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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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Purified, Redeemed & Given Peace

Father, bring us Your peace. Through Jesus Christ You have offered to us grace beyond measure. You have inaugurated our entry into Your presence with His blood, purified us and saved us from the wrath due us in Your judgment. Thank You for putting away our sin by this sacrifice. Thank You for promising us life beyond life and death. Thank You for the blessing of the greater picture of existence with You through Him. Thank You for the presence of Your Holy Spirit in this in-between time. Amen.

Hebrews 9:15-28
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

This is a lot to take in, isn’t it? Centuries of human effort, ritual purification, sacrifice and an obvious inability to maintain moral standards left us reeling. We were desperate, the children of God were in need of relief, and the world needed a savior without even knowing they needed Him. Try as we might to deny sin’s presence in our life, we rationalize all our decisions, seek out our own way and call the effort worthwhile. We stubbornly stand in pride and deny correction when it comes.We’ve all stood silently in this place. We know our own hearts, even if we don’t speak what we feel all the time.

Emotionally and spiritually bankrupt, God saw our deep need to be cleansed, redeemed and brought into real peace with Him. We need to remember this, drink it in & rest in Him.

And so comes Jesus.
Pause a minute. Breathe & speak His Name.

Heaven’s sacrifice once for all who would come.
Final.
He loves You deeply.
Pause again. Breathe & speak His Name, Jesus.

We needed Him so badly. Our efforts always temporary, we needed relief. And so He brings us peace by removing the need for the effort, and taking it upon Himself. This is the richness of the love of God, this is the depth of His grace. This loving Father, making sacrifice on behalf of His children, so that we might bring Him glory and that He might sing over us in His peace.

Jesus is the One who stood in the gap. The Father the One who sacrifices. The Holy Spirit the One who indwells us as we are being made holy – Our Triune God gathering us into His love.

Pause a minute. Breathe & abide in the rest He provides. Breathe. Trust in our Great High Priest who offered Himself up as the sacrifice.

Breathe.
Rest.
Speak the Name of Jesus.
Trust in Him & Praise His Name.
Walk in the rhythms of His grace today.

Father, bring us Your peace. Through Jesus Christ You have offered to us grace beyond measure. You have inaugurated our entry into Your presence with His blood, purified us and saved us from the wrath due us in Your judgment. Thank You for putting away our sin by this sacrifice. Thank You for promising us life beyond life and death. Thank You for the blessing of the greater picture of existence with You through Him. Thank You for the presence of Your Holy Spirit in this in-between time. Amen.

Jesus ‘ Pre-Passion Prayer pt2

Father, this life we live as sojourners can be difficult & troubling at times. We know we are called to something higher, but there is so much low hanging fruit, forbidden fruit. Give us strength to walk the path of sanctification, the path of Christ, consecrate us as Your possession. Amen.

John 17:12-19
12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

When Jesus prayed for us knowing that we would be called apart from the world, apart from what people would be ready to accept. This is a narrow path, a difficult road. This is the path to Golgotha. He knew that we would be given a hard time, made fun of and abused, like He was getting ready to be. He was praying out loud about this support from the Father, and this fellowship with Him, so that we would have a foundation to weather the storms of life. Unity with God while we walk this path will sustain us, guide us and give us wisdom.

Jesus was getting ready to pay the price to see this through, that we would be able to draw near to God, finding our hiding place with Him. He also saw to it that we would become God’s possession, He consecrated Himself so that we might be made holy through the truth and His blood. Give God thanks for seeing to our every need in Jesus Christ. christ-2-lg-600x533

Jesus guards us, keeps us and gives us the joy of the Father through our relationships with Him. He is our blessing, our redeemer and He was willing to lay everything down so that we might find life & joy apart from the things and motivations of this dark and broken world. It would come through suffering, but He was willing. We must still endure suffering for His sake, but we count it as an honor that we might be refined by Him, grown in Him and matured by the heart & path of our Savior. We walk this path in the rhythms of His grace.

Father, this life we live as sojourners can be difficult & troubling at times. We know we are called to something higher, but there is so much low hanging fruit, forbidden fruit. Give us strength to walk the path of sanctification, the path of Christ, consecrate us as Your possession. 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 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 8:1-8 // Persecution & Great Joy

“1 Saul agreed with putting him [Stephen] to death.

On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. 3 Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.

4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 The crowds paid attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.”

Acts 8:1-8

It isn’t unsusal to see strange pairings in the life of the Church. That persecution and joy would be so closely intertwined would be unusual in the world’s eyes and expectations, but we see God working wonder and beauty so often out of pain and unfortunate circumstances. That the death/martyrdom of Stephen would be followed by persecution, anger and hatred that then, in turn, pushed thoe who carried the same Gospel message out into the surrounding areas spurring others to come to know Christ, and salvation through Him, is something straight out of God’s handiwork. He brings good where someone else intends evil. 

Think back to Genesis, when Joseph was sold by his brothers to some Midianite traders because they didn’t want to hear about his dreams anymore. Joseph, sold by his own family into slavery, winds up being in the position to save them from starvation during a terrible famine. And not on ly his own family, but that entire region of the world. What they intended for evil, God used for good. Anger and frustration resulted in joy and thanksgiving.

Think to the next chapter in Israelite history. Moses has been born, floated down the nile, raised in Pharaoh’s household and decides to go out and see how his fellow Israelites are doing. While he is out on a walk, he sees the Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave and Moses kills him, which ultimately results in his flight from Egypt and 40 years as a shepherd. Moses had anger in his heart, he was a murderer. But God used that flight from Egypt to teach him valuable lessons and to get him to a place where he could lead His people out of slavery. What Moses began with evil, God turned into something good.

And so the stories run. God takes the messes of our lives and creates beauty from our ashes, strength form our pain. And so He is glorified. Saul, who watched and apporved of Stephen’s death would later write that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Because when we have nothing to run on, the handiwork of God becomes much more obvious, and all the praise and glory belongs to Him. 

The persecution that began at Stephen’s martyrdom resulted in the spread of the Gospel message, the breaking down of social barriers and the saving of many lives & so persecution led to great joy. Such is the love and concern of God, He doesn’t leave any opportunity untapped. All things point ot Him and His glory, we simply need to remember this and trust Him to move, even in the midst of our pain…especially in the midst of our pain. He’s just that good. He loves us that much. All glory & honor & praise go to Him for His goodness, mercy & grace.

As we GoLove others in His Name, we need to remember all these occasions that He brought good out of bad and how He redeemed our lives from the pit. While we were still dead in our trespasses, God, in HIs perfect timing, sent Christ to be life for us, taking that penalty of sin and death upon Himself so that the beauty of salvation might prevail, and that God might be glorified in both His justice and in HIs love. 

Praise God!

  

Acts 7:9-16 // Jesus and the story of Redemption (pt 2)

“9 The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt, but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his troubles. He gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over his whole household. 11 Then a famine and great suffering came over all of Egypt and Canaan, and our ancestors could find no food. 12 When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors the first time. 13 The second time, Joseph was revealed to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 Joseph then invited his father Jacob and all his relatives, 75 people in all, 15 and Jacob went down to Egypt. He and our ancestors died there, 16 were carried back to Shechem, and were placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.”

Acts 7:9-16

“God was with him, and rescued him out of all his troubles.” 

This is what God does. In our weaknesses, in our plight, in our pain and suffering, He extends His hand of mercy. He comforts our heart. He brings us peace and lifts up our head. Zephaniah says that God is mighty to save, that He sings over us and comforts us with His love.

I don’t know about you…but I need that. I need comforted because life hurts so often, my sins and mistakes wound me deeply and my fears, doubts and worries can seem overwhelming at times. There are days when things seem to press in from all sides, where issues I have no power over seem to loom over my head and press their weight into my shoulders, and I am crushed in my spirit.

On those dark days, it is a comfort to know that the one thing keeping me afloat in the midst of that storm has nothing to do with my own willpower or strength. It is the mighty hand of God upholding my spirit. His love brings me through, and His grace, mercy and love, lift my eyes up from the muck and mire and points them heavenward. He helps me remember that there is life beyond the moment of suffering, that there is joy that outlasts all pain. He reminds me of His good and perfect promises to me, and like the unending rhythm of the waves on the shore, He will never relent. He will never leave me or forsake me.

“He gave him favor & wisdom…”

As God gave Joseph what he needed in his plight, so he provides for me today. I do pray daily for wisdom, He knows I need it. But He also provides the answers and solutions to all my worries, problems, questions and concerns. He provides a faith that cannot be shaken, armor that protects the heart, and a Word that gives me sight. He truly is YHWH Jireh, providing for all my needs and even beyond. 

So, praise God today for His wonderous care! 

Praise the Lord of Hosts for His protection!

Praise God for the goodness of His creation!

Praise God for the provision He made throught Christ in the misdt of our death in sin. 

While we were already dead in our sin, He raised us up, breathed new life into us and animiated our dead bones so that He might be honored, glorified and praised. Our sustaining points glory to Him. Our blessing though provision accentuates His awesome love. The outpouring of love that flows from His people brings joy to His heart, like a Father watching His children put on His shoes and shirt and doing their best to be like their daddy. 

As we GoLove others, we mimic the heart of Christ, the eternal definition of love, care, provision and dedication. If Jesus had the strength to bear what He bore in His body for us on the cross, surely He can help us through our difficult days. Surely we can GoLove others and give them hope in theirs…

  

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