Warning & Encouragement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Acts 21:1-14 // Bound & Determined

“1 After we tore ourselves away from them and set sail, we came by a direct route to Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. 3 After we sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. 4 So we found some disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, 6 we said good-bye to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

7 When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them one day. 8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. 9 This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

10 While we were staying there many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into Gentile hands.” 12 When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem.

13 Then Paul replied, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’

14 Since he would not be persuaded, we stopped talking and simply said, ‘The Lord’s will be done!'”

Acts 21:1-14

==

To the unbeliever or the unstudied, this journey is becoming increasingly unusual. “Why is he going to Jerusalem? Why does he keep pressing on?” You’d think, that after all these warnings, and with all these people telling him not to go, Paul would get some kind of hint to settle down elsewhere and not go to Jerusalem, right? “Just stay in Ephesus, go back to Antioch. Be somewhere safe, and settle down in your old age. No one would blame you.” 

But that’s not what Paul is about. That isn’t his mission. Paul hasn’t been called to retirement. He hasn’t been wired to shut down in the face of adversity. Remember, this is Saul who became Paul. He is a firebrand, a zealous, passionate man! He doesn’t have it in himself to shut up & sit down. God knew this before hand, this is why Paul was chosen for this particular task. Because, while things weren’t going to go well in Jerusalem, Paul wasn’t going to die there. Jerusalem would just be the hingepin that turned his journey in a very specific direction and that will propel him into a place and situation that he could not have manufactured for himself. 

Going to Jerusalem was going to be the death of Paul…eventually. And it was the death of any hope or desire of a simple, comfortable path. Paul would have been glad to keep visiting the churches he had already planted over the course of his missionary journeys. We see just how strong the bonds are in every city that he visits. But, again, this is not the path for Paul. His fierce determination would help see conversations take place that will reach deep into the heart of Rome itself, even into the household of the Emporer. God was going to strengthen him again and again to see this done. Back in chapter 9, God told Ananias that Paul was going to suffer much for the sake of His Name. But this is a suffering that was going to be totally worth it. 

So, Paul was bound & determined to go to Jerusalem. He knew He needed to go & te warnings of the others were just confirmation that he was on the right path. He knew what was going to happen & he was prepared in his heart and mind to face those hardships for the glory of God. 

We aren’t naturally wired to act this way. We want to be safe and comfy and have things be easy. But God has never promised us that. And the ‘easy’ life? It doesn’t require faith as much & so we find a false comfort in the lack of needed effort. We think, “Oh, this is going smoothly, I must be on the right track.” And while there will be times where things are smooth and easy, God does provide those green pastures and still waters, we should be mindful that God has given us power through His Holy Spirit to do things that are more amazing and will have a greater impact than we could ever accomplish on our own if we will just trust Him and go where He leads us. It probably isn’t to be arrested and hauled thousands of miles from home. But it probably is next door, or to the next office/cubicle at work. God has places to use us that are going to require His strength, His wisdom and the determination that His Holy Spirit brings. 

The call to GoLove as we have been loved, should be a deep, resonating call within our hearts. And the more we listen and respond, the more we will experience the power of God at work in us. The difficult path is the one that most often reveals our weaknesses and His glory. Trust Him in those moments. Take the road that scares you a little, and prayerfully see what God is going to do as you must rely on Him & your faith in HIm, rather than your own strength. 

Acts 8:9-25 // Pride & Sorcery 

“9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and astounded the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God!” 11 They were attentive to him because he had astounded them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he went around constantly with Philip and was astounded as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.

14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had welcomed God’s message, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them, so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought the gift of God could be obtained with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

24 “Please, pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing many villages of the Samaritans.”

Acts 8:9-25

I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with people centered around a behavior, habit or practice that they have tried to maintin from their old life in their new life with Christ. Simon the sorcerer dealt with this same issue, fought this same battle and fell to it. He used to be ‘the man’ in the area where he lived. He participated in the dark arts, which affroded him some fear and respect among his people and neighbors. But when the light of the truth of the Gospel came into the picture, the people saw real power, real authority and Simon’s act only seemed like a dim light in comparison to the blazing evidence of God that was laid before them. 

And Simon, at first, saw and recognized it, too. And he left that life behind for a time. But, as happens with most of us from time to time, those old thoughts and habits and desires crept up and in this case, they got the best of him, and he received a very quick, very sharp rebuke from Peter & the apostles because his heart and his thinking were very, very wrong. 

We all have our moments, don’t we?

The struggles that I deal with and the struggles you deal with may be very different. The point of the matter is acknowledging them before hand, being very open and honest with ourselves, with God and maybe even with someone who could help keep us accountable. That way, when temptation starts to creep up, we have an outlet, someone to talk to and hash things out and a way to learn -how- to do what is right as we grow in our faith. No one is so incredibly mature that they can do this on their own. No man is an island.

Simon the sorcerer stands as a warnign and a reminder to us that we need to separate ourselves from our old lives, our old paths, our old habits and move on to new, better fields when we come to Christ. Those old paths are well worn, and its all too easy to get our wheel hung up in our old ruts again, and then we find ourselves headed right back into the same nonsense that we were into before. 

My heart goes out to people like Simon, but we all must be accountable for our actions. Every choice we make is a choice that we have to make intentionally. Nothing we do ‘just happens’ or comes about by accident. When we walk too close to the edge, we have to know that the odds say we are going to fall back in again. It’s just human nature. 

We don’t have all the details on why Simon’s heart and mind made this leap to try to purchase the Holy Spirit.It obviously shows an ignorance and immaturity on his part, but he let it run too long, and so it caused his fall. Tradition, not scripture, tells us that Simon became what is known as a proto-Gnostic, he became convinced that the faith was really all about secret knowledge and other interpretations of the spiritual realm and that he himself was this voice of God, not Jesus. Again, that’s tradition, not scripture, so take that with a grain of salt. 

The reminder here is for us to be mindful of ourselves. I am all too good at falling back into my bad habits and practices if I don’t make a very definitive break and change what and how I do things and conduct myself. I can’t flirt around with the old ways, and I’m going to assume that you cannot either. 

New paths aren’t always comfortable, but when Jesus is the one making them before us, we can be assured that His plans are always for our best. God’s plans are to prosper us, to give us a hope and a future, and never lead to what we see happening with Simon here in Acts 8. As we GoLove people, making disciples, we need to be as firm and loving as we can when we help them find these new paths in Christ, leaving the old life solidly behind. Be present with them, walk in hand in hand and show them the joy that you have found in Christ and your new life in Him.  And authentically lived life in Christ is always going to be more attractive than the old life of sin, shame and sorrow. 

  

Psalm 95 // Worship & Warning

“1 Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord,

shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation!

2 Let us enter His presence with thanksgiving;

let us shout triumphantly to Him in song.

3 For the Lord is a great God,

a great King above all gods.

4 The depths of the earth are in His hand,

and the mountain peaks are His.

5 The sea is His; He made it.

His hands formed the dry land.

6 Come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

7 For He is our God,

and we are the people of His pasture,

the sheep under His care.

Today, if you hear His voice:

8 “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah,

as on that day at Massah in the wilderness

9 where your fathers tested Me;

they tried Me, though they had seen what I did.

10 For 40 years I was disgusted with that generation;

I said, They are a people whose hearts go astray;

they do not know My ways.

11 So I swore in My anger,

They will not enter My rest.”

Psalm 95:1-11

Mark 8:11-21 // Understanding Beyond Sight

“11 The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, demanding of Him a sign from heaven to test Him. 12 But sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign? I assure you: No sign will be given to this generation!’ 13 Then He left them, got on board the boat again, and went to the other side.

14 They had forgotten to take bread and had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 Then He commanded them: ‘Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’

16 They were discussing among themselves that they did not have any bread. 17 Aware of this, He said to them, ‘Why are you discussing that you do not have any bread? Don’t you understand or comprehend? Is your heart hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the 5,000, how many baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?’

‘Twelve,’ they told Him.

20 ‘When I broke the seven loaves for the 4,000, how many large baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?

‘Seven,’ they said.

21 And He said to them, ‘Don’t you understand yet?'”

Mark 8:11-21
— 

I have had this same experience so many times in life. Someone comes to me with a question about something and my mind is completely occupied with something closely related, yet not quite where they are coming from. And because of that distraction, I find myself struggling to understand whatever their issue is. I can see what they’re saying, but I can’t see it fully. 

Usually it’s just a funny little mix up, and after a second of thinking about it, everything snaps into place and the understanding comes. It’s also typically over something that doesn’t matter too much and nothing is lost because of it. But here with the disciples, and with our own hearts and minds, we find that there is a deeper issue at hand. 

Jesus is trying to issue a warning about influences that affect the heart, but they’re stuck on lunch supplies. Because of temporal concerns, they are distracted from dealing with deeper spiritual issues. And herein lies the problem. When the things of this world occupy our hearts, when they consume our minds, we are going to find ourselves lost when it comes to the deeper issues, the things that really and truly matter. 

The disciples were directly in the presence of Jesus, they heard the warning come straight from His lips, and still they didn’t understand. Their hearts were distracted. 

People today read the Word, they hear the message of God straight from the source, but because their hearts are distracted, they miss out on what is really being said. And this isn’t just something that affects those new to the faith, we are all susceptible to this, no matter our ‘level’ of maturity. Physical distractions and the pride of our hearts are often the cause of the misunderstanding. But all sin is a distraction, busyness is a distraction, work or school, social pressures, and the list goes on…so many things can keep our hearts from hearing from God. But we must be actively aware of the struggle so we can effectively combat it. 

As we GoLove others, it is up to us to be the example of a Holy Spirit led heart and a God directed mind. If we just think and live like the rest of the unbelieving world, what good does that do us or them?

Psalm 75 // God’s Justice & Judgment: A Warning

“1 We give thanks to You, God;
we give thanks to You, for Your name is near.
People tell about Your wonderful works.

2 “When I choose a time,
I will judge fairly.
3 When the earth and all its inhabitants shake,
I am the One who steadies its pillars.” Selah

4 “I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn.
5 Do not lift up your horn against heaven
or speak arrogantly.'”

6 Exaltation does not come
from the east, the west, or the desert,
7 for God is the Judge:
He brings down one and exalts another.
8 For there is a cup in the Lords hand,
full of wine blended with spices, and He pours from it.
All the wicked of the earth will drink,
draining it to the dregs.

9 As for me, I will tell about Him forever;
I will sing praise to the God of Jacob.

10 ‘I will cut off all the horns of the wicked,
but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.'”
Psalm 75

Pride, born in sin, is often a platform for so many other attitudes and actions that harm us and separate us from God. Thankfully, God gives us His Word and the examples of lives contained within it to stand as a warning against these temptations. We are warned against boasting, being so proud of ourselves, which again leads to self-idolatry. We are warned against ‘tooting our own horn’ which is another form of self-aggrandizement, self-worship.

If we brag, we brag in the Lord. If we are proud, we should be proud of what God accomplishes in us, in spite of us and our sin. Keeping our focus where it belongs, keeping our ego in check, will keep us from a myriad of issues and problems. A humble heart is one that is ready to receive correction, instruction and direction. The proud heart cannot stand to hear it may be wrong, misdirected or ill informed. Prideful people respond with anger, strong words and lash out at those who threaten their worldview.

When we are humble, we choose to remain quiet about ourselves, we withdraw from contests of the ego, and we focus our attention on God, giving our best efforts to Him, being dedicated to His will and work. Things that honor God are always worth our time, and worth being seen, because God gets the glory. Private grudges and feuds, public arguments, strutting and saber-rattling are focused on self justification.

We can be loud and proud when it comes to the things that God does, we can brag on Him. We must leave our egos at the foot of the cross. The people that we share Christ with will get a better image of Him as we GoLove in His Name if they see more of Him and less of us.

Jude // Warned against heresy, encouraged to mercy

“17 But you, dear friends, remember what was predicted by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18 they told you, In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires. 19 These people create divisions and are unbelievers, not having the Spirit.

20 But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. 22 Have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”
Jude 1:17-23

Jude, the brother of James and of our Master, Jesus, spends the bulk of his brief letter warning the recipients about heresies, conflicts and struggles. It is a very pointed message with warnings and reminders of hellfire and eternal damnation. It points the mind and heart toward the condition and destination of those who have chosen their own path in life and even includes an indictment against the Angels who have stepped away from God.

There are indeed many things to be cautious of in life, different influences to evaluate and false teachings to contend with, but even in all that Jude issues a reminder of how we are to treat the fallen and wayward. Mercy is the key ingredient in the mixture. They have made enough trouble for themselves with their false doctrine and shoddy morals, and Jude encourages us to have mercy on them and to ‘snatch them from the fire’ when we have the opportunity. Heresy is no small thing to play around with, and spending time with people who have concocted their own truth can be dangerous for the believer, being encouraged, not to deeper devotion, but to compromise. God can strengthen us to confront heresy, but we must let Him lead the effort, and not rely on our own strength or savvy words to get us through.

So, mercy is extended to heretics, truth to those who live in lies. A difficult task, no doubt, but a task that echoes God’s heart for the wayward, and His desire to see the wicked redeemed. He will move in His own ways, but we must also be available to GoLove those He would restore, and that is to be done firmly in mercy. We cannot compromise the truth, but we also cannot afford to compromise the grace shown to us as we extend it to others. We keep truth, found in the Scriptures, as our guide in our daily personal lives, and in the gathering of the Church. We find our strength and refuge there, being comforted by the Spirit as we go show mercy to the wayward.