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The Intention of Agony

Father, these moments of remembrance, the pauses in prayer, the pleas from Jesus for support from His friends, even today we can feel the tension & difficulty of the moment rising, time closing in & the plan of redemption bearing down in the fullness of its weight & urgency. This was not a desperation of confusion, but a desperation for Your glory & for the saving of many, many souls. The garden was pregnant with intention & Your preparation that night, Father. Jesus was not ignorant of what was coming, even if it was heavy beyond reckoning from a human perspective. Betrayal happened in darkness, but darkness cannot overcome You. May our hearts be reminded of Your great love, patience & design as we walk through Holy Week with You. May we keep watch with Christ in anticipation of Your good grace. We pray in His Name, amen.

Luke 22:39-53
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

This makes me uncomfortable.
This passage begins the portion of the Passion that is easier to read through quickly than to stop, slow down & be intentional about meditating & praying through. The agony of Christ in the garden that night was & still is, an agony that I have contributed to, personally. The suffering that began its work, pressing sweat & blood through His skin came from what I have done, will probably do today & haven’t yet done tomorrow. My brokenness, my sin, my intentional, willful disobedience & my momentary transgressions that I am tempted to pass off as if they are nothing all combine here. They press upon the heart of the Lord of Heaven, the Lamb of Glory, perfect & pure, & my struggles become His struggles. This is hard to think about. This is hard to come to terms with every time I read it. The reality of my shame & the unbearable weight of the separation it has caused between my heart & the heart of God comes crashing down in this moment, & Jesus steps in to take that weight, that blow, so that I, so that we, are not utterly destroyed.

This should make me uncomfortable. This should bring me face to face with my brokenness & my absolutely desperate need for Jesus & the grace of God. I would be lost, crushed & dead before I made it to my own cross if I had to begin to wrestle with the wrath of God for my sin. The suffering I would endure would be beyond comprehension, beyond weighing out & I would be utterly spent from the first moment, destroyed. But Jesus begins this struggle, wrestling with the brokenness of man & the glory of God, here in the garden. This isn’t the moment of redemption, but the doors are closing on the first leg of the human journey to sanctification by grace & the weight of the Law, & opening to the relief of grace by faith & the new rhythms it would bring. Relief is on the way, but this struggle cannot pass if it is to come. This cup must be drained to the dregs & Jesus alone can carry it, lift it to His lips & drink the fullness of it all.

And so we find ourselves, here in the darkness of the garden that most of us will never visit in person, but where our hearts remain present with Christ, keeping watch with Him, as His disciples sleep for grief. We count the hours, we see the suffering beginning & we account for every drop of blood that presses its way through His precious forehead. We want to take our portion from Him, but that is not ours to decide & we know we cannot bear it. And so we watch, & we wait with Him & We pray that we may not fall into temptation. We do not rush through this moment, but we keep watch with Him. We thank Him & we are brought to that place of repentance again, knowing our part in this scene. He bore it because we cannot.

Precious Jesus…our Wonderful Redeemer, we watch & pray & praise Your blessed Name.

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Conviction, Rejection & Comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free means Free

Sustain us in the struggle Lord, and raise us to Your life. Amen.

Galatians 5:1-15
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Let’s read that last bit again:

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we hear the word freedom, we probably have several different images pop into our mind. Mel Gibson pops in first as William Wallace, face painted blue, war worn, tied to a table and suffering his last. It is a gasping final breath, a cry for something that mattered most, that was worth dying for, a cause that was meant to bring hope to others.

Then I think of people like Harriet Tubman & Sojourner Truth, people who worked and struggled and did things both stealthy and public to draw attention to the plight of their people, desiring freedom from oppression & slavery. They didn’t care what man’s opinion was on the matter, they did what was right. Dr. King echoed their hearts on the other side of the Emancipation Proclamation, while men and women still struggled for equality because of the color of their skin, and many still echo their cause today, and rightfully so.

I think of Moses standing in the court of Pharaoh, staff in hand, and Charlton Heston’s beard hanging down on his chest demanding that Pharaoh let God’s people go. A power struggle between two men, one who thought himself a god, and another who was on a mission from God. Moses stood representing a people who were oppressed, taken advantage of, beaten down and suffering. Freedom seemed like a pipe dream to them, suffering was their companion.

But God has different plans.

All of these examples of freedom that pop into my head center around people who were willing to stand up to that others might have freedom, and I think that’s only right. People who fight for their own freedom, but neglect the needs of others around them do not understand the true nature of freedom. And this thought is found in this passage from Galatians 5 today. We have been granted a great freedom in Christ, yes. But we cannot, not even for a moment, keep that freedom to ourselves. It is counter-intuitive, truly free people want non-free people to truly be free, and they will point the goals of their life toward that work.

Freedom isn’t an idea. It’s not a rough concept or construct that we work under. Freedom is a state of being, and it shapes everything we have license to do. Paul was pointing this out, too, when he reminded the church in Galatia that their freedom was given so that they might serve others. It isn’t a freedom for self, but a freedom to serve. That’s what freedom is for, freedom is for freeing, and people who are free, and understand their freedom, having engaged with it, will seek freedom for others. They will ‘go’ as Jesus called them to go, bringing freedom to the captives.

Luke 4:16-21
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

If this was Jesus’ mission, then it belongs to us, too.
Freedom if for everyone. Free means free.
Go set someone free today.

Something New Comes From This

Lord Jesus Christ, your blood washes away our sins and reconciles us to You. May we never get used to the wonder of a God who gives His own life for those who are killing Him. Amen.

We are meant for change.
That is the whole plan, that we would be remade in Him. It seems funny how gladly we receive it, and then how strongly we resist Him. It echoes Paul’s question, “What has become of our blessedness?” What changed? How did complacency creep in? What insipid means distracted us, waylaid us and have kept us from being made whole as so deeply desired?

To come to Jesus Christ, who was a man acquainted with sorrow and suffering (Isaiah 53:3), and to receive the offer from Him to be our Master (Colossians 2:6), we must expect suffering and sorrow to be a part of our road (Romans 5:3), too. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by Him (John 14:6,) and to then take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24,) we must -know- that the Way which we follow is a path of self-denial (not my will but Yours be done [Matthew 26]) and a pathway of suffering (Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.[Luke 23:34])

But in this suffering we are refined (Malachi 3:3), and we find our blessedness. Where then does our blessedness go in those days where we seek worldly comfort over Christ?

Galatians 4:12-20
12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

May we never trade the work that God desires to do in us for the false and hollow comforts of the world or the wide path (Matthew 7:13.) When we take our eyes off of Jesus, and we begin to look around at the world around us in our journey through it as sojourners, there will be enticements, temptations, and seductive lures that try to drag us from our refining, from our true purpose, as we walk along His Way (1 Peter 2:10-12.) We must abstain from them, not partially, but wholly, following the example of Christ whom we claim (1 John 2:6.)

What God intends for us who follow Christ, is that something new would be born (2 Corinthians 5:17,) released and set loose upon this world. We, the cross-carriers (Mark 8:34,) would walk the path of peace (Luke 1:79,) the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14), in the footsteps and suffering of Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3,) and preach the Gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15.) For God desires that all should come to Him,  that none of the wicked would perish (Ezekiel 33:11.) That is our Word, that is our work.

There is something new being made in You through Christ. Once you are clothed with Him, the old person has passed away, the new has come, we have been baptized into a death like His (Romans 6:3,) and God makes a new creature of us, He instills a new desire in us, and He perpetuates this desire as we walk a fruitful, faith-filled life, obedient to Him above the desires of the flesh (John 3:36, Acts 5:29, Romans 6:12, Hebrews 5:9.) Call it a sermon of suffering, call it life, call it whatever you will, it is our love song to the world, echoing the chorus sung by our Lord & Master.

 

A Song for the Brokenhearted

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“1 Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
    for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.”
Psalm 147:1-5 ESV

How do you respond to someone when they’re brokenhearted? What do you say when someone’s world has come crashing down? What words are there in the midst of tragedy?
Too often, our song of peace for others in these times is silenced because we fear crossing a boundary. We are worried that we will overstep, say too much, maybe, somehow, make things even worse. And so we give someone a nod, a pat on the shoulder, and simply mutter “I’m praying for you.” Then we walk away wishing there was more we could have said, dozens of phrases begin swirling in our head. But we tell our self that the moment has passed, and it’s best not to make it any more difficult of awkward than it already is…

But that is not where we find God. The psalmist points us in the right direction here. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in his heart and hand, we find this gentle reminder that we can always share. Look at Who God is, and what He does:

1. God is always worthy of praise, no matter what may be going on.
In times of tragedy, we are often reminded of Job. And what does Job say when he has lost his fortune, and more importantly, his own children?

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Job 1:20-22

It may feel absurd to praise God in these moments, but look at what praise does in us. It restores the most basic function of our life, it reminds us of our purpose…to do just that, praise God. And when we praise God we are comforted by His presence, because when we praise Him, we stand before Him.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

We are comforted when we come into the presence of God, and praise is the remembering of the good things that He has done. In spite of whatever else may be going on, God has been good, is good, and will continue to be good. It is our world that is broken, not Him. And so we praise Him, and in turn we are comforted. He responds when we respond in faith.

2. He builds us up. He heals us. He binds our wounds.

When we feel broken, when others are shattered by the events of life in this sin-wrecked world, when death rears its head and that valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23) looms high over our hearts and heads, we find ourselves still in the almighty clutches of the Good Shepherd (John 10), the Great Physician (John 5) who has promised The Comforter (John 16), The Holy Spirit to be present with us in all things, just as He is (Matthew 28.) He is the Traveler along our road, who stops, stoops down and meets our every need (Luke 10.)
He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13) He has promised us this. He is near to the brokenhearted, and He knows our pains.

3. He reminds us that He is still in control, ordering our days. He knows all the details, and nothing escapes His watchful eye and loving heart. Listen again to what the psalmist says:

He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.

When we feel broken, when others are shattered by the events of life in this sin-wrecked world, we look to God and are lovingly reminded of this great truth. If He knows and names the countless stars in a billion, billion galaxies, surely He knows my name, too. He knows my every hurt. He knows what brings me joy, and He knows how to share His peace.

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 10:29-33

He knows us. He acknowledges us. We need only to turn our eyes back to Him, trust in Him, and remember who holds our days. Again, faith brings us to this point of healing. If we allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us, healing will be longer distant and harder fought.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Hebrews 12:15

Grace is quickly given, but we must also see to it that we allow it to rest on our hearts. It is easy to sink into the mire of depression in a dark season. It is easy to be a party of one, closing ourselves off in a solitary prison of pain. But that root of bitterness grows and strangles, and the answer to it is to seek out God, and serve someone else. Comforting others, even in the midst of our own pain, can be a great healing experience, and help us remember the goodness of God.

3. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.”

When we feel broken, when others are shattered by the events of life in this sin-wrecked world, we need to submit ourselves to this one unbending truth. God is great. He is abundant in power. We cannot grasp the depths of His understanding. And even if we don’t feel like we have the words to share in the midst of pain, this one thing we do have.
Nothing is beyond our God. No hurt stands beyond His understanding, and even when we feel utterly powerless, God is still Sovereign-over-all. He will never fail us. He is our joy, our rock, our refuge and our hiding place.

He never promises us that we will understand everything that happens in this life, either on this side of eternity or the other. But He guarantees us this: He knows, He is in control & He loves us deeply.

Comfort someone with these truths, or allow God to be your point of comfort in the midst of your own trials.

You_are_not_alone.

Psalm 118

1Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
    the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.

10 All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
    they went out like a fire among thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard,[a] so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16     the right hand of the Lord exalts,
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”

17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.[b]
23 This is the Lord‘s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
    O Lord, we pray, give us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
    up to the horns of the altar!

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Acts 27:39-44 // A Tedious Trip in Dangerous Waters

“39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land but sighted a bay with a beach. They planned to run the ship ashore if they could. 40 After casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and headed for the beach. 41 But they struck a sandbar and ran the ship aground. The bow jammed fast and remained immovable, while the stern began to break up by the pounding of the waves.

42 The soldiers plan was to kill the prisoners so that no one could swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion kept them from carrying out their plan because he wanted to save Paul, so he ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to follow, some on planks and some on debris from the ship. In this way, everyone safely reached the shore.”

Acts 27:39-44

==

All of Acts chapter 27 is devoted to the sailing between Judea & Italy. So much time is covered, so many days of tedium are passed by in just a few verses. It is clear that this is an unpleasant journey, and that God has given Paul a kind guardian to watch over him as he completes this dangerous trip. The circumstances were unfortunate, the timing of the trip was poor, the conditions were less than ideal and this could have definitely been a cause for complaining. But listening to Luke recount what happened, including the shipwreck, we don’t hear any tones of discontent, there is no frustration or anger. 

We all have seasons of life where we experience difficulty, wheer situations are less than ideal. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, we all know that life isn’t a series of cupcakes and roses. Life is difficult. But even in the midst of difficulty, we have the opportunity to live out the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. because of the goodness of God, we have a Comforter in His Holy Spirit that serves as aour guard and guide through these rough patches, nom atter how difficult or long lasting they might be. Paul & Luke knew that God as with them as they waited out those long days at sea. They knew that God was with them as they bounced from ship to ship at the discretion of another man. They knew that Jesus’ promise to be with them always was still good as the weather turned and the ship was buffetted by the waves. They were able to rest in the goodness & mercy of God as they swam to shore, having just been spared from death twice in the same occasion. 

We cannot get hung up in pity parties. We cannot look at only ourselves or our own strength in the midst of difficult days. God has given us a great blessing. He has promised us His peace. He is faithful, He is compassionate & He will carry us through these difficult stretches of life. We simply need to trust Him and lay our pain, sorrow, worries and frustrations at His feet. He is more than capable of carrying whatever we find ourselves too weak to manage.  

I am immediately reminded of this passage from Paul’s 2nd letter to the church in Corinth: 

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

“But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. 10 So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When we are in the midst of difficulty, God’s strength shines through. It is obvious what we struggle with and how difficult things are, and it is doubly noticeable when God is glorified by getting us through those times. Those are the occasions where people come and ask where or how we had the strength to move forward in the midst of such extreme difficulties. Give God glory & step out of His way. Let Him be glorified in your weaknesses. Seek Him out & then rest in Him as He guides your steps, moment by moment, day by day through the darkest valleys and into His marvelous light. In this example, we can still GoLove others, mirroring the heart of Christ who was strong for us as we lay dead in our sins. 

Have faith. God is good.

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 9:10-19 // Our Aversion to Suffering

“10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. And the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Here I am, Lord!” he said.

11 “Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so he can regain his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!”

17 So Ananias left and entered the house. Then he placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

18 At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 And after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some days.”

Acts 9:10-19

Suffering for the sake of Christ was part of God’s plan for Saul. That sounds harsh, but it would also be a point of pride for Paul later in his life. What you and I would want to avoid, suffering, became a marker for him of his mission. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul lists out his suffering as a testament to the work of Christ in him and as evidence of his own faithfulness. He calls himself foolish for the sake of Christ, and he wound up bearing the marks on his body as evidence of his devotion. 

Now, God is not calling any of us to go out and seek martyrdom or to intentionally get beat for the sake of His Name for no reason. Paul had the stubbornness and passion to keep on moving after being on the receiving end of affliction. He opened up his heart and life to God to be used as His instrument, just as Jesus told Ananias, however God wanted to use him. And so, his willingness to serve wound up putting him through suffering. Jesus guaranteed us that suffering would come if we were ealking faithfully with him. He promised us that the world would hate us like it hated Him, and later, in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul would write that our present sufferings are not worht comparing ot the glory that would be revealed in us through Christ. 

Suffering is something that most people avoid. But suffering shame, humiliation and even physical beatings was a part of the life of Paul as he preached and taught people about Jesus. He was partaking in the same type of suffering that Jesus endured during the final days of His ministry on earth. Peter and the other apostles would all suffer likewise for the sake of the Name and so many others, even today, bear the marks on their body or have laid down their lives, for the sake of the Gospel message. 

2 Timothy 1:7-8

“7 For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. 8 So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me His prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God.”

We cannot run from suffering or live in fear. Part of our faithfulness is sticking out when it gets difficult. Part of what people are going to see in us that points toward Christ is when we partake in suffering for His sake. In our weakness, His strength come shining through, and people see Him at work in us, not just someone who seems to be passionate, but a power and a steadfastness beyond what someone would normally be able to do. We then, like Paul, get to boast in our weaknesses, because in those moments, Christ in us is shown all the more. 

As we GoLove people in His Name and for the sake of His Name, there are going to be moments and seasons of suffering as we seek to do what is right and as we serve, teach and equip people to walk as Jesus walked. The process of evangelism and discipleship isn’t an easy path, lined with gumdrops and rainbows. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to require discipline and a steadfast heart. And that means that you and I are going to have to lay down our lives and our ideas on what we think we can handle and trust in the strength that only God affords. Ananias didn’t want anything to do with Paul, but Jesus simply told him to “Go!” His fears of a human being weren’t sufficient reason to keep him from doing the work that God desired of him. He listened to his commissioning, he answered the call & God was glorified in the process. Ananias was fearful of what a man might do to him, and in this case…nothing happened to him. He ministered and left safely, unharmed, and better for it. If he had let his fear control him, he would have missed out on a wonderful opportunity, and God would have used someone else to accomplish His plan.

Don’t be fearful. Don’t miss out on what God has laid out for you. Trust Him. Do what He wills, and don’t let something as easily conquered as fear of the unknown keep you from experiencing the amazing life that God has planned for you and from seeing the joy in the eyes and hearts of others as you serve Him to lay out the Gospel message to them. 

   

Acts 5:33-42 // Honor in suffering

“33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what youre going to do to these men. 36 Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

Acts 5:33-42

To listen to some famous ‘preachers,’ you would think that they never read the book of Acts. To those who are always preaching a Gospel of prosperity, ease and giving empty encouragements to self-care, there is an obvious disconnect as to what constitutes the favor of God and what counts toward dishonor. Here we see the Apostles being jailed, flogged and discouraged by the leading court in the country, and they go away rejoicing that they were worthy to be dishonored in this way for the sake of Christ, and because of His Name. This idea of honor in suffering runs contrary to what Joel Osteen and others like him preach and teach. 

As we consider what it is we have been called to accomplish as disciples of Jesus Christ, we must remember some of the things that He said would identify us as belonging to Him. He told us that we would be known for the love that we have for one another. That sounds nice, but it is also a very difficult thing to live out. It’s not just a matter of loving people that we naturally like and get along with, but a matter of loving people that push all our buttons and that we would rather not be around. So, following Jesus continues to mean a death to self. Jesus also said that we could not be His disciples if we loved family, position or anything else more than Him. It must be like hate in comparison. Our priorities must be radically different. That means that sports schedules for children, hobbies, jobs and everything else you can think of must come in an infinitely distant second place in comparison to our devotion to Him. We must be unswerving in this, and that is not easily or lightly done, yet another difficulty. 

But even deeper than those, we see that Jesus told us that we must take up our cross daily if we are going to follow Him. The cross comes with scorn, derision, and a condemnation by the world that cannot be overlooked. Jesus told us that the world would hate us just like it hated Him. And if the world crucified Jesus, then we must also see that we are next in line behind Him. This isn’t comfortable. This isn’t easy. This isn’t marked by health, wealth or ‘your best life now.’ We are never promised those things, and they are never shown as being markers of the favor of God in Scripture. These charlitans who pretent to stand in line with the message of Jesus Christ, but who have no real allegiance to Him, must be called out and shown for what they are. It isn’t love and tolerance to allow false doctrine to pervade the minds and hearts of the people of God. We cannot pretend for a moment to have a part in Jesus Christ if we try to separate the things that Jesus Himself said would be part and parcel of our following of Him. 

These men and women to proclaim Jesus Christ while paying for luxury upon luxury that they ‘deserve’ from the donations of thier adherents, who have little to nothing in comparison, will be called to task one day by God Himself and they will be held responsible for their lies and their missteps. I cannot presume to stand in judgement over their souls, that is up to God. But I cannot imagine that He is pleased, nor holds them in favor, because of their actions and preying on people through a false gospel of prosperity. 

The markers of the favor of God come with a clean conscience, a life of fruitful evangelism and a peace that surpasses all understanding. It comes with a contendness in all things, in all circumstances, not a grasping for ‘more.’ It comes with a desire to give away everything, because nothing in this life is worth holding on to except Christ. It comes with an insatiable desire to GoLove others however God has gifted us to do so, and we find our fulfillment, not in small shallow thigns like possessions, wealth, land or houses, but in seeing the work of the Gospel done in the hearts and minds of those we encounter. It has nothing to do with wealth, and everything to do with the faithful following of a formerly dead slave brought to life again and made to be an heir of righteousness. Proper priorities show those who preach prosperity to be sad, hollow hucksters with snake-oil ‘cures’ ready to sell to the most willing buyers looking for a quick fix. Lasting change, real hope and a life overflowing with meaning comes only from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God in our hearts and minds, and that cannot be bought, sold or acquired through any means we can devise. 

If we are folowing Christ, He has promised ot be with us always, even to the very end of the age. If we are not satisfied in this life, then it is because we are not actually following Him, not because we still have ‘favors’ to claim from God. He does desire to bless His chidlren, but not in the way that the world or people like Joel Osteen call ‘blessing.’ Take every thought, every teaching, captive and hold it accountable to Scripture, weigh it out and see if it is what God desires for you, truly, as you carry your cross for Christ. 

  

Psalm 55 // Betrayal by a friend

We all know what it is to be let down and disappointed by people who are important to us and close. But here, David experiences something even worse, intentional betrayal. His wounded heart cries out to God, and he seeks justice. We know that Jesus knows this feeling all too well, and even in the worst of times, like these, we have faith that He knows our pain and will guide us through.

As we GoLove others in Jesus’ Name, we will encounter people who know this pain all too well. We need to remember passages like this so we can share with them that God bring hope and comfort through His compassionate love, even in our darkest hours.

For the choir director: with stringed instruments. A Davidic Maskil.
“1 God, listen to my prayer
and do not ignore my plea for help.
2 Pay attention to me and answer me.
I am restless and in turmoil with my complaint,
3 because of the enemys voice,
because of the pressure of the wicked.
For they bring down disaster on me
and harass me in anger.
4 My heart shudders within me;
terrors of death sweep over me.
5 Fear and trembling grip me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
6 I said, If only I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and find rest.
7 How far away I would flee;
I would stay in the wilderness. Selah
8 I would hurry to my shelter
from the raging wind and the storm.
9 Lord, confuse and confound their speech,
for I see violence and strife in the city;
10 day and night they make the rounds on its walls.
Crime and trouble are within it;
11 destruction is inside it;
oppression and deceit never leave its marketplace.
12 Now it is not an enemy who insults me —
otherwise I could bear it;
it is not a foe who rises up against me —
otherwise I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man who is my peer,
my companion and good friend!
14 We used to have close fellowship;
we walked with the crowd into the house of God.
15 Let death take them by surprise;
let them go down to Sheol alive,
because evil is in their homes and within them.
16 But I call to God,
and the Lord will save me.
17 I complain and groan morning, noon, and night,
and He hears my voice.
18 Though many are against me,
He will redeem me from my battle unharmed.
19 God, the One enthroned from long ago,
will hear and will humiliate them Selah
because they do not change
and do not fear God.
20 My friend acts violently
against those at peace with him;
he violates his covenant.
21 His buttery words are smooth,
but war is in his heart.
His words are softer than oil,
but they are drawn swords.
22 Cast your burden on the Lord,
and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
23 God, You will bring them down
to the Pit of destruction;
men of bloodshed and treachery
will not live out half their days.
But I will trust in You.”

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