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Thank God.

LORD of reconciliation, Master of mercy, Author of true joy, there is no greater hope to be found than the hope You have provided through Jesus Christ. You alone have the words of life, there is nowhere else to turn. Peace flows from the veins of Christ across all of us who were once at war with You, & You have drawn us near, glorifying Yourself. This is not our effort, but Yours, not our battle, but Yours, not our righteousness, but Yours & You alone are praised for the defeat of sin & death & victory over the grave rests with You. Open our eyes, revive our hearts & continue to draw glory to Yourself as we spread the Gospel around the world. We pray this through Christ our Lord, amen.

Luke 24:36-53
36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

I am real
You wouldn’t think you would ever read through the Scriptures & come out thankful that Jesus ate fish. It’s such a simple action, a basic thing to do. Look at His life with His disciples, how many times do you think Jesus ate fish? Grilled fish, baked fish, boiled fish, broiled fish, stewed fish, smoked fish & I’m sure the possibilities continue. But Jesus takes this common basic thing, this simple sign of something comfortable to reassure His disciples that He is indeed really there with them, present & constant. He’s no spirit, no ghost, no hallucination & He proves it by eating something they themselves prepared. I would have done some small miracle before them, shown myself through a divine sign, proving myself in that way. But He chooses something they can do & duplicate & I think that says an awful lot more.

He wanted them to know without a shadow of a doubt that He was indeed alive, present & moving forward into the next phase of life & covenant with them. A risen Savior is a real Savior, & this crew of confused & disheartened disciples needed something they could sink their teeth into, like a piece of fish. Jesus provided that for them that wonderful morning.

Forgiveness is real
Not only did Jesus want them to see & understand that He was & is real, He wanted them to remember the context of everything that had just happened & that not one moment of it all was coincidence or accident. He reminded them of the Scriptures they were raised with, a comfortable & familiar remembrance. He reminded them about Moses & the prophets & everything the Father had promised & been promising over the preceding millennia. This was the plan the whole time.

And why? This didn’t happen for nothing, right? This wasn’t something that was done simply for the sake of saying it would be accomplished. This is the promise of God to glorify Himself by the redemption of creation & humanity to Himself. This was all about God offering forgiveness to rebels like them & us & bringing peace & righteousness back into creation. This was the first step in seeing holiness win out over sin & evil. The foot of the Savior was bitten by that serpent, but his head was now thoroughly crushed. This has been the plan since the garden had to be cleared out  & Adam & Eve first perceived their own nakedness & brokenness entered the world. This was all about God’s glory & how He would provide forgiveness to all who would come to Him.

You are witnesses
And Jesus didn’t leave them out, either. In this moment where disbelief & joy slam into each other, Jesus reminded them that they had a part to play in this whole wonderful affair. This wasn’t just something done for them, but to them & would now happen through them. They are -the- witnesses to this universe altering news. They are the ones who would take this first-hand account of holy truth into the world. They are the ones with these words written on their hearts because they lived it, every single moment of it. Where they were feeling hopeless just hours before, & confused just moments ago, Jesus was letting them know from the onset that they had what everyone else needed. They have a purpose to fulfill. They are the bearers of the Gospel of love, peace, mercy, grace & forgiveness, & if this world is going to learn how to walk in the rhythms of grace with God, the it’s going to happen through them sharing all of this good news.

Joy is real
The world needs to know that joy is real. There is so much trouble, so many hurts, so many reasons to mourn & feel trapped in the brokenness & God doesn’t desire for another moment to pass from this one where people don’t know about the beacon of joy that will draw them back into wholeness with Him. Jesus knew that people outside of that room would struggle, & so He was sending out people who had struggled. Jesus knew that people outside that room would doubt, & so He sent out people who wrestled with doubt. He knew that people outside that room would deal with loss, sorrow & pain & so He sent out these people who had those feelings fresh on their hearts.

He knew the world needed joy, so He sent these out who were first to experience it. This fresh message, this amazing truth was needed more deeply than anyone could imagine & this firestorm of joy would burn without ceasing for the millennia to come. The disciples carried it, you & I who are in Christ carry it & the world still desperately needs to know about it. There is work to be done, joy to be spread. The Savior is real. Forgiveness is real. We are the witness to true & lasting joy. Let the whole world hear our praises!

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Shadows & Glory

Father, thank You for bringing us signs and symbols along the way that point our hearts toward You and toward Your plan. Shadows of glory-to-come remind our hearts of Your provision in the past, present and future. Shadows of glory-to-come remind us of Your intent to see Your Name glorified and Your will done.  These shadows were not without purpose and meaning, but they are not as deep, or wide or full as the true sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. We bless His Holy Name & we bless the Holy Spirit that reveals these things to our hearts. Amen.

Hebrews 10:1-10
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.
Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

As we read through the Old & New Testaments, we find so many parallels, so many things that call forward and backward to one another. Abraham sacrificing his only son, the son he loves, as an act of trust in God and God’s provision in that moment of sacrifice with a ram is a direct call to Christ’s sacrifice, His substitutionary death. God, working through Moses, parts the waters, His people pass through from an old life into a new following and dedication to Him pointing toward baptism and new life yet to come through Christ. All these shadows, all these interconnected events throughout history point us toward God’s will and His provision throughout the course and pathway of time.

But God wasn’t content to let things rest in shadows and symbols. He would be glorified when they played out to their fullness. We see humanity keeping laws and walking in the rhythms of the law, but God speaks to us through Christ and teaches us to walk according to the rhythms of His grace. Walking in the reality of the thing, rather than just in the symbol of it, is walking in depth and mercy and love. He has provided a deeper meaning for us to lash our hearts to and find our rest.

It also comes down to intent. Obedience to God’s will matters more than our ritual obedience. Our hearts must be engaged, not just our schedules. Jesus’ sacrifice is the true sacrifice, the others were simply shadows pointing towards it. He had to be engaged, not just pointed toward in order for wholeness to come to us and for glory to go to God.

Acting within the symbol of the thing does not mean as much as actually doing the thing. Otherwise it’s just words & words without action equates to hypocrisy.

And so we come to God, thanking Him for not just giving us a symbol of salvation, but for actually providing it for us. Through Jesus Christ, we find the symbol & shadow, the ritual sacrifice, done away with and the true sacrifice taking its place. In this fact and in the faith God provides, we find our rest. May we be that shadow, then, that points someone toward the reality of the cross today. May the image of Christ at work in us draw people to the true Christ and their salvation. May they see Christ at work in our speech, our actions and our attitudes as we walk with Him daily in the rhythms of His grace. May we step aside, so they can see God & give Him the glory.

Father, thank You for bringing us signs and symbols along the way that point our hearts toward You and toward Your plan. Shadows of glory-to-come remind our hearts of Your provision in the past, present and future. Shadows of glory-to-come remind us of Your intent to see Your Name glorified and Your will done.  These shadows were not without purpose and meaning, but they are not as deep, or wide or full as the true sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. We bless His Holy Name & we bless the Holy Spirit that reveals these things to our hearts. Amen.

Acts 22:1-5 // Building Credibility Through Transparency 

“1 ‘Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.’ 2 When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even quieter. 3 He continued, ‘I am a Jewish man, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel and educated according to the strict view of our patriarchal law. Being zealous for God, just as all of you are today, 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women in jail, 5 as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to bring those who were prisoners there to be punished in Jerusalem.'”

Acts 22:15
==

Paul begins addressing this hostile crowd in Jerusalem by addressing his own past & by exposing his personal history to them. Before they hear anything else, they need to see and know who he is and who he once was. This isn’t for Paul’s credit, but it does establish him as a human being in their eyes. With this kind of mob-mentality and violent rage going on, they needed to be reminded of the simple fact that he was a real human being. They also needed to know that he was someone that understood them. Paul firmly established his credibility in stating that he learned under Gamaliel & by addressing his proximity to the High Priest. He was basically saying that he was, at one point, one of them. He was zealous for the old traditions, just like they were, and he held a deep and abiding love for Jerusalem, the Temple and everything that they held dear…but obviously, something had changed.

When you and I speak to people who are opposed to Christ, who rail against us, it may also be helpful to establish our past with them. I usually tell people that breaking down your testimony into three parts will help them understand you more, see your heart more clearly and discover that you’re not some self-righteous hypocrite. The three parts are quite simple: “This is who I was before I met Jesus. This is how I met Jesus. This is what He’s working in me now.” A personal testimony is difficult to dispute. It is even more powerful when we let them see our imperfections, foibles and flaws. 

Paul wanted this crowd to know who he was, so he could establish a credible link with him and what he was getting ready to tell them. When we GoLove others for the sake of Christ, we need do the same, and that is often best established through personal transparency. Transparency helps people see that we aren’t just trying to lord something over them or to guilt them for not being like us. Instead, it introduces them to the story that God is writing in us, and it allows them to see our weaknesses, which in turn makes them more comfortable and reestablishes our humanity in their eyes. In short, transparency is disarming. 

But transparency does not come naturally. We have to endure it as a discipline. We want to be guarded, we want to keep our walls up. Exposing our weaknesses might give our opponent an opportunity to assault us further or do malign our character. Transparency lets them see into the depths of who we really are and it leaves us standing exposed. But that’s also why transparency is so powerful. It points past us and directly to the handiwork of God. It says, “I don’t have everything together.” Instead transparency points toward our own need for a Savior, and at that point becomes our witness to God’s goodness, faithfulness, mercy and grace. When we are transparent, we quit blocking the view toward Christ. Paul does that wonderfully, both here and in all his writings. We should go and do likewise and let people see Jesus Christ instead of seeing us. 

Psalm 119:113-120 // ס Samek // Desire for Consistency

“113 I hate those who are double-minded,

but I love Your instruction.

114 You are my shelter and my shield;

I put my hope in Your word.

115 Depart from me, you evil ones,

so that I may obey my God’s commands.

116 Sustain me as You promised, and I will live;

do not let me be ashamed of my hope.

117 Sustain me so that I can be safe

and always be concerned about Your statutes.

118 You reject all who stray from Your statutes,

for their deceit is a lie.

119 You remove all the wicked on earth

as if they were dross;

therefore, I love Your decrees.

120 I tremble in awe of You;

I fear Your judgments.”

Psalm 119:113-120

==

Read this passage again & hear David’s desire for consistency within himself.

Read it a third time, listening for God’s desire to do a work of straightening within your own heart & mind.

Read it a fourth time, and humbly ask Him do do that work in you today.

3 John // No greater joy!

“1 The Elder:
To my dear friend Gaius: I love you in the truth.
2 Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health physically just as you are spiritually. 3 For I was very glad when some brothers came and testified to your faithfulness to the truth — how you are walking in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
3 John 1:1-4

We hear people, adults and children alike, say they’re ‘bored’ a lot in life. In our western culture, we don’t know what to do with ‘own time’ or ‘quiet time’ in between activities. We feel the need to always be on the move because being busy means you are important, people who are not busy are not important. People who are rushing from one activity to another must have something good going on in their life because they are constantly in demand, they must have valuable skills or a mind worth sharing. So, being ‘bored’ indicates that we are lacking something of apparent substance for a moment in our life, we cannot find the intrinsic value inn the moment itself, or to have our wits about us enough to take advantage of that down time to reflect on what has happened lately, and what is yet to come. But again, we do not like to take time to examine our thoughts or our actions, lest we find something lacking in our character, behavior or in the quality of the activities that we have been engaged in. We place so much value in being busy that we do not consider the quality of the activities that are occupying so much of our time. And when we meditate on those activities, then we are also forced to think about those people that we have been spending time with in the process of our busyness. And when everything is said and done at the end of the day, we busy our mind with needless ‘entertainment’ to let our mind be diverted from the day’s activities and we neglect to truly reflect on what matters.

The reality of what makes life valuable is not how busy we are. And if we will be honest with ourselves, we will admit quite frankly that all the busyness doesn’t add an iota of joy to our hearts. When we are being honest, we will admit to people just how exhausting that busyness is, and how much we need a break or a vacation or just ….something else to take place other than what we have been manufacturing for ourselves. But even then, we often to do not place the blame on our own shoulders for a lack of scheduling acumen, but rather we blame the busyness for the busyness. “I’m just so busy because I have so much to do.” or something along those lines. And we refuse to acknowledge that our life lacks substance like a box that is full of packing peanuts still lacks and content of substance. It’s full, but not with anything of consequence.

When we look at passages like John’s 3rd letter contains, we see what fills his life, his heart and what really brings him joy. He doesn’t confess that his joy comes from going to X number of appointments today, or from counseling sessions booked from 10am-4pm or from some church bake sale that comes later on in the day that he is still scrambling to get things together for…no. His joy comes from his ‘children’ his progeny in the faith. Those who have come to Christ and have grown in Him under John’s tutelage and under his discipling hand. These that he has slowed down and invested his time in? These are the moments that matter, this is what fills his life. Not speed, not taking one group of disciples to soccer practice, and another to gymnastics, and rushing to the grocery in between, just trying to get errands completed. It’s not from the copious business team meetings and planning sessions with ministry team heads that his satisfaction comes from. It’s from the people, from quality time spent with people, developing relationships, doing life with them and watching them grow in Christ. There is GREAT joy in seeing people grow in Christ, to take new steps of faith, and if we are busying ourselves with things other than what we find given to us in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, then we are busying ourselves with things that fill time like packing peanuts fill a box. It’s fluff, but of no consequence. If we will, instead, flood our hearts and minds with the things and activities that reflect Christ, investing in others an growing the kingdom, it is then we can look back at the end of the day and rest contently, not in what we have accomplished, but in what God is doing in them. Becuase, as in everything, it’s not about us, it’s not about creating praise or joy from our own selves, our own efforts. It’s all about giving God glory by doing things that are worthwhile to God. We honor God with our time and effort by doing things that He has commanded us to do. It is in our obedience to Him that we get to look back at the lives of -other people- and see what God has been doing in them, and in those moments?

Pure joy.

GoLove others today, and experience joy by your investment in the Kingdom and in your glorification of God over all else.

The essential love for others // 1 Thessalonians 2

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
1 Thessalonians‬ ‭2‬:‭8-12, 19-20‬ ESV

When you work in an office, you can usually leave work at work, and it doesn’t really follow you home. When you work in a factory, your labor takes place inside the walls of that facility and nowhere else. When you work in a school, the students don’t follow you home (although you may still do grading there.) One of the defining characteristics of work is that it takes place in a certain place at a certain time and then you leave it where it is…in theory.

But when it comes to our walk with Christ, and as that walk translates into our call to GoLove others in His Name, sharing the Gospel with them, we find that there is no ‘leaving work in the office.’ We cannot turn off our caring and service and love and concern simply because they may not be with us for the moment.

Why?

Because that’s not the way love works. Love isn’t stuck in any one time or place. It doesn’t go away when you aren’t near that person. It doesn’t stop just because you are in one place doing one thing and they are in another doing something else.

Love means there is no judgment of distance or time that can stop you from thinking about that other person. And in sharing Christ, that love and concern we have for others functions the same way. Either your love for them in Christ is real, or you have been acting insincerely toward them, and are really more focused on self or are distracted by something else. Athens t you value more than them.

Why do so many people who claim Christ never invite anyone else to church, or bible study and share the Good News of salvation with them? Can it be that their love is so cold that they simply do not feel compelled to make the effort? Could it be that their love is do distracted and self-focused that they believe this world is worth more attention than the souls of other people?

What is it that drives us to claim Christ, but not live the love He has placed in our hearts?

Selfish, sinful pride. Self-lust. Fear and a lack of trust in God and His power. Unbelief and/or selective faith. We want to be saved but not do anything else required of us. And this is no love to live this way.

True love is consuming. True love is lived out. True love causes you to give yourself up for others. True love is sacrifice and service and and a constant remembering of those who would receive it. True love dies to self.

If we are going to represent Christ. We need to die to self, carry the burdens of others and trust in the power of God to move. GoLove in all sincerity. GoLove in a wholeness of heart. Just go and truly love in Christ’s precious Name.

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