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Good for the Worst

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

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

Luke 22:54-23:56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember.

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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.

The Sacrificial Lamb hosts a dinner

Gracious Father, Sweet Holy Spirit, Precious Jesus, this moment of remembrance catches me in my heart every single time. It is difficult thinking about those who betray you, let alone sharing a meal with them where you pour out your heart for them. You looked them in the eye and You saw their brokenness. You knew what they would do, and so soon. What an awesome example You have set for us. What an amazing grace & love You’ve shown. Please bless us with this grace, may we do the same & may You be glorified in it. In Jesus’ holy Name, amen.

Luke 22:7-22
“7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.”

If we needed an image for shocking compassion, this is certainly it. To say that the act of remembering is beneficial is a gross understatement. When I try to think through, in detail, the events of this evening, picturing myself as a silent observer, I am shamed along with the apostles & wonder if I have let my Lord down. It is easy to stand up like Peter and say that we would draw our sword & die for Him, but it proves to be much more difficult in practice. Jesus knew all that would happen with these men whom He called friends, and yet the Sacrificial Lamb hosts a dinner for them.

He gives them ownership, a part in the proceedings, and tells them to “…prepare so we may eat.” They have a task, a mission, to perform for the One they love. Their Master has asked them to do something they are capable of doing, something familiar, something they grew up experiencing, a meal they could recite by heart.

When He gives them this task, though, the elements are already present. The place is already secured. They are to do the work of preparing the meal, a hands on experience, remembering what each part means, remembering the story of Moses, the people enslaved & the bitterness of their lives. They folded napkins, prepared the bitter herbs, laid out the matzoh & lamb shank. Each part a reminder of something written deeply on their hearts, something that resonated even more deeply into their present condition & lives. The thing they wanted to see so much from the Messiah they followed: freedom & restoration.

In faith we find it so, even today. Jesus has prepared the dinner, He Himself the Sacrificial Lamb. He has tasted the bitterness, was moved in haste, broken & hidden away like the afikomen. As He moved through the dinner with those who would desert & betray Him, I have to wonder if their hearts were awakened to something new happening before their eyes. I have to hope that they saw something different this time. I wonder if the Time was bearing down on them like it was on Jesus, if there was a sense of urgency & expectancy like on that night in Egypt thousands of years before. I wonder if the air was electric that night, if pauses were pregnant with meaning & if Jesus allowed them to feel the weight of that gathering.

He brought them to His rest before suffering. He invited them in between the warp & the woof of the tapestry of time & showed them connections prophesied and planned. They were integrated forever into this holy plan, this divine coming together of God & man. This reclining would be His last rest before He suffered for them & for us. He invited them into this moment that the rest of us would have probably spent alone, withdrawn. He gave of Himself, served them, a meal with broken people before He would be broken for them.

The New Promise given by the New Sacrifice. Given so we may live. It is right & good to pause & remember this, watch & listen. You are invited into the rhythms of His grace, a seat at the table where Master serves the servant. Acceptance is found, repentance brought to mind & love is deepened at the table of Christ. Pause. Be present there & remember. He has invited you.

Taxing Questions

Father, in You is the house of Wisdom. Lord, within Your heart & mind we find the origins of all truth & knowledge. Help us to see our lack, assist us in our foolishness and give us good counsel. We are prone to twist things & we try to distort Your truth to meet our own agendas. See if there is any offensive way in us and lead us according to Your good grace & mercy. Help us to see plainly beyond this world’s distortions. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 20:19-26
19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.

21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

Sometimes I wonder how tiresome it was for Jesus to deal with these Jewish leaders & authorities. They’re obviously jealous of the attention He gets. They cannot begin to speak with real authority like He does. He constantly breaks down the walls of their sanctuary of rules, and exposes their inner thoughts and weaknesses. He draws the affection of the people, while they can only muster up loyalty through fear and misused authority.

He is everything they are not & the people see it.

So, Jesus deals with these people who should be leading the nation in a God-honoring way, but who can only seem to focus on polls and perceptions. And rather than working with Jesus to bring the hearts of the people to God, they are authoritarian aggressors, always seeking out new plots, plans and schemes. And they’re moving beyond the boundaries of discourse & debate and sliding into the realms of intrigue and isolation. They plot and scheme and send others out to try to ensnare Jesus with words & social perceptions.

They ask pointed questions meant to trap & polarize the people. They want to lay hands on Him, but are relying on these spies and unruly people to stir up trouble. They pray for mobs to rise up against Him, because they lack the skill, wisdom and courage to do so themselves. These men who are not used to being contested suddenly find themselves marginalized & they simply cannot handle it.

There is nothing of God in their attitudes. Their god is their own image, their own expectation, their own fleshly desires. They may call it G-D, but they have an idol in their own hearts. And so they use flattery, and send smooth talking saboteurs to weave a web of misdirection.

What do we do when we find ourselves faced with people who should be in authority, but who cannot wield that authority properly? Paul has an encounter with the Sanhedrin later on in Acts, and after being struck by someone at the direction of a man who turns out to be the current High Priest, Paul corrects his language after lashing out at him in return. We are not free to bully our way past human authority figures, but we can stand in defiance of them like Peter and the other Apostles had to when they were told not to speak in the Name of Jesus anymore. We must respect the office, but we follow God first and foremost.

So we do not use their tactics: false flattery & misdirection.
We do not use their motivations: being thought well of, lording over people.
We do not follow their examples: plotting & planning in order to ensnare.

Jesus does tell us to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves, because He knew we were going to have these encounters. He knew we would find ourselves standing in places & dealing with situations that would press our buttons and leave us desiring to play by those same twisted rules. And so He sets an example for us that shows us a better way.

These shrewd speakers start asking Jesus about what is lawful & right, & since Jesus knows their hearts and motives, He responds with plain, rightly given truth. He distinguishes between the authorities these men deal with: God & Caesar. He then speaks to the limited realm of human authority & it’s physical limitations. If Caesar wants this slip of metal with his picture on it, then let him have it. Everything belongs to God, it all has his fingerprint on it anyway. Caesar’s reign and power comes from having his image on a coin, God’s power is not so small & finite.

When I was in elementary school I was at a friend’s house, and we walked over to play at another kid’s house because he had this great swing-set in his backyard. We were all having a good time, but my friend and I were a year or so older than this kid. He wanted to twist the rules and be in charge of the games we were playing because it was his backyard & his swing-set. He started getting agitated with us, made us sit down on the edge of his play area and wait for him to come back out.

When he came out of the house, he had a full sheet of yellow legal paper in his hand & he said, “If you all want to keep playing on my playground, then you have to watch me eat this whole sheet of paper. If you don’t then you have to leave.” Now, I’m sure he thought he was coming out to impress us, and he thought we would all be wowed by his digestive prowess. But about 1/3 of the way into the sheet of paper, you could tell that his mouth was drying out & that there was no way he was going to finish.

I’m not sure what he thought this little show would accomplish, but it fell flat and we all just got up and left. He was a child & so he behaved childishly when he felt he was loosing ground on his own turf. Now, we weren’t being mean to him, we weren’t excluding him from play. But it was his yard, his stuff & he had an expectation for being in charge of everything that went on there.

Jesus deals with this attitude over and over again. He has to stop teaching and pay attention to these men who should be leading the people, but who fill their mouths with nonsense in order to maintain control. And so Jesus’ approach should be our approach. When we deal with difficult people who struggle with authority, then we look into their motives, rather than lashing right back at them. We examine the power structure they operate within & we set that understanding & worldview next to the things of God with an understanding of His authority over all mankind. And from the origins of truth, we speak simple truth. We cannot play by their rules, we cannot run by their expectations. We do not walk down convoluted paths of deception, but we speak plainly, allowing God to be our guide.

The simple answer is powerful. True authority stands up to scrutiny. Looking to the base of where aggression finds its beginnings will reveal much. Truth often silences foolishness, but when you deal with fools, their silence is not often guaranteed.

We, as Christians, should continue to examine Jesus’ response to people like this so we might gain wisdom, be slow to anger & slow to speak. We must unlearn what the world has taught us, and gain wisdom from seeking out the heart of God instead. This doesn’t come overnight, but with discipline and wisdom gained from experience. If we walk with Jesus daily, in the rhythms of His grace, & if we are patient with others and with ourselves, we will find that God provides all we need in dealing with difficult people & difficult situations.

Father, in You is the house of Wisdom. Lord, within Your heart & mind we find the origins of all truth & knowledge. Help us to see our lack, assist us in our foolishness and give us good counsel. We are prone to twist things & we try to distort Your truth to meet our own agendas. See if there is any offensive way in us and lead us according to Your good grace & mercy. Help us to see plainly beyond this world’s distortions. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Conviction, Rejection & Comfort

Father, help us to have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the conviction on our hearts that comes from encountering You. Let us see Your love in the discomfort that comes with correction. Father, help us also to see that this same conviction that brings us life stirs up anger in those who do not follow You. May we stand firm in the truth of Your Word & Spirit. Amen.

John 16:1-15
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.
They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

I know I have felt this before, experienced the anger and frustration of others who do not walk with God and who do not share the convictions He builds up within us. Some people get prideful over stirring up anger from people they would call ‘heathens,’ the irreligious, or the stagnant, nominal “Christians” who just want to be pandered to rather than actually follow Jesus.

And while both are walking in delusion, you and I who follow Christ are never going to be the ones who bring conviction into the heart of another person.We may have well crafted discussion points, and a well thought out apologetic in regards to the life of a Christ follower, but unless the Holy Spirit intercedes, conviction will not come.

Human beings are not the vehicle for conviction, simply for the truth of God. He sees conviction come. Our anger or frustration will not convince them of the truth. We cannot bludgeon people with the Gospel, or pound right thinking into their heads. We are never told to share the truth in this way. Listen to Peter & consider our role:

1 Peter 3:14-16
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect*, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
*accent mine

We deliver the Gospel & the truth, ready in season and out of season with gentleness & respect. We stand as witnesses for Christ, wherever God may place us, and we trust in Him to reach hearts with what is said. For those who know, love & follow Him, it will be a comfort, for those who do not, a point of agitation. We will be walking in the footsteps of Jesus, in the rhythms of His grace.

Matthew 10:16-25
16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. *accent mine

May we be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ & the Gospel. Be faithful in conviction, stand firm in the face of rejection & be generous in comfort. God has given us what is ours to do, trust Him to do what is His. Be faithful & do not waiver. Be gentle & do not lash out in anger. Walk in the rhythms of grace.

Father, help us to have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the conviction on our hearts that comes from encountering You. Let us see Your love in the discomfort that comes with correction. Father, help us also to see that this same conviction that brings us life stirs up anger in those who do not follow You. May we stand firm in the truth of Your Word & Spirit. Amen.

Acts 15:6-21 // Clarity, Unity & Grace in the Church

“6 Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them: “Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”

12 Then the whole assembly fell silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul describing all the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they stopped speaking, James responded: “Brothers, listen to me! 14 Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 And the words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written:

“16 After these things I will return

and rebuild David’s fallen tent.

I will rebuild its ruins

and set it up again,

17 so the rest of humanity

may seek the Lord —

even all the Gentiles

who are called by My name,

declares the Lord who does these things,

18 known from long ago.”

19 Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.”

Acts 15:6-21

Here we find our example of the first council taken by the church in her early days, and here we find our example for how to handle matters in question. They discussed & debated, listened to the evidence and sought God out in HIs Word. They allowed themselevs to be led by the Holy Spirit rather than by their gut or their own preferences. If it had simply been a matter of appeasing those who were upset, they would have made circumcision a requirement for faith, stepping beyond the bounds that God laid out. If they had been bullied into it by Peter, Paul & Barnabas, forcing their way on everyone, then there would have been a split internally caused by dissention. But instead, they sought council with one another and with God. 

I offended someone last Sunday. Last night we sat down and talked about it. I shared Scripture with them, we discussed what God requires and what seems to be preference, and we parted happy and reconciled. 

If we are honest with ourselves, it’s not a matter of if we have confilct with another believer, it’s simply a matter of when. And people who claim Christ who get into conflict with one another have caused some of the nastiest fights and divisions that I’ve ever seen. They aren’t interested in listening to Matthew 18, in taking the proper stpes to be reconciled. They’re just set on being ‘right’ in their mind when the dust settles, and that is not a God-honoring attitude. That is selfish and sinful, full of pride and self-righteousness. The church is never served well by people who refuse to actually dialogue, to consult the Scriptures and spend time in prayer. When someone just wants to ‘win’ the church and the kingdom loses, and I for one don’t want to have to explain to God why my preference for myself and my own opinion outweighed the grace He had for me and for the person I am having difficulty with…

The church in Jerusalem did things perfectly. The people who were upset had their moment to be heard. They weren’t stifled or shut down. Their feeling weren’t invalidated and their opinions weren’t laughed off or scoffed at publicly. After hearing them, the Apostles & leadership considered testimony, consulted the Scriptures and arrived at their decision in a calm manner.  

As we GoLove others in the Name of Christ, we need to make sure we aren’t just self-justifying decisions because that’s our preference. Instead, seeking out God’s wisdom, we should listen to those who oppose us, respecting their opinion, we should listen to examples and seek out testimony and then consult the Scriptures. We should be willing to do anything and everything that still honors God in order to maintain the unity of the church and do do it all in love with a humble heart. 

  

Acts 12:6-19 // God’s Rescue Plan

“6 On the night before Herod was to bring him out for execution, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, “Quick, get up!” Then the chains fell off his wrists. 8 “Get dressed,” the angel told him, “and put on your sandals.” And he did so. “Wrap your cloak around you,” he told him, “and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed, and he did not know that what took place through the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they passed the first and second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went outside and passed one street, and immediately the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” 12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. 13 He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14 She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.

15 “You’re crazy!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel!” 16 Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded.

17 Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. “Report these things to James and the brothers,” he said. Then he departed and went to a different place.

18 At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19 After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.”

Acts 12:6-19

James had been executed, Peter was in jail awaiting his own execution and things seemed pretty hopeless. We all have seasons in life that feel like this. There doesn’t seem to be any good news, and if some does come, we write it off quickly and dismiss it as something else. Nobody likes to be in places or times like this, but when they come, time seems to slow down and things never progress at the speed we want them to…

For the Christian, this is a very contrary attitude to have and to hang on to. We see these things happening, know what the truth is, and that God has something better planned for us, but somehow we get wrapped up in the woes at hand and forget the promises that have been laid out before us. We center our hearts on this world as our home, rather than on the glorious promise of God through eternity, and so our hearts get bogged down in the worry and the details of the trial taht we are experiencing. 

Faith doesn’t mean that we deny the trial is even happening. It doesn’t mean that we dupe ourselves into believing that it’s not really going on. Instead, faith lets us see clearly beyond the current struggle that we are dealing with and into the reality that God is our great rescuer. Now, Peter could have been rescued by God in any number of ways, or God could have chosen to let Peter’s life be an example to others in what it means to surrender your body to the Lord (which he would eventually do, and Jesus had prophesied would happen.) And either way, God would be the One gettin Him through the situation and providing the exit plan, even if it wasn’t the one that their human desires were longing for.

Faith also means being prepared for God to move however He sees fit, and having confidence in that plan, even when we do not understand it as well as we would like, or even at all. The church was praying for him, but they weren’t even ready for what God was going to do. It makes for a fun read for us, to see them shocked and surprised by the goodness of God, but it just goes to show that God’s plans are not our plans. It sometimes takes us a moment to see what is going on and just what He is up to. That moment can be a literal moment, as we see here, or it may take us much longer to clue in to what God is doing. 

Either way, we are called to be a people of hope and to trust in God no matter the circumstances. In this way, we provide a viewpoint on life that others  do not have as we GoLove them in Jesus Name. The life of faith, unrelenting faith, isn’t a life lived in a pipe-dream but a life of eager expectation for whatever it is that God is going to do. Yes, it is a life of hope, and it wouldn’t be a reflection of the heart of God if it wasn’t. 

Have faith. Be hopeful. Trust in God.

  

Acts 12:1-5 // In this world you will have trouble

“1 About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, 2 and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church.”

Acts 12:1-5

Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world, but that we should take heart, He has overcome the world. He also told us that the world would hate us as it hated Him. James, John’s brother, son of Zebedee, one of the “Sons of Thunder” was killed cruelly by a morally compromised puppet king. Such an ignominus death for one of the Lord’s Apostles. But honor was not going to be found coming from a Herod, or from the authorities of the day. Obviously, their concern was more with pleasing the crowd than doing what was right. They didn’t want to be convicted, they didn’t want to hear any mor about Jesus or the truth of God’s Word. They wanted to follow their own personal passions, and they didn’t mind the cost.

There were times when this scenario still sounded like something from the distant past, but anymore, today, this could e happenening anywhere at anytime. Churches are not seen as sacred spaces anymore. There is no respect for life. No honor among men. People do as they see fit, and they don’t want to hear the truth. We are living in the days of the Judges again. But rather than an individual prophet or leader, God has ordained His church to stand up and speak truth. He has ordained His church to be the ones who show a respect for all races, who speak truth into the world’s lies, who stand as the standard bearers for His cause. And the world isn’t going to like it any more than they did 4000 years ago or even 2000 years ago. We should be ready to expect trouble.

There are political & social “leaders” who seem to like the reaction they get in the U.S. when the put down the ‘religious’ and when they insult God’s people. They seek to criminalize us and marginalize us, and in reality, the times are not all that different different. While they will not put to us the physical sword here, yet, they will do what they can to use the political system and the culture itself to silence us, to shame us into being quiet. In this world, today, you will have trouble. Are you ready to still stand up, to GoLove and share the Good News, even though the world doesn’t want to believe that it’s good news anymore? Are you ready to be bold, to break free from the bonds of the social prison we are being put into? Are you ready to break free from the “American Dream” in order to live the life that Christ Jesus has ordained for you instead? Are you ready to take this seriously, sacrifice, and dig in with people, serving, teaching, baptizing? Are you ready to quit trying to just go along with the flow and hope you don’t rock the boat? Are you ready to live the life of a disicple, and just follow the Master wherever He leads you because you just love Him so much? Are you ready to die to self to see this happen?

Take heart! He has overcome the world, and He has given us the authority to give the world that Good News!

  

Acts 11:1-18 // Defending God’s Love

“1 The apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had welcomed God’s message also. 2 When Peter went up to Jerusalem, those who stressed circumcision argued with him, 3 saying, “You visited uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
4 Peter began to explain to them in an orderly sequence, saying: 5 “I was in the town of Joppa praying, and I saw, in a visionary state, an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it came to me. 6 When I looked closely and considered it, I saw the four- footed animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. 7 Then I also heard a voice telling me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat! ”

8 “No, Lord!” I said. “For nothing common or ritually unclean has ever entered my mouth!” 9 But a voice answered from heaven a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call common.” 

10 Now this happened three times, and then everything was drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were. 12 Then the Spirit told me to accompany them with no doubts at all. These six brothers accompanied me, and we went into the man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 14 He will speak a message to you that you and all your household will be saved by.” 

15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17 Therefore, if God gave them the same gift that He also gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?”

18 When they heard this they became silent. Then they glorified God, saying, “So God has granted repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles!”

Acts 11:1-18

And so we see, even within the beginnings of the Church, people laying out their own personal expectations for what things should look like rather than listening to the words of God. Jesus made things clear before He ascended that they were meant to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth & Jesus Himself also spent time healing Gentiles & ministering to them on countless occasions. This concept shouldn’t have been anything that surprised them, but they had their own understanding, their own desire for what the church’s mission should be. 

People still today may leave one church family to join another because they don’t like the ‘unsavory’ new people coming to Christ. They have a sterilized idea of what the church is meant to look like, people like them, people in their income bracket, people with the same likes and dislikes…people that make them comfortable. 

But that’s not what Jesus called for. Jesus didn’t call for His church to be neat & clean on their own, but instead He said that He had come to heal the sick, the wounded & to gather the lost to Himself. The church wasn’t meant to be some cookie-cutter operation where everyone looked the same, came from the same background & had the same interests. Instead, a diverse church, diverse income levels, diverse ethnicities, diverse skills & talents, diverse family sizes, diverse everything. And that is going to make some people uncomfortable, as we see here in chapter 11. It didn’t fit their mold or cultural standard. 

But Peter educated them, in love, with the truth of God & they responded properly. They saw His handiwork, they heard Peter’s testimony & the evidence was undeniable. God was sculpting their hearts just as He was for Cornelius & his family. The church is always growing, moving & breaking through barriers. We must trust God & the unfettered truth of His Gospel to be our guide. How we, as human beings, want things to happen will not always be what God desires & we must be ready to move & GoLove others as He sees fit. The parable of the large banquet in Luke 14 stands as our reminder of our Master’s desire to see anyone & everyone coming to Him to be loved and saved by Him.

  

Acts 10:34-48 // God is rich in grace

“34 Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. 36 He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ — He is Lord of all. 37 You know the events that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him. 39 We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. 40 God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us, witnesses appointed beforehand by God, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to solemnly testify that He is the One appointed by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins.”

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of God.

Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days.”

Acts 10:34-48

There would later be a debate arise within the church centered around the man-made line distinguishing Jews and Gentiles. God’s grace is so amazing, so complete, so overwhelming that some people simply couldn’t believe that there was –nothing– that we had to do to earn it or pay for it or even qualify for it. Since the Jewish people had so much history with God, so much interaction through the Law and the prophets, King David and all the others, they couldn’t believe that God wouldn’t require somone to join into that first before taking the step of faith in beliveing in Jesus. So they made circumcision a marker of faith for the church. They told people that they had to at least do that in order to be a part of what God was doing. Paul, a proud Jewish man by heritage, would call them the ‘mutilators of the flesh’ and make it clear that nothing had to be done, no work, in order to earn God’s favor and receive His grace. 

This message was confirmed from the beginning, at this first God-orchestrated inclusion of the Gentiles into the Christian faith. Cornelius and his family didn’t have to become Jewish first. They didn’t have to go through any extra steps, sign off on a Jewish history class or anything of the sort. They feared God, heard the Gospel & responded appropriately. They were baptized with the Holy Spirit and in water. There are no other steps required. They began their walk with Christ, the fullness of the Holy Spirit within them, in that moment. No one had to ‘earn’ anything. 

For those of us who have grown up in the church, sometimes we have this temptation to lay out extra requirements when it comes to joining into the bride of Christ. Now it’s totally fine to have different approaches for how we get that Gospel presentation to people. It can be in a church service, a class, one on one over coffee, the possibilities are endless. But that core message doesn not change. Some people want an individual to hear the message, get baptized and sign off on a confessional statement or a catechism. That sounds nice, but that’s adding in an extra step when you make that a marker for faith. Use thet statement or chatechism in your presentation, be thorough, let them hear the fullness of God’s salvation story and help them understand that God’s Word is flawless, inerrant, and that it is our authority in all things. But signing off on a creed isn’t part of the salvation process. Good doctrine is vital. It is absolutely important and essential in the life of every Christian. But you don’t have to have ‘everything’ figured out before you come to Jesus. 

You simply need to understand that you are a sinner who need to be saved & that God has provided the way to salvation through His own Son, Jesus Christ. If you can accept the fact that Jesus paid for your sins while you were still dead in them, if you receive His great gift of grace?  Then you’re in! You join with Him in His death, burial and resurrection though baptism, and receive everything that God promised through His sacrifice. 

Sins? Gone.

Desire to be close to God? Achieved. The Holy Spirit indwells all who come to Him through Christ.

Purpose in life? More than you could possibly believe. You get to spread the joy that God provided for you to everyone else!

Hope for the future? Certainty after death? Completed. Eternity has been laid at your feet. You have been invited into the presence of God. 

So, GoLove people without stipulation. Present the truth of the Gospel and be faithful to what God has called you in Christ Jesus. He did all the work. Let’s trust Him in that…

  

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