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Sifted & Strengthened

Father, thank You for understanding our weaknesses & loving us enough to expose them to us. Thank You for revealing the depths of our need for You & uncovering our insecurities. Your love for us is infinite & Your mercies are new every morning. Jesus, You have been our Advocate in a way that no one else ever could be. Our flesh is weak, but Holy Spirit, You bring strength to our bones & stamina to our hearts. Please embolden us for today & sustain us until tomorrow within Your peace. We lack nothing with You & remain impoverished without You. We praise You for Your great grace, O God. Carry us through our season of need & be glorified in the process. We are Yours.
This we acknowledge in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 22:31-38
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

I think we all know what it feels like to be sifted. Shaken & tossed, who we are at the core is exposed & we feel like we have been left bare to the world. Any covering we may have had is removed & we are left open & we feel vulnerable. I’m sure Peter felt exposed when Jesus spoke about this, his own fears & weaknesses laid bare before his friends. It probably hurt, I guarantee it did. I imagine that Peter’s face went ashen when Jesus spoke to him about this & even when he tried to defend his love for Christ, Jesus revealed how quickly his denial would come.

We all have aspirations for ourselves within our faith.We have an image of our own devotion & strength for Jesus, & this ‘best case scenario’ of our faith-life is rarely reality when the pressure is one & it’s time to speak up or take steps of real faith. We tell ourselves stories, we are creative in justifying what we do & how we live. But when it comes down to it, we will deny, just like Peter did, that we have the capacity for such a quick falling away. But the proof is in the pudding, & belief is tested by pressure. We revert quickly to who we actually are when those moments come & Jesus wanted Peter to be prepared & to hear a word of grace before it came for him.

No one want to be left feeling inadequate, especially for the One who conquered death & sin & saved us from facing the wrath of God. But it wasn’t our strength that sent Jesus through His Passion & it wasn’t our righteousness that allowed Him to serve as our perfect sacrifice. We brought nothing to the table in this regard, we were continue to be inadequate when it comes to strength & saving ourselves. But Jesus is sufficient. Jesus is more than enough for us all. So when Peter was told about his coming failure & when you & I see our own moments of stumbling coming along, we can be reminded that it ids Jesus who brought grace & it is God’s Holy Spirit that fills us with the grace we need & provides us with strength for every obstacle.

Satan will always be our accuser, until the day he is defeated with a word & God’s judgment comes for all of us. He desires to ruin us & break God’s heart in the process. Jesus said it best, that he comes to steal, kill & destroy. But Jesus came so that we might have life & have it abundantly. When the enemy tries to attack or to remind us of past failures, we need to remember that Jesus has already opened the doorway to forgiveness with His own blood & that the devil holds no authority over us & his accusations fall flat. When we receive Jesus as Savior & Lord, our names are covered by His Name. Our identities are found in Him, not in our past, not in our mistakes & not in our weaknesses.

All glory & honor & praise go to Him for His great grace & love. He calls us to walk daily in those rhythms, not the old discord that used to define us, but in new rhythms of His grace & His love. We may still stumble, but He has already stooped to serve & help us stand again. May we be bold for Him & trust in the depths of His strength & His awesome forgiveness. He alone is worthy & makes us worthy in Himself. Thank God for that today.

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The Sacrificial Lamb hosts a dinner

Gracious Father, Sweet Holy Spirit, Precious Jesus, this moment of remembrance catches me in my heart every single time. It is difficult thinking about those who betray you, let alone sharing a meal with them where you pour out your heart for them. You looked them in the eye and You saw their brokenness. You knew what they would do, and so soon. What an awesome example You have set for us. What an amazing grace & love You’ve shown. Please bless us with this grace, may we do the same & may You be glorified in it. In Jesus’ holy Name, amen.

Luke 22:7-22
“7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.”

If we needed an image for shocking compassion, this is certainly it. To say that the act of remembering is beneficial is a gross understatement. When I try to think through, in detail, the events of this evening, picturing myself as a silent observer, I am shamed along with the apostles & wonder if I have let my Lord down. It is easy to stand up like Peter and say that we would draw our sword & die for Him, but it proves to be much more difficult in practice. Jesus knew all that would happen with these men whom He called friends, and yet the Sacrificial Lamb hosts a dinner for them.

He gives them ownership, a part in the proceedings, and tells them to “…prepare so we may eat.” They have a task, a mission, to perform for the One they love. Their Master has asked them to do something they are capable of doing, something familiar, something they grew up experiencing, a meal they could recite by heart.

When He gives them this task, though, the elements are already present. The place is already secured. They are to do the work of preparing the meal, a hands on experience, remembering what each part means, remembering the story of Moses, the people enslaved & the bitterness of their lives. They folded napkins, prepared the bitter herbs, laid out the matzoh & lamb shank. Each part a reminder of something written deeply on their hearts, something that resonated even more deeply into their present condition & lives. The thing they wanted to see so much from the Messiah they followed: freedom & restoration.

In faith we find it so, even today. Jesus has prepared the dinner, He Himself the Sacrificial Lamb. He has tasted the bitterness, was moved in haste, broken & hidden away like the afikomen. As He moved through the dinner with those who would desert & betray Him, I have to wonder if their hearts were awakened to something new happening before their eyes. I have to hope that they saw something different this time. I wonder if the Time was bearing down on them like it was on Jesus, if there was a sense of urgency & expectancy like on that night in Egypt thousands of years before. I wonder if the air was electric that night, if pauses were pregnant with meaning & if Jesus allowed them to feel the weight of that gathering.

He brought them to His rest before suffering. He invited them in between the warp & the woof of the tapestry of time & showed them connections prophesied and planned. They were integrated forever into this holy plan, this divine coming together of God & man. This reclining would be His last rest before He suffered for them & for us. He invited them into this moment that the rest of us would have probably spent alone, withdrawn. He gave of Himself, served them, a meal with broken people before He would be broken for them.

The New Promise given by the New Sacrifice. Given so we may live. It is right & good to pause & remember this, watch & listen. You are invited into the rhythms of His grace, a seat at the table where Master serves the servant. Acceptance is found, repentance brought to mind & love is deepened at the table of Christ. Pause. Be present there & remember. He has invited you.

Mark 14:12-16 // Jesus is prepared to meet with you

“12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrifice the Passover lamb, His disciples asked Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare the Passover so You may eat it?”

13 So He sent two of His disciples and told them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him. 14 Wherever he enters, tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, ‘Where is the guest room for Me to eat the Passover with My disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.’ 16 So the disciples went out, entered the city, and found it just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover.”

Mark 14:12-16

— 

This preparation, in addition to the colt for the Triumphal Entry, reveal to us that Jesus has already made all the preparations necessary for us to come and meet with Him. There is still work for us to do, but He has prepared and provided before we even think to begin. Just like the disciples simply had to acknowledge their desire to prepare the Passover meal, we need to come straight to Jesus and acknowledge our desire to be near Him. 

We like to make this overly complicated or make excuses why we don’t have time, but Jesus stands before us, time and place already secured, opportunity for communion close at hand. We have to make the effort to go there, and we should prepare for that meeting, but there should be no question over whether or or we do this. 

As a Christian, our first desire should be for Christ. We should desire to grow with Him, to grow in Him and to seek out maturity. He should be our passion, our longing. Jesus Christ should be the cry of our hearts! 

If we are ‘too busy’ for Jesus, we should pray that the Father disciplines us, prunes us, so that our hearts and attitudes are corrected. I cannot imagine Jesus telling me that He was too busy to meet with me, that He just had too much on His plate. What a sad state of affairs that would be for all of us. But Christ showed His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, He took the time to die for us. He created the hill He would walk up, the will of the Father spawned the tree that would hold His body, the cow from whose hide the leather flagellum would be made and the stone and iron whipping post where His back would be laid open. If God took the time to prepare the sacrifice, His Son, surely we can carve out time to meet with Him daily. 

As we GoLove others in His Name, people should see the place of priority that Christ holds in our life. Not because we are acting pious and obvious to draw attention to ourselves, but because our days and nights contain so much of the reality of Christ’s presence that we cannot deny Him these daily, sacred moments. Our dedication speaks to His dedication, our devotion to His, of course His example far overshadows our own.

Good Friday and silence // Luke 23

“And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes.

And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
Luke 23:50, 51, 53-56 NASB

Emotionally, the disciples needed a sabbath. As much as they had been through in the past 24 hours, their hearts were shattered. Minds numb, bodies exhausted from crying, they sat around in different corners of the room doing what all of us do when we mourn. They cried. They stated blankly at the wall. They tried to remember through the events and sift for clues to see what they could have done differently. They blamed themselves, they blamed others. They especially blamed Judas.

But for all their talk and ‘what if’s’ they still weren’t listening to the words Jesus had spoken to them.

Sure, they remembered His claims that He would be handed over and executed, but that never seemed right. Maybe He was just being dramatic or speaking in metaphors again. But it really happened. He was dead. Wrapped up, sealed away in the ground. Dead.

He had been the One to disrupt funerals and raise the dead. But never anything like this…

••••••••
‘I guess I get my boat out of dry dock and start fishing again.’

‘Maybe I can start back at the tax office.’

‘I hope my father-in-law has a job for me.’
••••••••

Friday night turns into Saturday morning and someone finally realizes they haven’t eaten since the Passover meal. Not really hungry, but not knowing what else to do, they share some matzah and cold lamb. They weren’t supposed to leave any of it after the meal, but Jesus didn’t even drink the fourth cup, they never finished the Seder…

•••••••
‘I guess we jut wait until the coast is clear and we all head home.’

‘Yeah, whatever “home” means now…’

‘I know, nothing’s ever going to feel right anymore.’
•••••••

And so they waited.
And we wait, too.

As Dr. Campolo is famous for saying (among other things),
“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

Thursday must have been a long day // Matthew 27

“Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.”

“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.”
Matthew 27:1, 2, 12-14 NIV

With every year that passes, it becomes that much easier to feel the quick passage of time. Days and weeks zip by, I blink and a month has passed, and I’m just in my late 30’s. When, Lord willing, I reach my 60’s and beyond, I’m imagining it must almost be a blur.

Be then there are days, that for good or bad reasons, seem to stretch on forever. Anticipation of a celebration or of seemingly bad news or even times to mourn can take one of our light-speed days and drag it out into eternity.

When Jesus and His disciples were making their way into Jerusalem on what we call Maundy Thursday, I wonder how long that walk took in His mind. When He was approaching the gates of the Holy City, I wonder if He looked off toward the direction of Golgotha and felt compelled to rub His wrists and forehead. I wonder if the chatter of His disciples faded into so much garbled mumbling as His mind ran through prophecies and the nature of the Roman’s brutality. Did He look at their smiles and hear the joy in the people flooding into the city and find Himself pleasantly distracted for a few moments?

What was Thursday like?

Did He have that feeling in the pit of His stomach that we all get when we know we are waiting for punishment? Was He already beginning to feel that for us? Was this day full of tangible reminders of joy and pain? Did He see legitimate and sincere worshipers mixed in among the disgruntled and greedy? Did He think about how worship was supposed to be, and how The Father longed to be close to His children? Did He see the sneers of the doubters and the haughty glances of the proud and the injustices done to the poor as He walked those streets that morning? Did He pick our the roads and pathways that He would carry His cross down, anticipating difficult stretches and tight passageways?

What was Thursday like?

Was it this full day being confronted with the mass of humanity in this one city that drove it all home for Him? When He would say, “I am sorrowful to the point of death.” Were the events of the day and the faces He saw still fresh in His mind?

When day turned into night and they began the Passover meal, and He finally sat down to this last Passover with His friends, and He said, “I have greatly anticipated this Passover meal.” Was that because it meant that Thursday was finally almost over? Were the strands of His mind, threads of love, justice, anticipation, grace, hope, prophecy, truth, were they all streaming around all simultaneously present and noticed yet difficult to grasp?

What was Thursday like?

To assume He walked through the day like a passive observer, indifferent to the crowds and the weather and the noises and smells, that He wasn’t affected by the events of the coming days and that He was some stoic, unfeeling wall…that denies the man in Him, and to say He didn’t care denies the divine in Him.

As the meal ends, feet washed and Judas long gone, and they make their way to the garden to pray and as the darkness of night sinks in, I still wonder, what was Thursday like?

Because we get a full picture, in Technicolor and CinemaScope of what Friday brings. Because by the time He reaches Pilate, we can see that He is focused, He is now in the midst of events that all of human history had been leading up to, and love guides Him, mercy steers Him and grace propels Him forward. And as terrible as Good Friday is, we all who stand with Him stand thankful, appreciative and amazed at grace.

This Thursday, today, let the events of Christ’s Thursday dwell in your mind, anticipating what tomorrow brings, and GoLove as you have been so richly loved.

Simple willingness // Matthew 26

“On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’ ”
So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.”
Matthew 26:17-19 NIV

Just like He had prearranged the donkey for the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus also had someone in mind to serve as host for the Passover meal. This room was not chosen at random, this household wasn’t picked like a drawn straw.

When God, in His will and in His timing, desires to use someone to accomplish His purpose, He uses the person who has made themselves available, whose heart is ready to hear what it is He has to say. Here, the family that hosts Jesus and His disciples, we find a household that is willing, ready to serve and be available. I doubt this was the home of one of the scribes or Pharisees that was constantly trying to work against Jesus and catch Him healing on the Sabbath or trying to twist words into clever riddles to attempt to throw Him off.

No. This is a willing household. These are willing hearts.

This simple formula is really all that is required for the handiwork of God to take place. As we seek the Kingdom daily, our hola is to simply stand as willing vessels everyday in whatever place He chooses to use us. That our hearts would be available to listen so our mouths would speak and our hands would serve in Hs timing, in His way.

Willingness took Moses to Egypt from the burning bush. Willingness took Elisha to the home of the widow and her son. Willingness took David’s heart and kept him from killing Saul. Willingness drove the 12 disciples of Jesus all over the world from Italy to India and deep into Africa to share the Good News. Willingness is the marker of a humble heart and a humble heart is the one that best serves God because it is willing to step aside that God may be glorified above all.

Opening your home for Jesus may just be the beginning. Showing the endless love that you have been shown, pointing the way toward God through actions, words and sincerity all serve as witness to the One who has given us that glorious commissioning to GoLove in His precious Name.

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