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Beyond the Shadows of Life

Lord, do not let us accept what is temporary in place of what is eternal. Do not let us look in the dim mirror and prefer what we see over what is true. Father, unfold our hearts within this life to long for what is yet to come so strongly that all we see here is what You are pointing to eternally. Let us shake off then, what is temporary and pursue what lasts. Amen.

This morning we continue our meditation on our Great High Priest, Jesus. We have seen His heart as we read through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd parts of His High Priestly Prayer in John 17. And so we return to this place in Hebrews where we get to sit & listen & be reminded of who it is that serves as our mediator. This is mystery to me, wrapped up in grace beyond measuring, that God would be the go-between for us and Himself in this way. We are certainly unworthy, we can see and feel that every day. It’s not hard to see the evidence there. But His grace catches us off guard and reaches down deep within us and offers up this wonderful, expectation-shattering truth. Read through this reality slowly, listening to God’s love song over you. Listen to the words of the prophet Zephaniah and then listen to the author of Hebrews explain how God brought that to pass. Rest and be reassured in the rhythms of grace in the song of God over you.

Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is in your midst,

    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Hebrews 8:1-13
“1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,
a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.

Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

Lord, do not let us accept what is temporary in place of what is eternal. Do not let us look in the dim mirror and prefer what we see over what is true. Father, unfold our hearts within this life to long for what is yet to come so strongly that all we see here is what You are pointing to eternally. Let us shake off then, what is temporary and pursue what lasts. Amen.

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The Perfect Priest

Father, Thank You for providing Jesus as our go-between with You. Thank You for His service at Your altar on our behalf. It really is a blessing to know that He has both served and paid the price for our offenses against You. Thank You for the guarantee of a better covenant through Him & the peace You offer through His blood. Amen.

We have spent the last three days reading and reflecting on Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Let this passage be a guide to remember that role He serves in, remember what He has done for you and for me, for all of us who walk in His path. Let’s learn from His example, let’s worship Him in the rhythms of His grace. Take time, don’t rush and read through it as a meditation, be still/quiet and listen to the Word speak.

(Accents below are mine.)

Hebrews 7:1-28
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him,

“You are a priest forever,
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”

22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Father, Thank You for providing Jesus as our go-between with You. Thank You for His service at Your altar on our behalf. It really is a blessing to know that He has both served and paid the price for our offenses against You. Thank You for the guarantee of a better covenant through Him & the peace You offer through His blood. Amen.

 

Jesus’ Pre-Passion Prayer Pt3

Father, unity with others comes at a price. Unity with You comes at an even deeper price. Give us strength to sacrifice our pride, nailing it to the cross with Jesus. Give us the strength to die, to see with eyes of one looking back over their life as we draw our final breath, so that we might have eyes to see those things that would fill us with regret, and let us lay those sinful inclinations down to die so that we might live. Let us live in unity with You. Cleanse us, refine us and let us walk in Your glory through the sacrifice of Jesus. Amen.

John 17:20-26
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

This High Priestly prayer of Jesus is arguably one of the most beautiful parts of all of Scripture. Of all the gifts that God has given us in His Word, this shines out as a gem on the crown of the Gospel message. Jesus did not have to pray this prayer out loud, but He did, and He did it for our benefit. He speaks frankly with the Father, He speaks plainly for His disciples, and He speaks plainly for us. We see the desire of His heart, and we see our deep need for Him. And where we stand unworthy, He seeks simply to redeem us from our unworthiness.

Those days when we don’t feel worthy, when we don’t feel loved, lovable or worthwhile, Jesus calls out to us and says, “Listen to this! I asked God for you. I want you to believe in Me, and be drawn into this deep, abiding relationship with Me. You are worthwhile, and God will be glorified in this.” Because while it is ultimately all about God and His glory, we also see that God is glorified, and this pleases Him, when we walk in unity with the truth, and with Him. And this is what Jesus set about to do.

This relationship will stand as testimony to the whole world of His goodness, mercy, grace and loving-kindness. Your life and mine stand as a love letter, read out loud, just like this prayer was spoken out loud. God didn’t have to do things this way, but He chose to so that more and more might see and hear and be brought to salvation through Jesus Christ. He has made it known, and He will continue to make it known, because it glorifies God and it redeems us.

The world will reject us. They do not know Christ. Romans 3 reminds us:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”


Even in the face of our sin, Jesus prayed this prayer. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is grace. This is the rhythm we walk in with Jesus as we seek unity, daily, with the Father, and the rhythm that brings joy into our lives. Let us pause, remember and seek His wisdom & glory for this day.

Father, unity with others comes at a price. Unity with You comes at an even deeper price. Give us strength to sacrifice our pride, nailing it to the cross with Jesus. Give us the strength to die, to see with eyes of one looking back over their life as we draw our final breath, so that we might have eyes to see those things that would fill us with regret, and let us lay those sinful inclinations down to die so that we might live. Let us live in unity with You. Cleanse us, refine us and let us walk in Your glory through the sacrifice of Jesus. Amen.

Generous God, Generous Love

Bless the LORD o, my soul! How excellent is His greatness!

Ephesians 4:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Bask in that for a moment will you? Listen again to what you just read. Rest in words of grace and provision, forgiveness and the mystery of the opening of the will of God to His people. Remember the sealing of the Holy Spirit that came to you when your faith came into being, and your submitted your heart to His, being baptized into His baptism for the praise of His glory.

Remember.

This is our resting place, within the generosity of God. We deserved death as the payment for our sins, for our rejection of His will and Lordship over us. We were guilty, broken and damned. There is no sadder state than the one we occupied before we met Christ, no condition more hopeless. We were sinners in the hands of a just, wrathful and holy God. Hell and desolation were our destination, separated from Him for eternity, goats, chaff & weeds all.

But through Christ Jesus we have stepped out of darkness and into His glorious light!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise God all creatures here below!
Praise God above, you heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son & Holy Ghost!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Dwell in this blessed truth today, if you are in Christ! If you are not, listen to the words of promise above, the words of hope and expectation. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart, the ears of your soul, so that you might see and hear what so many already enjoy and find their peace within. God is generous with His grace. He is generous with His love.

Praise God!

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.

The Song of our Life

girlliftedhandssunset

Do you remember that feeling? What did it feel like on that day, in that moment when you surrendered your life to Christ? Can you still remember the lightness in your spirit, the joy that overtook you? Can you recall the emotions, the thoughts flying through your mind, the echoes of His love reverberating through your body?

What a glorious day!
Do you remember?
Have you seen a friend or loved one experience this moment for themselves? Have you walk this road with them, led them through times of discussion, questions and prayer? Do you remember the joy you felt as you watched the Holy Spirit begin to infiltrate their mind and heart? Do you remember?

Do you remember what it was like rejoicing for them, with them, because of them as they came up out of the waters of baptism? Do you remember wiping that tear from your eye? Do you remember that understanding that God truly had been at work in you in order for this person to be in this place at this time? Do you remember what it was like being part of something so much bigger than yourself?

This is the best song of our hearts, the magnum opus of our life, that God would take the single note of our life and blend it with the notes of others, creating a hymn of joy for His Name’s sake! In faith we followed, and in faithfulness, He followed through. He did just as He had promised. Do you remember?

The joy that comes from leaving sin behind, and pursuing the life that God intends, when His wrath was taken from us and placed on Jesus. Do you remember that feeling? When you truly felt for the first time, that you were beginning to grasp the weight of what Jesus had done for you. Do you remember? Did you cry? Did it break your heart? Were tears running down your face? Did you find yourself sobbing? Do you remember?

Do you remember the relief that came over you when you realized that you were square with God? Do you recall the peace that washed over you when you realized that you could indeed stand before your perfect and holy Creator-King and, because you are clothed with Christ, you could withstand the meeting? Are you reminded of this every time you take communion, when you humbly draw near to Him?

If we remember these things, then you’ll understand the heart of Isaiah as he penned these words over 2400 years ago. Listen and remember:

You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
    for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
    that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
Isaiah 12:1-6 (ESV)

Give thanks to the LORD for He is good! His love endures forever!
Sing, O daughter Zion! Cry out to Him, O Bride of Christ
!
Exalt in the Lord your Maker! Rejoice in His great love!
He has bent the swords into plowshares, and has drawn the nations to Himself!
From everlasting to everlasting, He is God.
He is glorified, and will glorify Himself! Amen & Amen!
Sing out, O my soul, and praise the One who saves us from death,
Spread His glory across the earth, spread it to all mankind!

Gather men, women and children from every tongue and tribe and nation to rejoice in the song of the Lamb who was slain, yet lives!
He alone is worthy!

Acts 13:13-41 // Remembering our story

“13 Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and went back to Jerusalem. 14 They continued their journey from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of encouragement for the people, you can speak.”
16 Then Paul stood up and motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen! 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors, exalted the people during their stay in the land of Egypt, and led them out of it with a mighty arm. 18 And for about 40 years He put up with them in the wilderness; 19 then after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, He gave their land to them as an inheritance. 20 This all took about 450 years. After this, He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years. 22 After removing him, He raised up David as their king and testified about him: I have found David the son of Jesse, a man loyal to Me, who will carry out all My will.
23 From this man’s descendants, according to the promise, God brought the Savior, Jesus, to Israel. 24 Before He came to public attention, John had previously proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 Then as John was completing his life’s work, he said, “Who do you think I am? I am not the One. But look! Someone is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie the sandals on His feet.”
26 Brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and those among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. 27 For the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers, since they did not recognize Him or the voices of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled their words by condemning Him. 28 Though they found no grounds for the death penalty, they asked Pilate to have Him killed. 29 When they had fulfilled all that had been written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and put Him in a tomb. 30 But God raised Him from the dead, 31 and He appeared for many days to those who came with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people. 32 And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. 33 God has fulfilled this for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm:
“You are My Son;
today I have become Your Father.”
34 Since He raised Him from the dead, never to return to decay, He has spoken in this way, “I will grant you the faithful covenant blessings made to David.” 35 Therefore He also says in another passage, “You will not allow Your Holy One to see decay.” 36 For David, after serving his own generation in God’s plan, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed. 37 But the One God raised up did not decay. 38 Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, 39 and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. 40 So beware that what is said in the prophets does not happen to you:
41 “Look, you scoffers,
marvel and vanish away,
because I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will never believe,
even if someone were to explain it to you.”

Acts 13:13-41

For the Jewish people, it was common practice to look back and remember the history of God’s interaction with them. It reminded them of what God had done, what He had saved them from and how He had been at work throughout their whole history. Every year, as a part of their Passover celebration, they would recountt this story, and be thankful for what God had done.

It would probably be a good idea to to the same for our own lives today. Thank back through your own life. Remember where God has shown you mercy, grace and celebrate His handiwork. Remember His goodness and be thankful. Remember your own sin & weaknesses & ask God to continue to guard your heart and to grow you in wisdom, faith and understanding.

When we know our own story by heart, it’s that much easier to GoLove others because we are very conscious of what God has done for us at any given moment & then He can use that readiness to speak into someone else’s story through us.

It’s definitely worth remembering & celebrating His goodness, mercy & love, wihtout them we would still be subject to His wrath & destined for hell. So be thankful, remember your story today & how God has worked to bring you salvation through Jesus Christ. Write it down if you need to, but take time today and remember what He has done.

Acts 8:9-25 // Pride & Sorcery 

“9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and astounded the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God!” 11 They were attentive to him because he had astounded them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he went around constantly with Philip and was astounded as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.

14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had welcomed God’s message, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them, so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought the gift of God could be obtained with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

24 “Please, pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing many villages of the Samaritans.”

Acts 8:9-25

I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with people centered around a behavior, habit or practice that they have tried to maintin from their old life in their new life with Christ. Simon the sorcerer dealt with this same issue, fought this same battle and fell to it. He used to be ‘the man’ in the area where he lived. He participated in the dark arts, which affroded him some fear and respect among his people and neighbors. But when the light of the truth of the Gospel came into the picture, the people saw real power, real authority and Simon’s act only seemed like a dim light in comparison to the blazing evidence of God that was laid before them. 

And Simon, at first, saw and recognized it, too. And he left that life behind for a time. But, as happens with most of us from time to time, those old thoughts and habits and desires crept up and in this case, they got the best of him, and he received a very quick, very sharp rebuke from Peter & the apostles because his heart and his thinking were very, very wrong. 

We all have our moments, don’t we?

The struggles that I deal with and the struggles you deal with may be very different. The point of the matter is acknowledging them before hand, being very open and honest with ourselves, with God and maybe even with someone who could help keep us accountable. That way, when temptation starts to creep up, we have an outlet, someone to talk to and hash things out and a way to learn -how- to do what is right as we grow in our faith. No one is so incredibly mature that they can do this on their own. No man is an island.

Simon the sorcerer stands as a warnign and a reminder to us that we need to separate ourselves from our old lives, our old paths, our old habits and move on to new, better fields when we come to Christ. Those old paths are well worn, and its all too easy to get our wheel hung up in our old ruts again, and then we find ourselves headed right back into the same nonsense that we were into before. 

My heart goes out to people like Simon, but we all must be accountable for our actions. Every choice we make is a choice that we have to make intentionally. Nothing we do ‘just happens’ or comes about by accident. When we walk too close to the edge, we have to know that the odds say we are going to fall back in again. It’s just human nature. 

We don’t have all the details on why Simon’s heart and mind made this leap to try to purchase the Holy Spirit.It obviously shows an ignorance and immaturity on his part, but he let it run too long, and so it caused his fall. Tradition, not scripture, tells us that Simon became what is known as a proto-Gnostic, he became convinced that the faith was really all about secret knowledge and other interpretations of the spiritual realm and that he himself was this voice of God, not Jesus. Again, that’s tradition, not scripture, so take that with a grain of salt. 

The reminder here is for us to be mindful of ourselves. I am all too good at falling back into my bad habits and practices if I don’t make a very definitive break and change what and how I do things and conduct myself. I can’t flirt around with the old ways, and I’m going to assume that you cannot either. 

New paths aren’t always comfortable, but when Jesus is the one making them before us, we can be assured that His plans are always for our best. God’s plans are to prosper us, to give us a hope and a future, and never lead to what we see happening with Simon here in Acts 8. As we GoLove people, making disciples, we need to be as firm and loving as we can when we help them find these new paths in Christ, leaving the old life solidly behind. Be present with them, walk in hand in hand and show them the joy that you have found in Christ and your new life in Him.  And authentically lived life in Christ is always going to be more attractive than the old life of sin, shame and sorrow. 

  

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!

  

Mark 15:21-32 // Challenging Him to do what He was already doing

“21 They forced a man coming in from the country, who was passing by, to carry Jesus cross. He was Simon, a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 And they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means Skull Place). 23 They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it. 

24 Then they crucified Him and divided His clothes, casting lots for them to decide what each would get. 25 Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified Him. 26 The inscription of the charge written against Him was:

THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two criminals with Him, one on His right and one on His left. [28 So the Scripture was fulfilled that says: And He was counted among outlaws.] 29 Those who passed by were yelling insults at Him, shaking their heads, and saying, “Ha! The One who would demolish the sanctuary and build it in three days, 30 save Yourself by coming down from the cross!” 31 In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking Him to one another and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself!” 32 “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him were taunting Him.”

Mark 15:21-32 

— 

Two taunts from the crowd that day are recorded here. Both spoken in ignorance that He was actively engaged with doing the things they were challenging Him to do! 

First, 

“Ha! The One who would demolish the sanctuary and build it in three days, save Yourself by coming down from the cross!” 
When Jesus spoke about destroying and rebuilding the temple in three days, we as Christians know that He was plainly referencing His own body. He was actively engaged in that exercise, having been flight, beaten, punched, punctured and crucified. Those mocking couldn’t see this, of course, because of their own anger and hatred of Him. They had convinced themselves He had threatened their physical building when in reality He had been prophesying about this exact event. The darkness of their hearts and the infatuations of their minds and egoes kept them from ever really hearing and understanding Him. 

The second point of mockery is a two parter. 

“He saved others; He cannot save Himself!! Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.”

He was in the process of saving, as they mocked Him for it and His remaining on the cross is the only thing that could make it possible. Also, what they asked for Him to do, sarcastically, is what inspires belief today for us all. 

Again, for the Christian, neither of these two points of ridicule are new news, nor is the ignorance of the religious leaders. These two examples are fairly elementary in the understanding of our faith, but they are crucial at the same time. 

Jesus plainly said that the people crucifying Him didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t understand, either because they were just Romans doing their jobs or because their hearts were so hard. When you and I sin, we are playing part in Christ’s crucifixion, too, but our hearts and minds typically do not register this fact. It’s difficult to think about and painful to realize. Again, either from a lack of understanding or from a hardness of heart. 

We need to ask God to use His Holy Spirit to open our eyes to ourselves. That we would see the points where we are calloused, and identify the areas where we wear blinders against out own faults. We need to be conscious of our failings and ready to forgive others of theirs. None of us is any better than another, but the gift of Christ crucified is what brings us healing and restoration. 

If we are going to GoLove others, we need to teach them about the reality of sin and the reality of Christ’s gift of mercy and grace. We need to teach them to receive Him into their hearts and minds so that they can be renewed by Him and baptized into a new life with new perspective that begins and ends with Him. Teach the elementary things so they understand just what He has done for them, and then live it out in your own life. 



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