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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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Family Update – Steps of Faith

leap-of-faith2

Do you remember the ending of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade? Indy has a few trials that he has to make it through between arriving at the Canyon of the Crescent Moon (Petra) and reaching the room with the last of the three brothers & the resting place of the Holy Grail. The first demands a penitent heart, the second knowing & walking in the Name of God and the third was the leap of faith, a miraculously camouflaged bridge.

Well, we’ve been through some trials and now we are on the camouflaged bridge. One foot in the air, the other stepping off from the familiar floor.

It’s pretty plain to see (pun intended) that God’s path for us is rarely a straight A —> B route. He always works by circuitous methods, linking people and places we would never have looked for in order to find ourselves at the destination He has planned. We’ve been walking that path for a little while now. And while I would LOVE to say that we’ve found that place where our foot is landing on solid ground again, I am also fully aware that growth comes in those mid-air moments, the times where we are not in control.

God refines us through trials so that we will have what we need to have when we arrive where He is leading us. It is easy to say, difficult to wait through, & rewarding when it is accomplished, but usually not before. And it’s in the waiting where we find the conflict of our hearts. Because God knows better than to give us what we want when we want it, He gives us what we need as we need it. And so we grow in the waiting. God has been confirming our gifts, skills & identities in Him along the way, echoing the value He finds in us and that we were doubting just months before.

We are following each step as He lays it before us, following leads as He places them at our feet. Talking through one contact to the next, meeting one new person so that we may find the one who takes us where we need to go, God leads us ahead. And every time we take a step, He has shown us in one way or another that we are moving in the right direction. A word spoken, a verse repeated, a phone call offering support before we need it…He is faithful before our needs even arise. And this is the path of God, we must come humbly (“Only the penitent man shall pass.”) and walk according to His Name (“Only in the footsteps of God will he proceed.”) While we are in this moment/season of the “…leap from the Lion’s head” we know that God will prove Himself again and again as He has been doing.

The full story so far is super long, and I may write it out one day, but I think I’ll wait until I know that we have arrived on the other side of the chasm. There are still so many options laid out before us that we are sorting through them and praying for wisdom on which path to pursue. So, it’s not a matter of having a path to walk, it’s a mater of which one He wants us to follow & pursue. It is nice to have options, but we also would like to begin to move in one direction with solid purpose.

For now, we simply ask for prayers:
1. Pray that God will be glorified in us as He works out His plan.
2. Pray that God will provide in this in-between time (funding & temporary employment.)
3. Pray that God will give us strength for each day & wisdom to see His path.
4. Pray that God will bring healing around in us after the trials. (Marriage is fine, btw.)
5. Pray that God will show us each step as we need to take them, and that He will give us the faith to take them.

Comfort does little when kept

empathy2
Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.

Galatians 5:25-6:10
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Empathy is the feature of our own emotional health that allows us to resonate with another human being. It keeps them from being just a fixture in our own little world, and places them on equal footing with us. Empathy reinforces humanity, it directs our hearts toward the needs & suffering of others, and it guides us to action to see justice done for the oppressed. Empathy stirs our heart, it engages our mind, it motivates our spirit to do what it best for someone other than our self. It is a gift that keeps us alive, sane, and functioning as a member of a responsible, God-honoring culture & worldview.

Being emotional has often been viewed as a weakness. There have been people and cultures that have maintained that a strict anti-emotionalism will help you to be a better human being, that it helps you to ‘grow up’ and deal with the hardships of life better. For some, being detached emotionally is a sign that you have accepted reality and are now able to function as an adult. Emotionalism is for the weak.

This couldn’t be any farther from the truth, and we can look to Jesus for our example.
When meeting with people who were in need, hurting and broken, Jesus’ response was never cold and calculated, detached and solely observant. Listen:

Matthew 15:32 “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

Mathew 8:14-1514 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.”

Matthew 9:1-3And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 10:14 “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 19:41 “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,”

John 5:6 “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?””

John 11:32-3532 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

The common thread between Jesus, the people, their situation and the emotional response that Jesus had comes down to two small words “He saw.” That’s it. He observed their suffering, their situation, and simply in the seeing, His heart was provoked by emotion. And in that ’emotional’ state, Jesus acted in the mercy and justice of God to do what was right. He related to those who suffered, and He helped them carry their burdens, and usually took them all together.

This is the example of Christ. This is empathy at work. God is not cold and detached. There is not maturity that results in dismissing the heart and hurt of people who suffer.

Can emotion be used to take advantage of others, can sob stories capture the heart of another and remove them from rational thought? Absolutely. But don’t let the possibility of feeling deeply keep you from feeling. Don’t ever let the possibility of someone’s dishonesty keep you from serving others as Christ already has served them. Empathy doesn’t just keep others human in our own hearts, it keeps us human, too. A lack of empathy, a lack of compassion kills our own heart, and allows us to focus solely on self, dehumanizing others and seeking comfort away from their suffering. It removes us from the sphere of the work of God.

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Empathy & wisdom, paired together, help us walk in the path of the truth & mercy of God as we follow Christ.

Empathy without wisdom condones improper behavior and sinful struggles. Sometimes people hurt because of poor life choices and an improper worldview. These are the instances where empathy leads to compassion which leads to loving correction. It doesn’t keep us from meeting with them, but it guides us as we seek to guide them toward God, understanding their brokenness & our own.We are all responsible for our own choices & actions.

Knowledge without empathy is simply a cold observation of one’s perception of reality. It is cold and uncaring, even if we are right in regards to observing their moral transgressions. God’s mercy in the face of His own justice revealed grace for us & a glorification of Himself in the process. Had He simply observed, we would remain dead in our sin, damned by our own broken actions & motivations.

Pairing them together, we are kept responsible to God & others, seeing a need, and meeting a need while engaging the heart of the other as Christ has done, and drawing them toward Him. Mercy & justice, working together.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.

Sourcing Your Fruit


Lord, keep our frailty before us, that we might set our hearts on You. Be our strength & be glorified in our sustaining. Amen.

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‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:16-26‬ ‭ESV‬‬
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

It’s kind of hard to ignore fruit on a tree. It is the symbol of the health of the tree, it identifies the type of tree, it indicates a zone or region where that type of fruit can be grown. There’s a lot to be said by just looking at a tree. About a year ago, we were out walking in the woods as a family, and coming to a trail head we encountered a persimmon tree. The kids have never tried persimmons, let alone wild persimmons. They. Were. Tart…and dry, dry, dry! I asked them if we had created a memory that day. Sometimes as a parent you have to create teachable moments.

When it comes to the fruit of our life, we have to realize that we are walking, talking teachable moments for other people. We are showing the fruit of our hearts and intentions on a regular basis. In how we interact with people, how we respond to difficult situations, how we talk about people when they aren’t around…our fruit is obvious. Is there selflessness coming from us, or self-centeredness? Do we build people up or tear people down? Are we driven by compassion & mercy or do we just look out for number one? Do we run with the whims and desires of our physical body, or do we exhibit restraint and self-control, knowing how to discipline our bodies?

1 Corinthians 9:27 No, I train my body and bring it under control. Then after I have preached to others, I myself will not break the rules. If I did break them, I would fail to win the prize. 

Hebrews 12:11 No training seems pleasant at the time. In fact, it seems painful. But later on it produces a harvest of godliness and peace. It does this for those who have been trained by it. 

Colossians 1:9-14 That’s why we have not stopped praying for you. We have been praying for you since the day we heard about you. We keep asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants. We pray he will give you the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. Then you will be able to lead a life that is worthy of the Lord. We pray that you will please him in every way. So we want you to bear fruit in every good thing you do. We pray that you will grow to know God better. We want you to be very strong, in keeping with his glorious power. We want you to be patient. We pray that you will never give up. We want you to give thanks with joy to the Father. He has made you fit to have what he will give to all his holy people. You will all receive a share in the kingdom of light. He has saved us from the kingdom of darkness. He has brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Because of what the Son has done, we have been set free. Because of him, all our sins have been forgiven. 

God desires fruit from us, & He has a right to see it come about in us, reaping a harvest for Him. Jesus told the parable of the wicked tenants, people who did not own the vineyard and would not recognize the authority of the one who did. The fruit they were intended to raise was usurped by their own selfishness & greed, and they wound up paying the price for their misdeeds.

If we bear the fruit that God requires, and if we live lives of fruitful multiplication, we can be assured that our Master will be pleased with our effort. We are ultimately accountable to Him for the fruit of our life, our choices and our desires. If we value good fruit, and pursue practices that encourage good fruit then we will produce good fruit. If we choose to do otherwise, our lives will exhibit those choices instead.

Fruit bearing requires submission & daily obedience, but we will never regret that choice.

Lord, keep our frailty before us, that we might set our hearts on You. Be our strength & be glorified in our sustaining. Amen.

Acts 16:25-34 // Hope in all cirtcumstances

“25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped.

28 But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because all of us are here!”

29 Then the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the message of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had believed God with his entire household.”

Acts 16:25-34

Have you ever just escaped one bad situation to then find yourself helping someone else with theirs? Kind of a back-to-back ‘getting through the hard times’ sessions? That’s what we find here in Acts 16. Paul and Silas have been flogged without a trial and are now sitting in jail, chained up unlawfully. And just as their release comes, they find themselves confronted with the jailer’s brand new set of supposed problems. But as we see in both situations, Jesus winds up being the answer on both counts. Paul and Silas found comfort in their affliction when they spoke of Jesus and when they were singing hymns together. When the jailer thought all was lost, Paul was able to then comfort him with the good news that everyone was still present, and then address his deeper need with the Gospel message. In both cases, He brought comfort and changed a bad situation over to good, bringin glory to God.

The human tendency is to dwell in the hardship, to linger in the pain. We get preoccupied by it, engulfed in it, and it becomes almost impossible to see anything else but the darkness of the situation. Paul and Silas had every right to be angry, upset and forlorn. They had been wrongfully jailed, beaten and left to suffer. There had been no trial, no chance to speak their part. They had been dehumanized and their voice had been negated. Any one of us would have felt horrible if we were in their shoes. But instead, we find them singing hymns and talking about Jesus. He was  their point of joy in the midst of suffering. They realized that they were sharing in something that Christ Himself had undergone: beatings, jail and the lack of a real trial. They were suffering for His sake as He suffered, and that produced joy in their hearts. That is definitely contrary to what they world would see or understand. 

That’s why we as Christians should continue to perplex them. As we suffer, as we experience things that the world would say we have every right to dwell on, we live a different reality, one based in truth and hope: that Jesus Christ suffered and bled for us, that He has already conquered this world and all its troubles. This is our point of celebration in the midst of suffering! We are not left bereft of options, purpose or a voice when we suffer. We have a voice in heaven that speaks for us, we have the Creator of all things who can make a way for us and our hearts, we have the One who gives meaning where there seems to be none. He is our Great Comfort. Paul and Silas knew it, and the Jailer found Him through them.

So, as you GoLove people in Jesus Name, make sure to make every opportunity to let Christ shine in you, even at times when the world would say that dwelling in the valley of shadow is fine. When we find oursleves there, we know that His perfect love casts out fear, we will fear no evil, and we find our comfort from His rod and His staff. We know that He has plans to lead us by still waters, and that He will restore our souls. SImply knowing that God loves us, that He is concerned for us, working to see us through anything and everything for His glory, will provide a wonderful encouragement that will draw the heart of the non-believer to the joy we have in those seemingly dark and dismal moments. Christ is our Great Joy! Let the world see Him. They need Him so badly!

  

Acts 16:16-24 // The Inconvenient Truth

“16 Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 As she followed Paul and us she cried out, ‘These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the slaves of the Most High God.’ 18 And she did this for many days.

But Paul was greatly aggravated and turning to the spirit, said, ;I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out right away.

19 When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. 20 Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews 21 and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.’

22 Then the mob joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded. 24 Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks.”

Acts 16:16-24

This isn’t an uncommon reaction to the truth. When told or shown that what they are doing is wrong, people tend to lash out and get angry. They see the sharing of the truth/Gospel as a personal assault. And so they lash out, they get aggressive. This is the way that sin presses back against the truth, and we’ve seen it over and over again. Just like a child who doesn’t want to hear something will cover their ears and start to yell, these people cover their hearts and do whatever is necessary to stop the truth from taking purchase. People who are invested in their sins are not interested in changing while they feel like things are going ‘well.’ And so it is no surprise when they press ack against us as we share the Gospel. 

They’ll call us names, try to defame us, insult and slander us and do whatever they can to rally like minded people to their cause to make a bigger noise, a large enough commotion that we would be over powered and forced into submission. That tactic hasn’t changed. It was happening before Paul & company experienced it here in Philippi and it is still happening today. We see it in the news today as Christians are fought against, defamed, shouted at and ridiculed. The tactics are the same and the reasons behind them are the same. So, don’t be surprised when people lash out and fight back against you when you share the gospel with them. Some soil is hardpacked and cannot receive seed. Calloused to thier own depravity, rationalizing their own behavior, they refuse to listen, refuse to hear. 

As we GoLove people in Jesus Name, sharing the truth of the Gospel, we are going to experiece a variety of responses. Some will be like these people in Phillippi, some will receive it joyfully. However it happens, we must remember that the aggression and the joy have nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the Gospel message. If they reject it, they are not rejecting us but Him who sent us. If they receive it gladly, they are not accepting something that we came up with or can take credit for, but they are receiving Christ because of His efforts for them. It’s all about Him, and not about us, and so we endure a great many things for His sake andin His Name. Paul and Silas saw this reaction as a victory, hauled off to jail and beaten without a trial, they had spoken nothing but the truth and been faithful to Christ abive all. And because their faith endured, they rejoiced. Pray for that same endurance in the truth for yourself today. Pray that God would grow you in your faithfulness, no matter what the response to your efforts may be…
  

Acts 16:6-15 // He has His plans & timing. We need to listen.

“6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. 7 When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, Cross over to Macedonia and help us! 10 After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.

11 Then, setting sail from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, a Roman colony, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia. We stayed in that city for a number of days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we thought there was a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there. 14 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house. And she persuaded us.”

Acts 16:6-15

This always read as a strange passage to me (verses 6-8) but as we progress further on down the chapter, we find that Paul & company had a very specific mission and a very specific target window that God was setting up. They pressed and pushed through their travel plans, getting rerouted here then rerouted there just trying to find the place where God wanted them to speak the Gospel message. And where they thought they were supposed to go, they weren’t and God used miraculous means to divert them. They had a divine appoitment to keep, and they had a connection to make for the sake of the Gospel that would do a great deal to build the church up

This woman, Lydia, was going to be in a certain place at a certain time and be in a certain frame of mind where she was going to be ready to hear, repent and receive Christ in baptism. This was His desire, and Paul & co. just needed to be willing servants. It took a sensitivity of the Spirit the first time to redirect them, but then Jesus Himself had to redirect them the second time. We might have plans of our own like this…plans that sound good and God honoring, but He has something very specific for us that may not be on our radar. We need to listen for the whispers, and consult God with our plans. We can’t be so dead set in how we want to do what we want to do that we aren’t willing to listen to God’s better plans.

When we leave our old lives behind to follow Christ, we are doing just that, replaceing one thing with something better. God has a plan for each of us to follow as we GoLove others in the Name of Jesus Christ. It’s a beautiful plan, laid out in His timing that will bear fruit that points hearts and minds to Him, but we must be willing to set our ideas on just when, how and where these plans will unfold. We already know the ‘what,’ it’s the Gospel message itself. The plan is pretty clear, but we need to have that communication with Godwhere we tell Him that we are ready and willing to listen, and then actually approach each day with that intentional willingness. 

He has great plans to unfold. We simply need to be mindful, ready & willing. 

  

Mark 8:11-21 // Understanding Beyond Sight

“11 The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, demanding of Him a sign from heaven to test Him. 12 But sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign? I assure you: No sign will be given to this generation!’ 13 Then He left them, got on board the boat again, and went to the other side.

14 They had forgotten to take bread and had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 Then He commanded them: ‘Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’

16 They were discussing among themselves that they did not have any bread. 17 Aware of this, He said to them, ‘Why are you discussing that you do not have any bread? Don’t you understand or comprehend? Is your heart hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the 5,000, how many baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?’

‘Twelve,’ they told Him.

20 ‘When I broke the seven loaves for the 4,000, how many large baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?

‘Seven,’ they said.

21 And He said to them, ‘Don’t you understand yet?'”

Mark 8:11-21
— 

I have had this same experience so many times in life. Someone comes to me with a question about something and my mind is completely occupied with something closely related, yet not quite where they are coming from. And because of that distraction, I find myself struggling to understand whatever their issue is. I can see what they’re saying, but I can’t see it fully. 

Usually it’s just a funny little mix up, and after a second of thinking about it, everything snaps into place and the understanding comes. It’s also typically over something that doesn’t matter too much and nothing is lost because of it. But here with the disciples, and with our own hearts and minds, we find that there is a deeper issue at hand. 

Jesus is trying to issue a warning about influences that affect the heart, but they’re stuck on lunch supplies. Because of temporal concerns, they are distracted from dealing with deeper spiritual issues. And herein lies the problem. When the things of this world occupy our hearts, when they consume our minds, we are going to find ourselves lost when it comes to the deeper issues, the things that really and truly matter. 

The disciples were directly in the presence of Jesus, they heard the warning come straight from His lips, and still they didn’t understand. Their hearts were distracted. 

People today read the Word, they hear the message of God straight from the source, but because their hearts are distracted, they miss out on what is really being said. And this isn’t just something that affects those new to the faith, we are all susceptible to this, no matter our ‘level’ of maturity. Physical distractions and the pride of our hearts are often the cause of the misunderstanding. But all sin is a distraction, busyness is a distraction, work or school, social pressures, and the list goes on…so many things can keep our hearts from hearing from God. But we must be actively aware of the struggle so we can effectively combat it. 

As we GoLove others, it is up to us to be the example of a Holy Spirit led heart and a God directed mind. If we just think and live like the rest of the unbelieving world, what good does that do us or them?

Mark 3:31-35 // Close to Jesus

“31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Mark 3:31-35

“Blood is thicker than water” is a good phrase to remind us that our families and the relationships we have should be closely held, and relied upon. There shouldn’t be much that comes between us and our families, issues should be quickly resolved and conversations, though frank, should always be encapsulated in love. That’s the way it should be at least. Family should be a priority for us, both from a relational and a discipleship standpoint. Those are the relationships that matter most.

But then Jesus says this, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” We find that the Spirit of God is thicker than blood. In fact, it redefines our family completely. It rearranges traditional understandings of who we should care about, who we should be quick to reconcile with, who should be a priority for us and whose spiritual walk should be of concern to us. Our world of concern and care is much wider than we might think. And the love that God has given us has a much wider pool to share from.

In order to be close to Jesus, we need to understand what it means to be close to those who draw near to Him. There is no such thing as an individual within the church. No one stands alone & no one should ever be made to feel alone. Our common bond in Christ is our blood, our life and the fountain of our love. There are no cliques or clubs with Christ. None. Blood family is indeed important, but our community in Christ is even more so. We share everything in Him. 

If we want to get close to Christ, we must be close with His people. If we want to know what it is to walk with Him, we need to walk with those who walk with Him. If Jesus considered those who do the will of God to be His family, then we must do likewise. Our family numbers in the billions, each equally valuable and worth concern and prayer, no matter how our flesh may feel in a particular moment. Our bond in Him trumps everything. GoLove your family.

Numbers 3 // Unauthorized fire

“1 These are the family records of Aaron and Moses at the time the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. 2 These are the names of Aarons sons: Nadab, the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 3 These are the names of Aarons sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. 4 But Nadab and Abihu died in the Lords presence when they presented unauthorized fire before the Lord in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no sons. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests under the direction of Aaron their father.”
Numbers 3:1-4

This sometimes falls under the category of unusual passages. What is ‘strange’ or ‘unauthorized’ fire? How can you make the wrong kind of fire (isn’t there only one kind?) And why is God so picky over how you bring fire?

Well, it’s not as simple as that, and there is a lesson for all of us to learn here. First things first, Abihu & Nadab weren’t carrying torches or matches or lighters or anything so simple, this was in regards to the incense being offered. God had given the people -very- specific instructions in every aspect of their worship of Him. He had given them something distinctive to do in His Name, and when Abihu and Nadab decided to do things their own way, directly ignoring the commands of God, they paid the price. And even that may sound harsh, so we need to look deeper.

The Israelite people had been living in a foreign culture, exposed to false gods and heathen practices in regards to worship for several generations at this point. Their understanding for how worship was to be conducted is further evidenced in the affair with the golden calf. They didn’t understand how to follow God or worship Him properly, and they needed to learn that He wasn’t just some false, local god, but the One True God, the Living One, Creator of all things and Lord of Hosts. He was not created by human hands or the human heart. He exists, period. He is the Alpha & Omega. And the Israelites needed to learn again just who He is, and so He set apart the worship in a distinct style & manner, something not drawn from other religions and false gods, but something of His own. And so when, Nadab & Abihu came to God essentially saying, “I know you said to do it this way, but we’re going to do this the way we want.” it’s no surprise that they were immediately punished. They were supposed to be the example for the people, leading them in their worship of God, following His instructions to the “T” because whatever attitude they adopt, whatever credence they give to the worship of GOd, the people will emulate. And if they show up with a ‘o it my way’ attitude, then that sentiment is just going to travel on down through the ranks of Levites and into the homes of all the Israelites. So, home-brewed incense is definitely a bad thing and absolutely unacceptable.

When it comes to our worship styles in church, is there a correlation here? Can we look at this ‘strange fire’ and say that one style of worship is correct and the other isn’t? Hymns vs. Choruses? Instruments vs. vocals?
No. There is no correlation to that discussion. Choruses and hymns are both songs being lifted up to God in praise. Style is a personal preference issue, and has no relevance here. The correlation would be if we decided to add something into the worship service or our daily worship of God that was not prescrbed, or specifically spoken against, and those options are myriad, but suffice it to say, we must honor Go with our worship in ways that He has indicated He desires to be worshipped.

God used voices and instruments, artisans and festivals, sacrifices and incense, garments and readings all in worship of Him. Some of these elements were taken on by Jesus and so we have no need to try to replace Him with them. We make no more animal sacrifices, but we do sacrifice our time, resources and service to God. We don’t need a ‘priest’ as go between because Jesus Himself is our mediator. We don’t need a temple, because Jesus tore down that barrier, the curtain, with His death, and so, just like Jesus told the Samaritan woman, the people of God don’t have a specific location where worship takes place, but it does take place in spirit and in truth.

So, when Nadab and Abihu basically told God, ‘Thanks, but we’ve got this.’ they received in their bodies the punishment due for their arrogance. Today, we are told to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this is our spiritual act of worship. It’s not a legalistic thing, it’s a submission issue. It’s not about works, but about obedience. We cannot listen to Godd, claim to obey Him and still say, “Yeah, but…” whenever we feel like doing things our own way. We do our best to GoLove others when we first love God, and the heart that truly loves God is going to do what He says, in fact, Scripture says this is so:

1 John 5:1-5
“1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. 2 This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. 3 For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden, 4 because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. 5 And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

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