run on, the handiwork of God becomes much more obvious, and all the praise and glory belongs to Him. 

The persecution that began at Stephen’s martyrdom resulted in the spread of the Gospel message, the breaking down of social barriers and the saving of many lives & so persecution led to great joy. Such is the love and concern of God, He doesn’t leave any opportunity untapped. All things point ot Him and His glory, we simply need to remember this and trust Him to move, even in the midst of our pain…especially in the midst of our pain. He’s just that good. He loves us that much. All glory & honor & praise go to Him for His goodness, mercy & grace.

As we GoLove others in His Name, we need to remember all these occasions that He brought good out of bad and how He redeemed our lives from the pit. While we were still dead in our trespasses, God, in HIs perfect timing, sent Christ to be life for us, taking that penalty of sin and death upon Himself so that the beauty of salvation might prevail, and that God might be glorified in both His justice and in HIs love. 

Praise God!

  

Acts 7:9-16 // Jesus and the story of Redemption (pt 2)

“9 The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt, but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his troubles. He gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over his whole household. 11 Then a famine and great suffering came over all of Egypt and Canaan, and our ancestors could find no food. 12 When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors the first time. 13 The second time, Joseph was revealed to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 Joseph then invited his father Jacob and all his relatives, 75 people in all, 15 and Jacob went down to Egypt. He and our ancestors died there, 16 were carried back to Shechem, and were placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.”

Acts 7:9-16

“God was with him, and rescued him out of all his troubles.” 

This is what God does. In our weaknesses, in our plight, in our pain and suffering, He extends His hand of mercy. He comforts our heart. He brings us peace and lifts up our head. Zephaniah says that God is mighty to save, that He sings over us and comforts us with His love.

I don’t know about you…but I need that. I need comforted because life hurts so often, my sins and mistakes wound me deeply and my fears, doubts and worries can seem overwhelming at times. There are days when things seem to press in from all sides, where issues I have no power over seem to loom over my head and press their weight into my shoulders, and I am crushed in my spirit.

On those dark days, it is a comfort to know that the one thing keeping me afloat in the midst of that storm has nothing to do with my own willpower or strength. It is the mighty hand of God upholding my spirit. His love brings me through, and His grace, mercy and love, lift my eyes up from the muck and mire and points them heavenward. He helps me remember that there is life beyond the moment of suffering, that there is joy that outlasts all pain. He reminds me of His good and perfect promises to me, and like the unending rhythm of the waves on the shore, He will never relent. He will never leave me or forsake me.

“He gave him favor & wisdom…”

As God gave Joseph what he needed in his plight, so he provides for me today. I do pray daily for wisdom, He knows I need it. But He also provides the answers and solutions to all my worries, problems, questions and concerns. He provides a faith that cannot be shaken, armor that protects the heart, and a Word that gives me sight. He truly is YHWH Jireh, providing for all my needs and even beyond. 

So, praise God today for His wonderous care! 

Praise the Lord of Hosts for His protection!

Praise God for the goodness of His creation!

Praise God for the provision He made throught Christ in the misdt of our death in sin. 

While we were already dead in our sin, He raised us up, breathed new life into us and animiated our dead bones so that He might be honored, glorified and praised. Our sustaining points glory to Him. Our blessing though provision accentuates His awesome love. The outpouring of love that flows from His people brings joy to His heart, like a Father watching His children put on His shoes and shirt and doing their best to be like their daddy. 

As we GoLove others, we mimic the heart of Christ, the eternal definition of love, care, provision and dedication. If Jesus had the strength to bear what He bore in His body for us on the cross, surely He can help us through our difficult days. Surely we can GoLove others and give them hope in theirs…

  

Acts 5:33-42 // Honor in suffering

“33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what youre going to do to these men. 36 Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

Acts 5:33-42

To listen to some famous ‘preachers,’ you would think that they never read the book of Acts. To those who are always preaching a Gospel of prosperity, ease and giving empty encouragements to self-care, there is an obvious disconnect as to what constitutes the favor of God and what counts toward dishonor. Here we see the Apostles being jailed, flogged and discouraged by the leading court in the country, and they go away rejoicing that they were worthy to be dishonored in this way for the sake of Christ, and because of His Name. This idea of honor in suffering runs contrary to what Joel Osteen and others like him preach and teach. 

As we consider what it is we have been called to accomplish as disciples of Jesus Christ, we must remember some of the things that He said would identify us as belonging to Him. He told us that we would be known for the love that we have for one another. That sounds nice, but it is also a very difficult thing to live out. It’s not just a matter of loving people that we naturally like and get along with, but a matter of loving people that push all our buttons and that we would rather not be around. So, following Jesus continues to mean a death to self. Jesus also said that we could not be His disciples if we loved family, position or anything else more than Him. It must be like hate in comparison. Our priorities must be radically different. That means that sports schedules for children, hobbies, jobs and everything else you can think of must come in an infinitely distant second place in comparison to our devotion to Him. We must be unswerving in this, and that is not easily or lightly done, yet another difficulty. 

But even deeper than those, we see that Jesus told us that we must take up our cross daily if we are going to follow Him. The cross comes with scorn, derision, and a condemnation by the world that cannot be overlooked. Jesus told us that the world would hate us just like it hated Him. And if the world crucified Jesus, then we must also see that we are next in line behind Him. This isn’t comfortable. This isn’t easy. This isn’t marked by health, wealth or ‘your best life now.’ We are never promised those things, and they are never shown as being markers of the favor of God in Scripture. These charlitans who pretent to stand in line with the message of Jesus Christ, but who have no real allegiance to Him, must be called out and shown for what they are. It isn’t love and tolerance to allow false doctrine to pervade the minds and hearts of the people of God. We cannot pretend for a moment to have a part in Jesus Christ if we try to separate the things that Jesus Himself said would be part and parcel of our following of Him. 

These men and women to proclaim Jesus Christ while paying for luxury upon luxury that they ‘deserve’ from the donations of thier adherents, who have little to nothing in comparison, will be called to task one day by God Himself and they will be held responsible for their lies and their missteps. I cannot presume to stand in judgement over their souls, that is up to God. But I cannot imagine that He is pleased, nor holds them in favor, because of their actions and preying on people through a false gospel of prosperity. 

The markers of the favor of God come with a clean conscience, a life of fruitful evangelism and a peace that surpasses all understanding. It comes with a contendness in all things, in all circumstances, not a grasping for ‘more.’ It comes with a desire to give away everything, because nothing in this life is worth holding on to except Christ. It comes with an insatiable desire to GoLove others however God has gifted us to do so, and we find our fulfillment, not in small shallow thigns like possessions, wealth, land or houses, but in seeing the work of the Gospel done in the hearts and minds of those we encounter. It has nothing to do with wealth, and everything to do with the faithful following of a formerly dead slave brought to life again and made to be an heir of righteousness. Proper priorities show those who preach prosperity to be sad, hollow hucksters with snake-oil ‘cures’ ready to sell to the most willing buyers looking for a quick fix. Lasting change, real hope and a life overflowing with meaning comes only from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God in our hearts and minds, and that cannot be bought, sold or acquired through any means we can devise. 

If we are folowing Christ, He has promised ot be with us always, even to the very end of the age. If we are not satisfied in this life, then it is because we are not actually following Him, not because we still have ‘favors’ to claim from God. He does desire to bless His chidlren, but not in the way that the world or people like Joel Osteen call ‘blessing.’ Take every thought, every teaching, captive and hold it accountable to Scripture, weigh it out and see if it is what God desires for you, truly, as you carry your cross for Christ. 

  

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