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Good for the Worst

God Almighty, Lord of Heaven & Earth, God-Who-Sees, God-Who-Provides, Judge & Counselor, our sinful lays before You revealed, nothing is hidden, everything is known to You. The darkest corners of our hearts & the false impressions we put on to impress others are exposed for what they are in Your sight. There are no secrets we can keep from You, nowhere we can run or hide from Your gaze. You know our going in & our coming out, our lying down & our rising up again. Grant us this mercy today, remind us of Your best, the good You have provided because of our worst. Let us see You & be reminded of our own condition in the light of Your glory. Let us remember today, pace ourselves with the footsteps of Jesus along the Way of Suffering & the Hill of the Skull. May we be present there today & turn our hearts heavenward. Remind us, sweet Jesus, of Your love, mercy & grace over us. Forgive us our deep failings, every one & restore our hearts with Your blood & Spirit. We pray this in the power of Your precious Name, Jesus, amen.

Read slowly.
Close Your eyes & imagine at the paragraph breaks.
Be present, an observer in the crowd today.
Walk through today aware of what He did for you as your day progresses.

Luke 22:54-23:56

(Friday, Early Morning)
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance.
And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”  And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.”  And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly.

 Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him.  They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”  And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.  But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”  So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”  Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”

(Friday, Morning)
Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate.
  And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.”  And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.”  Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”  But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”

 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!”  A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’  For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

(Friday, About 9am)
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

(Friday, noon)
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,
while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

(Friday, 3pm)
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man,
who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
(Friday, ~6pm)

Remember.

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Family Update – Steps of Faith

leap-of-faith2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 26:24-32 // Paul’s Defense, pt 3 // Strength in Difficulty

“24 As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, ‘You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!’

25 But Paul replied, ‘I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. 26 For the king knows about these matters. It is to him I am actually speaking boldly. For I am convinced that none of these things escapes his notice, since this was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.’

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?’

29 ‘I wish before God,’ replied Paul, ‘that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am — except for these chains.’

30 So the king, the governor, Bernice, and those sitting with them got up, 31 and when they had left they talked with each other and said, ‘This man is doing nothing that deserves death or chains.’

32 Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.'”

Acts 26:24-32

==

Read verse 29 again:

‘I wish before God,’ replied Paul, ‘that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am — except for these chains.’

The chains, being jailed…that was secondary to what was happening for Paul. He had audience with people who did not know Jesus, and so he was going to do whatever he could to share the Good News of the Gospel with them. He wanted them to see and understand the hope that he had in Christ. His heart was going out for them, he was concerned for their salvation, and his personal situation did not play into consideration. 

Personal ease, an easy walk? These are not guaranteed. Jesus has promised to help us through every hardship, but we must keep our focus on Him. It’s not about making everything comfortable for us, but having us in a place where we are needed to do the Gospel work. Ease and comfort are not factors that determine whether or not we do what is required of us. If they were, there would never even be one permenant gathering of belivers. We would get upset with each other and scatter to the wind. Instead, we focus on Christ, not seeking excuses, and we do the work together, the work laid out for us in the Gospel.

If Paul was a consumer, he would be dissatisfied, but as a disciple he was simply doing what his Master asked of him. It could have been easier, yes. He could have settled down in Ephesus and had a fulfilling ministry, sure, but that wasn’t what God wanted of him. And so he did what was required, he pressed on through the difficulty, God giving him strength to do so. 

As we do the work of Christ, answering the call to GoLove others, we have to remember that the work laid out before us is so much more important than our ‘feeling’ comfortable. We must seek our joy in Him, not in situations. We must find our joy in Him, not seeking out what the flesh calls ‘happiness.’ Ministry, our walk as Christians, is not about what is easiest, it is about what is required of us as disciples of Jesus. So, stick with it, power through in His Name and be faithful as Christ has been faithful for you, God getting the glory and giving you the strength to do so through His Holy Spirit. 

Acts 26:12-23 // Paul’s Defense, pt 2

12 “‘I was traveling to Damascus under these circumstances with authority and a commission from the chief priests. 13 King Agrippa, while on the road at midday, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 

15 Then I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ 

And the Lord replied: ‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and of what I will reveal to you. 17 I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them 18 to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified.’ 

19 Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple complex and were trying to kill me. 22 To this very day, I have obtained help that comes from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing else than what the prophets and Moses said would take place — 23 that the Messiah must suffer, and that as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.'”

Acts 26:12-23

==

 There is a layer of humility, mirroring the humility of Jesus, that Paul has as he tells his story for the last time in the book of Acts. I’m sure he told it to other people more time between this moment and when he was martyred, but this is the final recorded time it is shared. This conversion account is Paul’s badge of honor and simultaneously points toward his greatest shame. He was not called to this work for Jesus because he was doing such a good job following God. Instead, he was fighting against the people who were being obedient, and walking with Christ. He was so hung up in his works-righteousness religion that he could not see or hear grace. Again, that is not to his credit, and he knows it. 

He preached repentance as one who needed to repent, one who knew what it meant to need grace. His humility was birthed in that shame, in that conviction of sin. Paul elsewhere calls himself the ‘chief of all sinners,’ and this helps us see that he understood the degree of his spiritual blindness before he met Jesus on that road to Damascus. 

Jesus spoke directly to Paul’s pride and anger in verse 14 when He told him it was ‘hard to kick against the goads.’ Paul had been struggling against God leading up to this moment (everything was all about what Paul could do, not what God was capable of) and now Jesus is confronting him directly and telling him that he needed to stop struggling with the divine instruction he was receiving. 

I wonder how much I kick against the goads. 

How often do I fight and struggle against the Spirit’s leading in order to accomplish what I want to do, to work my own plan? How much does my pride keep me from seeing the path of rightousness laid out before me? How much hardship do I suffer needlessly because I am too focused on what I want to do rather than on following where God wants me? Doing what He wants? 

This requires a daily examination and, like Paul, a healthy dose of humility. If I am going to GoLove others like I should, then I should be doing that from the righteousness that God provides, not from something I try to manufacture on my own. Repentance and humility work hand in hand here to see this accomplished. It is to God’s credit and His glory when Paul’s life changed, and when mine does as well. Pride wants me to keep kicking against the goads, the Spirit encourages me to die to self. The latter is the only option that brings peace and joy, and the Lord knows my heart well enough to know how much I need Him to see me through. 

Acts 26:1-11 // Paul’s Defense, pt1

“1 Agrippa said to Paul, ‘It is permitted for you to speak for yourself.’

Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense: 2 ‘I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that today I am going to make a defense before you about everything I am accused of by the Jews, 3 especially since you are an expert in all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.’

4 ‘All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem. 5 They had previously known me for quite some time, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 the promise our 12 tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve Him night and day.’ 

‘King Agrippa, I am being accused by the Jews because of this hope. 8 Why is it considered incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? 9 In fact, I myself supposed it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. I even pursued them to foreign cities since I was greatly enraged at them.'”

Acts 26:1-11

==

When we stand accused by someone, when they are frustrated with us, angry or let down, there is a proper way to address their concerns & frustrations. Typically, our gut reaction is to lash out, to express frustration in return. Looking at the example of Christ, who stood silent before His accusers, and who only answered briefly to Pilate, and to the example then of His servant Paul, we see that we are given the right to answer for ourselves and that there is a proper way to handle those situations. 

Like Jesus, Paul clarely states the facts of what is going on and where he stands. In this first part of his defense, he is laying out his past and his understanding of how his accusers think. He is not being irrational, he is not yelling or angry. Instead, he is focused on the issue at hand. He isn’t speaking from his frustration at being held for two years as a prisoner. He is simply stating fact, and he is being respectful as he does so.

So often, that is more difficult than anything, to express ourselves factually, in the midst of our frustration and to do so in a way that honors God. What this requires is a humility that is Holy Spirit powered. We must let go of the situation, and give it over to God before it even begins. I guarantee you that Paul had been praying about this day and this opportunity. It did not sneak up on him unaware, he was not taken by surprise. Instead, he anticipated it (as any prisoner would awiting a trial) and he had his heart ready before God when the moment came. He trusted God wholeheartedly with his life and in his defense. This internal preparation went a very long way to see him give a defense that was coherent, well planned and given in a way that did not attempt to lash out at or insult his accusers. There was no attempt to demean them or to give them a hard time. 

And in this, we see one of our greatest needs, the need for prayer and God-honoring counsel. Whenever we ffind ourselves struggling with an issue, we need to seek out God first in prayer, not run from the seat of our pants. We need to express our concerns to Him, and ask Him for wisdom & patience. We need to seek out His glory in the situation, not seek to simply correct a perceived wrong. It is still about Him, after all, and not about us. We do need to point toward the truth, and we do need to make an honest defense, as Paul begins to here, but we must take charge of our own attuitude in the process and hold it in check, taking every thought captive and examining it in the light of Christ. And when we are angry or frustrated, this is going to be very difficult and probably will not be what we want to do in the midst of the situation. But again, we must remember, this is not about us, this is about the Name of Christ and His reputation. If we are to GoLove anyone and everyone, then this also includes our accusers. 

1 Peter 2:11-17 – “11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.

13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is Gods will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 As Gods slaves, live as free people, but dont use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.”

1 Peter 3:13-17 – 13 – “And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, 15 but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be Gods will, than for doing evil.”

Acts 25:23-27 // Things Even Pagans Know

“23 So the next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the auditorium with the commanders and prominent men of the city. When Festus gave the command, Paul was brought in. 24 Then Festus said: ‘King Agrippa and all men present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community has appealed to me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he should not live any longer. 25 Now I realized that he had not done anything deserving of death, but when he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore, I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after this examination is over, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner and not to indicate the charges against him.'”

Acts 25:23-27

==

“13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, You have brought me this man as one who subverts the people. But in fact, after examining Him in your presence, I have found no grounds to charge this man with those things you accuse Him of. 15 Neither has Herod, because he sent Him back to us. Clearly, He has done nothing to deserve death.” Luke 23:13-15

“11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:11-12

Paul’s circumstances are nothing out of the ordinary for a follower of Christ. He was not the first jailed, nor would he be the last. Instead, he finds himself in a position that will become common to many who follow Christ. This life we lead then, continues to be remarkably important as it stands in testimony for us. If we truly are walking as Jesus walked, then our conduct should reflect that same life, His. ANd when we live as Christ, any honest examination, any unpolluted scrutiny, will point toward the fact that we have lived according to the truth. The Holy Spirit reminds us, through Peter, that this life lived in holiness will be so apparent that even pagans wil recognize it as being honorable. This is the declaration of Pilate ater examining Jesus, Felix & Festus after examining Paul, and Agrippa will come to the same conclusion shortly. 

Our Christian character matters. That our walk is open and honest and matches up with the walk of Christ stands as witness to His handiwork. Anything else simply mirrors the flesh and does nothing to build the Kingdom or our testimony. So, again we see that it’s not enough to simply claim Christ, we must also walk as He walked, living out a life of faith in Him. Our walk must match up with our talk, and it must all come back and point past us and to the work of the cross in our hearts, minds and lives. A life of belief is more than a life that just ‘knows,’ it is a life that lives what it claims to stand for…in every way imaginable. 

We cannot pick and choose what we want of Christ, trying to make friends with the world as much as we want. Instead, we walk with Christ, fully expecting the world to disagree with us like it disagreed with Him. This is how we GoLove others, by serving as faithful ambassadors for Christ. 

“18 If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you: A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they dont know the One who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin. Now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 The one who hates Me also hates My Father. 24 If I had not done the works among them that no one else has done, they would not have sin. Now they have seen and hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened so that the statement written in their scripture might be fulfilled: They hated Me for no reason.” John 15:18-25

You are blessed when people hate you,

when they exclude you, insult you,

and slander your name as evil

because of the Son of Man.

23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note — your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

Acts 25:13-22 // Something to think about

“13 After some days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea and paid a courtesy call on Festus. 14 Since they stayed there many days, Festus presented Pauls case to the king, saying, ‘There’s a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix. 15 When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews presented their case and asked for a judgment against him. 16 I answered them that it’s not the Roman’s custom to give any man up before the accused confronts the accusers face to face and has an opportunity to give a defense concerning the charges. 17 Therefore, when they had assembled here, I did not delay. The next day I sat at the judge’s bench and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 Concerning him, the accusers stood up and brought no charge of the sort I was expecting. 19 Instead they had some disagreements with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, a dead man Paul claimed to be alive. 20 Since I was at a loss in a dispute over such things, I asked him if he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there concerning these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be held for trial by the Emperor, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I could send him to Caesar.’

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear the man myself.’

‘Tomorrow you will hear him,’ he replied.”

Acts 25:13-22

==

What type of influence is the Holy Spirit exerting through Paul’s imprisonment? Even these officials know more about what he stands for than any other aspect of his life. There is no question in relation to Paul’s main allegiance in life or what he has determined is worth fighting for. They may not understand it, but that is to be expected. The main point here is that the Name of Jesus is being talked about by those outside the faith & their first impression is that of a man who thinks that Jesus is worth getting locked up over, worth laying his life down for & that alone is huge. Paul left them with something to think about before he even met them. So, what does that mean for us? 

The take-away is fairly obvious. A life well lived for Jesus is going to make an impression on people whether we are there to make that impression in person or not. Our life in Christ is meant to be different, to stand out and in that separation from the rest of the world, there will be questions and people who feel compelled to find out more. “Why is that guy doing that?” seems to be a pretty common question surrounding Paul’s life, and the answer keeps pointing back to Jesus. It’s not about Paul, you can see that even here as two irreligious men discuss him. As they talk about Paul, the conversation hinges on his belief in Jesus Christ. 

When we seek to live an impression making life like this, we aren’t doing it for our own benefit or fame. We don’t do it so seek out glory for ourselves. Instead, we do it for the glory of Christ Jesus, our Messiah. Our desire is that more people see Him ay work in us and are drawn to Him. As we spend our lives to lift Him up, people find their eyes drawn past us and to the cross. In living to intentionally point people toward Jesus, we give them something to think about, and our lives are spent in service to Him for the benefit of others. As we follow His mandate to GoLove others in His Name, those rhythms of grace we live out every day through worship, service, study, prayer, giving & fellowship will make an impression on them that lets them see that our life is about something far greater than ourselves. Our lives point toward Jesus. Why would we give up vacation time to go on a mission trip? Why would we devote our finances to being given away? Whay would we spend so much time with our church family every week? Why are we always reading the Bible? Because we realize that our life is meant for more than selfish desire. We see that life is mission & that we have been called to ‘Go’ and live something very, very different than the rest of the world around us. It is a beautifully simple life to live. 

Acts 25:1-12 // Character in Adversity

“1 Three days after Festus arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 Then the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews presented their case against Paul to him; and they appealed, 3 asking him to do them a favor against Paul, that he might summon him to Jerusalem. They were preparing an ambush along the road to kill him. 4 However, Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was about to go there shortly. 5 ‘Therefore,’ he said, ‘let the men of authority among you go down with me and accuse him, if there is any wrong in this man.’

6 When he had spent not more than eight or 10 days among them, he went down to Caesarea. The next day, seated at the judges bench, he commanded Paul to be brought in. 7 When he arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him and brought many serious charges that they were not able to prove, 8 while Paul made the defense that, ‘Neither against the Jewish law, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned at all.’

9 Then Festus, wanting to do a favor for the Jews, replied to Paul, ‘Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem, there to be tried before me on these charges?’

10 But Paul said: ‘I am standing at Caesars tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you can see very well. 11 If then I am doing wrong, or have done anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die, but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!’

12 After Festus conferred with his council, he replied, ‘You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!’

Acts 25:1-12

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Paul has been through the wringer, it would be easy to just give up and be done. But, as a Christian, he knows that his integrity matters and that any charges against him, even false ones, would bring a bad reputation to Christ and His Church. Paul stands as a representative of the Gospel at the highest levels of their society, and if he admits to wrongdoing that he was not a part of, just to settle things out, then he would be guilty of defaming Christ. 

As Christians, our moral integrity matters. It matters every day in every situation. How we conduct ourselves, what reputation we build, all of it matters because we stand as the representatives of Christ. Whether that is before the President, Governors or our co-workers, family & neighbors, it makes no difference. We are Christ’s ambassadors, created in Him to do good works. Our actions and reputations point toward the Gospel, and that can either be for good or for bad. We are each responsible, we will each be held accountable. 

Paul was being persecuted because of his allegiance to Jesus Christ & His Gospel. The Jews who were seeking to kill him could not be satiated by anything but his blood. The world is not going to compromise when it comes to us either. We cannot hope to ‘make things work’ or seek to compromise just so we can all get along. We cannot afford to compromise our Christian principles, to compromise the Gospel message or the authority that comes inherent in the Word of God. Paul couldn’t back down here, so he appealed to the world’s authority in the face of his accusers. We must do the same. Paul knew the systems and arguments and philosophies of his opponents. We should do likewise. 

If we are going to be good ambassadors, we must know whom it is we are dealing with. We must understand to what lengths they will go to accomplish their agendas. We have to understand that every inch of ground we give up they will occupy and keep on pressing. Paul knew that the Gospel’s reputation mattered. He knew that he couldn’t just fold. This was the moment to stand firm in the truth, to trust in the will of God and to see justice done. For us today, as Christians, we have the Great Commission that compells us to GoLove anyone and everyone for the sake of the Gospel through service & the ministry of the message of the Gospel. We cannot forget that great hope that we have been given simply because the sinful and fallen world tells us to be quiet, to keep our faith to ourselves. A sinful world doesn’t want to be confronted. A sinful heart doesn’t want to be exposed. Truth is its enemy, and that is what we bring when we bring the Gospel. 

Paul had to stand firm, even at the cost of his own life, to see Christ honored in it. We have the same call on our hearts, the call to lay down our life, our own ambitions, in order to see Christ honored. Even if the world hates us, rallies against us, we stand firm & in doing so, we bear witness to the faithfulness of God. He gives us the strength we need for the day, for the moment, so that we can continue to be faithful witnesses for Him, to His glory. 

“7 Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution, we were encouraged about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God for you in return for all the joy we experience before our God because of you, 10 as we pray very earnestly night and day to see you face to face and to complete what is lacking in your faith?

11 Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we also do for you. 13 May He make your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. Amen.”
1 Thessalonians 3:7-13

Acts 24:1-9 // Lies to Justify

“1 After five days Ananias the high priest came down with some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. These men presented their case against Paul to the governor. 2 When he was called in, Tertullus began to accuse him and said: ‘Since we enjoy great peace because of you, and reforms are taking place for the benefit of this nation by your foresight, 3 we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with utmost gratitude. 4 However, so that I will not burden you any further, I beg you in your graciousness to give us a brief hearing. 5 For we have found this man to be a plague, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the Roman world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes! 6 He even tried to desecrate the temple, so we apprehended him [and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7 But Lysias the commander came and took him from our hands with great force, 8 commanding his accusers to come to you.] By examining him yourself you will be able to discern all these things we are accusing him of.’ 9 The Jews also joined in the attack, alleging that these things were so.”

Acts 24:1-9

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Have you ever been ganged up on? Had a group of peope try to defame you? Their self-justified rationaille pointing them to make audacious claims about you? When people have made a decision to not like you, to seek to tear you down, so that they can feel better about themselves, they will do and say just about anything. People who are set on destroying someone else are bent, warped in their hearts and minds. There is no getting through to them while they have their mind set on their sinful behavior. 

Some of Paul’s accusers were so eager to see him dead that they had vowed not to eat or drink anything until they had killed him. They were bent on self-harm as an option for motivation to see him done in. People who seek to harm you are also bent on self-harm, a strangulation of their heart & their very humanity. These violent hearts are dark & twisted, imagining the harming of another person will help bring fulfillment to their souls. But this type of lashing out never benefits anyone, and never brings true fulfillment to the one who wishes harm. It just draws you deeper, drags you lower, and makes you stoop to new lows so you can see more pain inflicted. It is a sickness of the soul that causes one person to seek to harm another, to obsess over their downfall. This is pride, and the territory of the devil. 

As Christians, we need only rely on the truth. We speak the truth, we approach those who would harm us with love, and maybe even a dose of pity for their lost state. We can be sickened by what is happening within their heart, because it really is very sad, but we don’t need to answer their foolishness with the same kind of foolishness (Proverbs 26:4) instead we answer because of their foolishness (Proverbs 26:5) and seek the path of truth, even for them. We should desire for them what is contrary to the desire our fleshly self probably wants. We should desire that they be reconciled to God rather than brought low like they desire for us. We need to heap kindness on them (Proverbs 25:21-22) so that they cannot deny it, or shake the effects of the encounter. Angry people expect an angry response, and as followers of Jesus Christ, we cannot give in to that temptation. 

Trust that God has something better to accomplish in you and through you, even in the face of your perceived enemies. He should be glorified in all of our decisions, the attitudes of our heart and in the actual responses we give to those who would be set against us within their flesh. We must answer according to the Spirit if we intend to GoLove people as we have been loved. We must also remember that we were once lost, dead in our sin and walking a similar path when God found us. We were His enemies, and He sought reconciliation with us. That is the blessing of grace for us, and that is the rhythm we should live in as we continue to interact with people who do not yet know Christ. Our greatest joy may be seeing our ‘enemies’ become our brothers and sisters, adopted through the blood of the Lamb.

Acts 23:1-10 // Know Your Audience

“Paul looked intently at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience until this day.’ 2 But the high priest Ananias ordered those who were standing next to him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck?’

4 And those standing nearby said, ‘Do you dare revile Gods high priest?’

5 /I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest,’ replied Paul. ‘For it is written, ‘You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” 6 When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees! I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!’ 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and no angel or spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all.

9 The shouting grew loud, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees party got up and argued vehemently: ‘We find nothing evil in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ 10 When the dispute became violent, the commander feared that Paul might be torn apart by them and ordered the troops to go down, rescue him from them, and bring him into the barracks.”

Acts 23:1-10

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Paul is obviously in a difficult place during these moments in Jerusalem. Whether the corwds in the Temple complex, or here in the Sanhedrin, Paul is not surrounded by supporters. But where he seems to stand on his own, he is also doing well by keeping his wits about himself. He is aware of who is around him, what they believe and what is truly important to them.  For the Romans, he poited out his own Roman citizenship. For the Jews, his deep roots in the faith. Within this gathering in Acts 23, he finds a way to have half the group side with him based on a theological bias they already held. 

Jesus wanred His followers about times like these, and gave specific instruction that Paul seems to follow to the letter: ‘Be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves.’ 

Matthew 10:16-20 – Persecutions Predicted

“16 Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. 17 Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them. 18 You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. 19 But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, 20 because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you.”

Paul was living out this exact scenario. And although he wouldn’t have been in Galilee to hear this teaching directly from Jesus while he was still learning under Gamaliel, I do wonder if Jesus didn’t repeat this to Saul as he was becoming Paul.

Paul knew that things weren’t going to be easy. There were zealots chasing him all over Asia Minor trying to kill him, and they weren’t finished with their effort quite yet. Jesus told Ananias that Saul/Paul was going to suffer for the sake of His Name. But even knowing all this, God was never going to cruelly leave Paul to stand on his own, abaondoned to suffer hardship. In fact, it was the strength and power of God upholding him through these trials. Jesus specifially says that the Holy Spirit would speak through these moments. And so, in that speaking, there is hop in the presence and in that hope, a deeper love and thanksgiving emerges. 

It was wise for Paul to know his audience whenever he spoke, and by & large, he did well identifying them in each instance. But the main thing he remembered was that God was his first concern, not sittingin the front row of the audience, but standing there on trial with him. He was not alone. 

As we GoLove people in the Name of Jesus, we must also trust that God is with us, giving us words to speak and strength when we need it most. Last week, 9 people died for their faith here in the United States, hope declared with a gun to their head. Sometimes the expression of our faith doesn’t come with elloquence and many words. Sometimes, in situations like these, a simple ‘Yes.’ will suffice. 

Be bold. Declare your ‘Yes.’ Stand with Christ.

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