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No Surprise

Father of Peace, Lord over creation, Sovereign God –
Thank You for Your Word. It’s a blessing to rest in Your promises & Your revelations bring us strength. You give our hearts a place to rest & our souls confidence through darkest days. It is easy to see why people live in distress over what is left to come. It’s not hard to understand how they get wrapped up in concerns & fears regarding the destruction of civilization & the end of all things. But You have given us confidence beyond these moments, a hope that presses beyond the temporary hardships of life, no mater how severe. Thank You for Jesus, who reveled these things, and for Your Holy Spirit, who sustains us even today. You bless us & keep us in Your presence, no matter what storm rages. I thank You & bless Your Holy Name today. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 21
20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Have you ever walked in on a situation already in progress? People are distressed. Something bad has happened, but you weren’t there to witness it & so you have a moment to assess & an opportunity to be a calming voice. Last year, Beth & I were in Florida while I was speaking at a school & we ran out to do a few things before meeting some friends for dinner. On our way back to our condo, we came across a woman lying in the street, bleeding out from her head. She was on her bicycle & had been struck by a car that was pulling out of a gas station parking lot. She wasn’t wearing a helmet, & she was almost unresponsive. I used the rental car to block that lane of traffic & my wife went out to assess & protect the scene while I called 911. We didn’t witness the accident, we were just far enough back on the road to have missed it just before coming up to it. We lacked the shock value of being direct witnesses, but we were still compelled to be compassionate & do whatever was needed to make sure this woman was taken care of, that the driver was consoled & to answer whatever questions the police & first responders may have had for us.

I have spent countless hours over the course of my ministry in hospitals & have seen almost anything & everything you can think might be found in a trauma setting. My wife grew up with a dad who is a doctor, a family full of medical professionals & has received multiple hours of training herself in the course of her college education that focused on the workings of the human body. We had knowledge & experience & were prepared to help handle the situation, knowing how to assess, how to help & even what not to do, because others were more qualified & had the equipment to do what needed to be done for this wounded individual.

Jesus gives us these glimpses of the future for a very similar reason. John is given his revelations to pass along to the church for the same purpose. God wants us to be prepared. He wants us to know what will happen, even if we aren’t to know then when or how of the situations that will arise. He has given us what we need to assess the times, He has provided us with insight to secure & help those who are wounded. He has also provided us with wisdom, through His Holy Spirit & the Word, to know what is ours to be done & what must be accomplished by others. However you slice it, we have work to do in the days & years leading up to these events. We can be a stable help for others more than we need to look out for ourselves.

We see that Jesus also spoke to those who were right there with Him about the destruction of Jerusalem that would occur in 70AD at the hands of the Romans. He speaks to us today about what is still yet to come. Our world, & all the nations in it, experience these times of roaring waves, of distress & tragedy. These events are terrible, but we are not ill equipped to handle them, nor should we be distressed to the point of only seeking to help ourselves rather than lending a hand for others. Jesus told us all these things so that we might point others toward YHWH Ma’on, God our Refuge. He did not share these things so we would feel distress, but to build up hope & trust within us. It should be no surprise that the world will end one day & that God will place His judgment upon everyone, separating sheep from goats, the faithful from the faithless. Even secular people in the Western world know about this day, even if they don’t believe in it personally.

And so as one day progresses to the next, we go about our work for the glory of God & the growth of the kingdom. We walk in the rhythms of grace, secure & unshaken by what goes on around us. We have hope in the One who secures our future & in Whom we find our peace. As the world takes steps in pain due to sin, it is our task to assess, to help & to speak healing to them in the Name of Jesus Christ so they might be prepared for that day, too.

If you need help talking to someone about their future & their relationship with Christ, let these boys be an example for you. The 3 Circles Method

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Warning & Encouragement

Father, there are days when it seems as though the end is right around the corner. There are days when we see that things could still be much worse than they seem. Your grace & patience with us exceeds my understanding & at the same time I know there are people who have not yet heard the Gospel & so You extend Your grace for them. A broken world produces broken people & broken situations. We long for everything to be made right & so we wait in Your timing, mercy & grace. Please give us strength & conviction to do Your will in the days that are left. You have given us words of warning, hope & purpose in Your Word. Help us live in them. In Jesus’ Name I pray, amen.

Luke 21
10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Political news cycles feed our insecurities. Reporters, announcers & personalities drive division deep into our hearts & they make bitter enemies out of us all. We are markets & demographics to be played, one against the other & it is done for a profit. Rallies are held, positions are laid out & civil conversation between opposing viewpoints becomes impossible. There is an expectation for aggression & so many are all too happy to fulfill that expectation. Jesus warned of wars & rumors of wars. This is the consequence of living in a world broken by sin. Dividing lines become boundary markers & eventually markers of delineation & peaceful discourse is traded for angry glances & presupposed opinions.  Not all wars involve physical front lines. The deeper ones, the spiritual kind,  just require hate & distrust, a line in the sand.

Jesus warned of natural disasters & signs from heaven. Famine, loss, pain & hopelessness. People will hurt, suffer & know deprivation from life giving food & water. But lack isn’t a sign of the end’s arrival, just of its coming. We don’t like to see suffering, & sometimes ignorance keeps it at arm’s length for a while. We don’t like to see suffering, but sometimes anger with a system helps to remove compassion’s responsibility for action from us for a moment. We still have to bear witness in these moments & hard times. We speak up & we act.

Jesus told us we wouldn’t know what to say in these moments & that we wouldn’t need to worry about what to say. He promised to give us a mouth & wisdom that speaks undeniable truth. He told us that these moments of division, fear & hardship would be our opportunity to bear witness for Him & the Gospel. We do not compromise the truth, but we also communicate the truth in love, with gentleness & respect. We do not play the world’s games. Are there moments for righteous indignation? Yes, but we are not perfect in it like Jesus, and we must be on guard in those moments not to lapse into sin.

So, then, listen. We who follow Christ are not like those who get swept up into the fray with political pundits & cultural furor. We avoid foolish arguments & emotional pleas meant to divide. We don’t get sucked into Fox News & MSNBC’s net of arguments & carried away in the torrents of fear & suspicion of one another. Jesus said this was our moment to bear witness, not step in conformity with secular mindsets. We take every thought captive & we live in awareness of the times. We look for signs & we interpret the hour of mankind, but we do not get carried along in the waves of hopelessness that makes deeper enemies of us all. We identify the real enemy that thrives on division & distrust & we live aware of his methods & plots. We stand firm. We bear witness & we show this world a better way. Jesus said we would see these days, but that it was our opportunity to bear witness, not get swept away by them.

We will be delivered up to authorities & family members alike because we walk with Jesus. In following His lead, we will see persecution, but we do not operate as this world does. We bear witness to it without becoming like it. We see & observe, but we do not stoop down to their tactics. We have a cross to bear as witnesses for Christ. We have an expectation & a model to live out as we show this world God’s plan for peace. We will be mocked. We will be hated. We will be fought against. Jesus promised us as much. But we live differently, we walk & talk differently & we have different objectives. We long to see people saved & brought into the family of God, no matter who they are. Secular divisions drive us apart, but in Christ we seek out anyone & everyone & we love our enemies. We pray for those who persecute us. We bear witness to the world & we don’t play according to their rules. We bear up with the endurance Christ offers & the strength given through the Holy Spirit. We are wise as serpents & innocent as doves. We are different. We bring hope.

Season your speech today & let the Lord have His way in your heart, uncovering motives & removing worldly impulses, tearing down walls that keep you from first expressing love. There will be wars & rumors of wars. People will continue to divide, playing politics & games that draw out differences. But we bear witness to the truth, to mercy & peace as we walk daily with Jesus in the rhythms of His grace, we endure to the end.
He is our hope & nothing else will do.

The Lord & The Pretenders

Father, we see in Your Word how humbled people become the moment they see Your glory or have a personal encounter with You. Moses stands on Holy Ground just to hear Your voice. The Israelites later say that they will not be able to live through listening to You speak. Prophets cower, apostles shy away &the psalmist says that You make Lebanon skip (the actual ground skips!) when You speak. Father, may we be clothed in humility when we come to You, when we speak with You. A blast from Your nostrils shatters the mightiest trees, & stars are born when You say the word. But You also grace us with Your presence in Your Word, & through the whispers of Your Holy Spirit within us. We praise You & Your mighty works, we remain humbled before You, as is right. Speak now, for Your servants are listening. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 20:41-47
41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Jesus had so many questions asked of Him throughout His ministry, but when He was confronted by the Sadducees, Pharisees & Scribes there were often questions of authority batted around. This time, Jesus is the One asking the question, seeking a deeper answer & understanding for those present. He has a point to make about Himself & human authority. Any religious expert worth their salt should have been able to answer a question about David & the Messiah. That should be a softball question. But here, Jesus again takes them somewhere they weren’t expecting to go. They know who David is, they know who the Messiah is, in theory, but Jesus sees & knows that they lack understanding about authority & the deity of the Messiah.

When God asks questions of us, He does so to open our eyes beyond the worldview that we have set up for ourselves.When He speaks, revealing Himself, He does so to bring understanding & wisdom into the picture & into our hearts. He asks questions that lead us to His wisdom & will. He opens doors for us so we might leave behind what we thought we knew & grab a hold of His truth. Jesus does the same right here with this crowd.

Jesus references a commonly know psalm & prophecy for the Messiah, one that reminds them of His lineage from David, but also poses a question in regards to position & timing. It would not seem right that a father should call his son “Lord” or that a son would have authority over his father. We do see this happen with Joseph as he ruled in Egypt, & was in authority over his father, Jacob. But this was not the normal way of things. This passage about the Messiah probably perplexed them a little because they couldn’t break from their regular understanding & so Jesus seeks to open their eyes to real authority & His own identity in that regard.

Human authority is always temporary. Sin sees to this for us. At the best, we live a long life & then we go the way of our ancestors, but our authority does not go with us. Human authority is always temporary & it is always transferred/conferred to another person, either on purpose, at our death or by force. Position is fleeting, power cannot be maintained. We are limited because of the truth of death as a result of the Fall in the garden. But this psalm, & Jesus Himself, speak of the Messiah whom King David calls “Lord” & who is also supposed to be his descendant. This isn’t because of a twisted family tree, this is because the Messiah, who is David’s heir, also has another quality that exceeds David’s humanity. Jesus is revealing to them that the Messiah will be (and is) both fully God & fully man. It’s not one or the other. The Messiah is both David’s heir, born of flesh from his lineage, & also fully divine. Not part of each. There is never 50% of God, or 75% of God. God is whole. He is one God with three Persons, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. So the Messiah is a mystery in that regard (among others,) & He breaks open our understanding of authority.

The people needed to hear this. The Sadducees, like the Pharisees & Scribes, profited from buffering the people from God. They set up their own hierarchy, maintaining an air of distinction between themselves & ‘regular’ people who could never know God or the Scriptures like they did (sarcasm intended.) And so Jesus straight up calls them out for dressing for the part they scripted. Big hats, flowing robes, lofty (but false) human grandeur on display simply to elevate themselves above the rest. He points out how they abuse their power & take advantage of people because of it all the while having a fresh reminder of the Messiah who was sent to rescue God’s children. He exposes the deceit of the religious elite while exposing the divinity of the Messiah. And so He gives a warning, look to the Messiah, He is more than you expect. Look at the scribes & their lot, they are less than they appear.

Real authority isn’t a badge worn or a degree held. True authority comes from God, & it remains with God, & the Messiah was entrenched in every understanding of the word. You & I will encounter people every day who hold temporary authority, & Scripture reminds us as Christians to honor that position, even if the person is hard to respect. David’s son King Solomon said this:

Proverbs 21
1
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;

    he turns it wherever he will.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
    the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
    but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
    is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is just.
The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright.

As we walk daily under the authority of God, & with Jesus in the rhythms of His grace, we must trust the authority that God has over us all, even while we still show respect for those who hold temporary authority over us. His Holy Spirit speaks to us & within us as Christians, & His authority is right there ready to guide us if we will be still & listen.When we stand before the King of kings, we should do so with reverence & awe & with a fair bit more listening than talking.

People will always let us down & human authority has a tendency to be poorly wielded. But God’s authority is perfect, & He will always point us toward His glory rather than the shallow things we tend to reach for in life. Come now, let us bow down & bend the knee before the Lord our Maker.

Taxing Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wicked Tenants

Father, I thank You for the grace of Your Word. I praise You for being present in my life, and for revealing Yourself to me as I take these moments to draw near and listen to Your heart. I ask you to speak to me, grant me Your mercy, convict me of my sins, and work correction in my heart. Shape me and sculpt me, may I be a better reflection of Jesus because of this encounter with You today. Let me learn peace from You, be glorified because of the faith You have provided me, and use me to share these gifts and mercies with others today. May my life be used to bring You glory today. All of this I pray in the Name of Jesus and through Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 20:9-18
And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone’?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

Let’s walk through the basics of this parable today and examine what it is God has for us to hear. We know that God is the One who plants the vineyard. It is His from its inception and it will always be His vineyard. He is the One who marked its boundaries, tilled the soil, built walls and planted the vines. In every way imaginable, this vineyard is the Vineyard of the Lord. The Owner then becomes the Master as He takes on workers/tenants.

He gives them a task to do. These are the people of God, the workers of His own choosing. The tenants, by definition, are not the owners of the vineyard. They have a relationship with the Owner, they have been assigned tasks by the Owner, but they do not have a say in how this vineyard is operated. They cannot dictate new policy or change the goals laid out by the Master. As Jesus says later, they cannot reject the cornerstone, the basic/core point of operation and direction, as laid out by God. They are employees, and while they will share in the fruit of the vineyard, every grape, every vine, every clod of dirt, every ounce of juice and every drop of rain that falls on that land belongs, ultimately, to the Owner. They have part, they have roles, but they do not have mastery over the vineyard. It belongs to Him.

“When the time came…” The Owner of the vineyard knew when His vines should bear fruit. He knows the seasons, He has an expectation of the plants and the workers. So He came in the moment when fruit should be appearing, expecting to find what should rightfully be there, and what He planted the vineyard to accomplish. He did not send to them at a time when the vineyard would be budding or blossoming. He did not relay a message to them after the first rain. He sent to them at the time of harvest, expecting what was His. These conditions were laid out to the tenants when they began to work for Him. He would have laid out these exact specifications and plans to them when they began the job. This was not a surprising moment. This was not unexpected. Vineyards produce grapes.

And since this is a very thinly veiled parable, let’s look at the harvest itself. When God talks about harvesting, pretty much everywhere else in Scripture, we know that He is talking about people. Fruitfulness in the Kingdom instantly equates to multiplication. Faithfulness equates to each and every individual doing the work that God has required from the beginning. We have been commissioned to do this work of growing, cultivating and harvesting from the relationships that God blesses us with.The Kingdom’s harvest comes from disciples making disciples.

We all have a part, we all have a responsibility and we all have a task to do within the walls of the vineyard. And while we can busy ourselves with all manner of tasks within the walls of the vineyard, all the while making ourselves feel very useful. But if we are doing anything and everything other than tending to the vines, and working toward that harvest, then we are sorely mistaken. He has laid out our role within the vineyard and we will be under a great deal of conviction and we will have many things to answer for when the Master comes expecting His harvest.

Now, for me, I know what it is to be hurt by people who are supposed to be workers in the vineyard. I know what it is to be hurt by leaders and laypeople. I’m sure we all know what it means to have people insult us, let us down or to abuse us. And these are people who are supposed to be fellow workers within the vineyard. So we are tempted, when we look at this parable and see where others have mistaken the messages of God plainly sent to them to point the sword-point of the parable toward their heart and deflect it from our own. We may remember instances where someone else did us wrong, and we feel a degree of satisfaction knowing that they will be called to the carpet for their wrongs. But this is not the parable of the unmerciful servant. This is not a parable where Jesus is calling us to look at others and to feel better about their impending judgment. If we are all workers in God’s vineyard, then this message is for us.

If we read parables or passages of Scripture and we remember how someone else needs to hear this passage, because we really want them to experience some kind of conviction, to get what’s coming to them, or to see God’s justice come down on them, then we are no better than Jonah, sitting on our hilltop and just gleefully waiting for their Nineveh to burn. If that is how we read these parables and wrongly interpret that point toward conviction, then we are not really reading the parables. These are for us, the conviction belong to us, and is not to be pointed toward anyone else. Yes, we can identify bad workmanship in the efforts of others. Yes, as Christians it is our responsibility to talk with our brothers & sisters who wrong us & then to forgive them (Mt 18) and to seek help in bringing them to correction (James 4&5) but it is also our duty to listen to the words of the Master and see what He is trying to bring about in us.

Christian, we are all workers in the Master’s vineyard. The Kingdom belongs to Him and Him alone. He will return one day, and He will expect a harvest, the work of multiplication and the growth and fruit of the vineyard.

Sometimes we think the vineyard is ours. We want to live and operate within it as if we are the ones writing the rules. So we set up our own little kingdoms within the greater vineyard and we expect things to always go in our way, in our timing, and within our expectations…and when they don’t? We kill the messenger…or at least the message.

Why do we think the vineyard is ours? what happens in our hearts and in our minds that we suddenly think ourselves to be owners rather than workers? Why do we respond with arrogance and selfish ‘ownership’ rather than with humble obedience?

This parable is for us. The Master is returning & He expects a harvest. We can either work and produce one, giving Him His due and living in obedience, or we can reject the message and face His wrath when He comes. For the Jews listening to Jesus’ parable, their time working the vineyard on their own was very quickly drawing to a close. They didn’t like what Jesus was telling them, and no one likes to hear that they’ve been doing it wrong. That is why they cried out, “Surely not!” when Jesus told them there would be new workers coming (the gentile peoples.)

Sometimes we work for a while, doing what we want instead of doing what we should. That is the message of this parable. No matter what tasks we set our hands to, the Master has an outcome in mind for us. There is a harvest expected from our handiwork, and if conviction is going to spring from this message, then we have to take it personally and listen for the correction that comes from love.

He has mercy and grace for us.

The Master gave these workers multiple chances to listen and to do what was right, but He didn’t change the guidelines or His expectations in the process. The same goes for us. God speaks correction and expectation into our lives and into our work, and we can either accept it or reject it, the choice s ours. But either way, the Master is going to come calling and seeking His harvest. We can either share in the celebration of the harvest (yes, please) or be crushed by His coming. Let’s pray the we are receptive, each one personally, to the message He sends, be mindful of our role & put our hands and hearts to work for Him. Let’s work toward multiplication and the harvest in the rhythms of His grace & giving God the glory.

Faith Lives in Action

Father, give us faith and sight-by-faith to live this life looking to the reward of heaven, not present sinful pleasures. Let us live lives of self-control and self-sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom and Your Name. Give us faith and strength to keep our eyes and hearts focused on Christ. Amen.

Hebrews 11:23-31
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

Living a life that is deeply rooted in faith means our eyes are focused on something different, something higher than the low lying fruit of the world. There are plenty of options, plenty of things to distract us from living as God intends and avenues for setting up our life as a shrine and altar to the god of ‘me.’ Our culture promotes it, encourages it and even provides moments of slacktivism where we can feel like we’re a part of something without ever having to lift a finger. We can use a feeling like solidarity to link our emotions to a cause, but never do any real work to see that goal accomplished.

But faith refuses to operate that way, and in reality, it cannot. Faith demands action. Faith demands self-sacrifice & self-control. Faith demands that we live our lives with a real purpose laid out before us, with a goal that is greater than ourselves. And so God grants us a community of faith to walk in the daily rhythms of faith, in steps of mercy, loving-kindness and grace. And it is in this life of selflessness, walked out in rhythms of grace, that we find action happening, real results coming from the desires placed on our hearts by God.

Look at these examples form Hebrews. Moses’ parents exampled to him so that he might one day example to others what it means to resist evil and seek the ways of God. They stood up against harsh, ungodly leadership within their nation by resisting a call to death. They refused to take part in it, and so a life was saved that would bring deliverance to their people. A quiet faithfulness preserved in the way & will of God brought benefit to countless others because they had faith to do what was right and what was hard.

The nation later followed in footsteps of Moses’ faith, even though they struggled deeply with faith themselves. They marched through parted seas & rivers, defeated armies by walking away from them, and cities by walking around them. God fought battles for His faithful people. They learned through action and hardship what it means to follow and go and be faithful because faithfulness has a price. We lose comfort, earthly/temporary comfort, and we lose the ability to live selfishly.

When you and I live this way, living as those blessed by faith so that we might be a blessing to others, we will find sudden value to sacrifice, like Rahab did before Jericho fell. It doesn’t matter whether we have been good at it before, we simply need to repent of our self-centered lives and walk in the faith God provides through Christ. He writes the story, we walk in His plan, trusting in love and the outcome for His glory. This is how the world is changed.

Father, give us faith and sight-by-faith to live this life looking to the reward of heaven, not present sinful pleasures. Let us live lives of self-control and self-sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom and Your Name. Give us faith and strength to keep our eyes and hearts focused on Christ. Amen.

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.

The Bible Project // Review

If you teach/disciple others, I hope by now that you’ve heard about The Bible Project. From their site, www.thebibleproject.com, they say:

The Bible Project is a Portland based non-profit that utilizes short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. We create videos, podcasts, and study guides that explore the Bible’s unified story by focusing on its overarching themes and each book’s literary design. We are committed to understanding the Bible in its historical context and communicating its wisdom for the modern world.

This is one of those resources that would have been wonderful to have when I was teaching 7th grade Bible at Christian Academy of Louisville all those years ago, or the 14 years when I was leading youth groups & children’s bible studies. The videos are fun to watch, the artwork is always engaging and the method they use for story telling captures the viewer in this grand, overarching look at the history of the movement of God among human kind.

bible-project-youtube

The Bible Project YouTube page is an easy way to engage someone when you are on the go.

Add to that the visual progression through the story board of the book or subject being covered and you wind up with something that you can quite literally carry with you as they offer printables, downloads & other bonus features that help to put the lesson right in the hand of the learner. I have been teaching the Bible for almost 20 years, and these are the types of resources that I love to use when walking people through the story of God. Using a physical story board (in hand or downloaded on your phone/tablet) you can walk backwards and forwards in big, sweeping motions or maneuver in fine detail with ease.

01-02-genesis_fnl

Every book they cover has a study guide and a downloadable storyboard/poster like this one.

But here’s the bonus-bonus: Every adult that I have shown this to has been engaged by the methods employed by Timothy, Jonathan and their team. This isn’t kid’s stuff, but a tool to be utilized by anyone and everyone who shares the Word of God with someone else. Our world is intensely visual, and the team at The Bible Project has latched on to this in a wonderful way. This method of teaching isn’t just for people under 18 years old. God has wired us with a variety of learning styles. The Bible Project allows for audio, visual & kinesthetic learners as they give you the tools to work in each of these realms of learning. This is a great tool for everyone.

If you know someone who wants to know more, but maybe isn’t a big reader, then why not give them a glimpse into the concepts of key biblical themes like Holiness, Covenants & the Gospel of the Kingdom. These are topics that we might not bring up in casual conversation, but we can definitely shoot someone a link to watch a video so we can talk about it later over coffee (always a good idea!) or a meal. You may not get them to read through Leviticus, but I’ll bet you can get them to watch it in less than 9 minutes.

This is still a work in process, as they are adding in videos & resources every week (as of the time of writing,) but they have done so much so well in such a seemingly short time.
They have done a good job to leave non-essential doctrinal issues out of the mix so that the teacher/disciple-maker can engage those in their own way.

On the other hand, they do not shy away from being bold with core doctrinal issues & topics. They do not try to tame God, limit the Holy Spirit or write off the miracles of Jesus. They are open and honest with the flaws of every person God has used throughout history and that transparency leaves us with an honest retelling of God’s righteous handiwork among sinful men & women.

With high quality visuals, an open heart for the Gospel & an obviously gifted team behind these efforts, The Bible Project is definitely a worthwhile addition to your teaching toolbox. It works great in large settings with discussion groups or a single point person, or one-on-one in a cafe or living room. This versatility & mobile format will give this group serious longevity in a quick-change world. I’m looking forward to what is yet to come from this crew. They also have a blog with details and news where you can keep up with what’s in the works or find a place to dig deeper into difficult subjects. And please remember that great content like this doesn’t happen for free. If you like what you find there, you can sponsor their efforts with a donation.

(There is no sponsorship of my blog or affiliation with TBP implied.)

Have you seen The Bible Project before? What are your thoughts? Any other resources in this category that you like enough to share? Let me know in the comments below.

Join The Bible Project on Facebook & Twitter

Never Alone

Lord, though each of us rises alone to start this new day, bind us to the faith of the saints who have gone before us, and guide us to walk with our brothers and sisters in community. Amen.

John 14:18-31
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

And we hear Jesus continuing on in this truth of His intimate community with God the Father, and our community with Him. This is a great comfort to us, and it is meant to be one. Even people who have full homes, and loving family experience times of loneliness. We all have moments where we feel like it really is just us against the world. And as difficult as it is to think about, even our closest friends and family members will let us down from time to time, even if that was the farthest thing from their heart or intention. This is why our community with Christ and His with the Father is so important. listen to His words again:

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

Our love is exhibited by our obedience, His love is exhibited by His presence with us. Sin should divide us, but Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. His holiness and our sin should have nothing to do with one another, but He has provided the way for us to dwell with Him, and the Father with us through the Holy Spirit. And because of this great act of love, like Jesus says, we obey Him in our love for Him.

This community with God is what brings us peace. Just like Isaiah was given when he stood before the altar of God, we receive the same peace. Just like John was given as he was being shown the new heavens and the new earth. Just like Moses, Elijah and so many other messengers of God were sustained in their hardship by the presence of God, we are given that same peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Rest in this knowledge, in this truth of faith, when you are in Christ, you are never alone. Fear is not your master, Jesus will never let you down. Simply trust. Simply rest. Simply know that you are precious to Him, and that He is glorified in you as you walking in that loving obedience to Him, powered by the gift of grace through Christ Jesus.  We are blessed by this hope, and blessed to be a blessing to others as we live in this truth. This is how we walk in confidence in the rhythms of grace, knowing we are never alone.

Giving Jesus Direction

Teach us, O Lord, to twist our tanks into tractors and tilling blades. Give us strength to take our swords & beat them into plowshares. Leave us defenseless & open to love. Give us peace that we might be peacemakers. Amen.

John 14:8-17
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

Jesus could have come with every legion of angels in heaven and made a clean, fresh break from humanity & He would have been justified in doing it, too. He could have come in a show of force, burning us all away with His glory, and we wouldn’t have had a square inch of ground to stand on in argument against Him.

We like to build up our arguments, to justify our behavior. We like to think that we are automatically doing what is best, and we don’t often reconsider what we have done to the extent that we might actually change our behavior. That is sin at work in us, and precisely the reason why God would be justified in closing the books on humanity.

But look at the attitude of Christ. Examine His words here in John 14 this morning:

The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Jesus only says what the Father says He should speak. We should guard our own words so carefully.

Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

Jesus does only what the Father has directed Him to do, His works are evidence of the Father…just as if they were performed by the Father. We should move with such consideration & faith.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Jesus came as the Father directed, and He would ascend as the Father directed, suffering His passion beforehand…as the Father directed. His coming and going was laid out by the Father. We should look to His example, then, in our engagement in this life & world.

13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

When we speak as the Father would have us speak, move as He would have us move, using this time on earth as He directs, then it is no surprise that this statement is made. If we are moving and acting in the footsteps of Jesus, we can be assured that the Father will continue to provide for us to walk along that narrow road. He is faithful beyond understanding & we should trust in Him.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

And here it is. The confirmation of it all. Read that short sentence again. It is not enough to call our self a Christian. It is not enough to know the words and sing the songs. It is not enough to go to the right programs and o give to the right charities. If we love Jesus, the proof comes from keeping His commandments.

Love births obedience.

So when God tells us to speak, then we speak according to His Word.
When God tells us to move, then we move as His hand directs.
When God directs our days on this earth, then we walk in obedience to Him, full obedience to Him, and so we can be unencumbered in this life, walking by faith & not by sight.
When we are obedient as our Master Jesus was obedient, then our hearts will be aligned with God’s heart, and the desires of our heart will match and mesh with His.

Jesus was given direction by God, and He obeyed. He acted in love for the Father.
Love births obedience.

We need to take every defense that we have set up for walking into our own will & desires and break them down. We need Jesus to do that work of tearing down the wall of hostility at work in us, and making us new. But we must first allow Him to work, and in faith, move out of the way so He can lead us. This is moving & living in the rhythms of grace.

Teach us, O Lord, to twist our tanks into tractors and tilling blades. Give us strength to take our swords & beat them into plowshares. Leave us defenseless & open to love. Give us peace that we might be peacemakers. Amen.

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