Listening to Faith

Father, You call us each to things that must be done for Your glory, to tasks that are both big and small, the seemingly mundane and the very public. Thank You for making us fit to serve You and bring You glory in a variety of ways every day. Please give us the strength to serve You in strength today and to echo this great crowd of witnesses that have done the same before us. May we sacrifice self and comfort in order to follow Your will. Amen.

Read the words of author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, slowly today.

Look and listen to the examples of faith and what each has given, in its wholeness, and prayerfully consider what God calls you to do for His sake.

Do not quickly dismiss these times of listening, rushing through them, but prayerfully seek His will above your own.We are all part of something more through Christ, our work of love and thanksgiving is brief, but we work for His eternal glory.

Just like these below, we focus on a reality that already is, and that we must also work and wait for in this season.

We are not alone in this walk, in this rhythm of grace.

Hebrews 11:1-22
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

Father, You call us each to things that must be done for Your glory, to tasks that are both big and small, the seemingly mundane and the very public. Thank You for making us fit to serve You and bring You glory in a variety of ways every day. Please give us the strength to serve You in strength today and to echo this great crowd of witnesses that have done the same before us. May we sacrifice self and comfort in order to follow Your will. Amen.

 

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We Do Not Shrink Back

Father, You have granted us a boldness in Christ. You have opened up the door that we might approach You and Your throne in full confidence. This is a deep, deep blessing. Thank You for providing this to us so that we might approach the difficulties of life, the trials and temptations, with this knowledge and expectation. If You have granted us this, then we can be that much more bold about the things of righteousness, moving forward in Your love, mercy, grace and honor. Thank You for this deep, deep blessing. May we use it to bring You glory & to draw others near to You. Amen.

Hebrews 10:26-39
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

It’s funny to me how consistently we test out limits. We touch the paint by the “Wet Paint” signs, we stick our toes just over the lines that say “Do not cross.” The speed limit says 55 and we push 75 because everyone else does, and that seems to be the expectation. Sometimes we flirt with the line, sometimes we jump right over it. But when it comes to entering the presence of God, there had always been a historic line that meant death for any who would draw near without being prepared. Even those who were prepared entered with uncertainty. Priests who spend hours and days sacrificing, praying and preparing to enter the Most Holy Place in the Temple in Jerusalem would still enter with a rope around their ankle and bells on the fringes of their robe…just in case they fell dead in God’s presence, they could be removed without risking danger to their supporters.

But in Jesus, we have been offered full entry into the presence of God. The curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The veil separating us from the presence of God was eliminated. In fact, for those who are in Christ, He even went deeper than this. Rather than us needing to approach Him, He has approached us, and dwells within us. This is why we can move with such impunity before God, because He Himself indwells us.

There should be no lack of boldness (not arrogance) for those who are in Christ, then. If God Himself lives within us all, then there is no place, no effort where we do not go with Him. We pray and ask and seek that God would go before us, but we do not remember the fullness of this fact, He not only goes before us, but He moves in step with us as we go throughout our day. Whatever we do, wherever we go, we carry God with us. That is a major point of accountability, and it is a major point of encouragement.

Whenever we feel inadequate, we need to remember this great promise. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and the Holy Spirit of God is God indwelling us. There is then no dividing line between God and man anymore once we allow God to deal with the sin within us. All we have is boldness & hope as we move with Him within these 24 hour rotations, within His rhythms of grace.

Do you want to move in boldness today? Remember who goes with you & suddenly everything seems a lot more doable. Even in sharing our faith, we will find His presence to be a comfort. Give it a shot today. Point someone to our-God-Who-dwells-in-us.

Father, You have granted us a boldness in Christ. You have opened up the door that we might approach You and Your throne in full confidence. This is a deep, deep blessing. Thank You for providing this to us so that we might approach the difficulties of life, the trials and temptations, with this knowledge and expectation. If You have granted us this, then we can be that much more bold about the things of righteousness, moving forward in Your love, mercy, grace and honor. Thank You for this deep, deep blessing. May we use it to bring You glory & to draw others near to You. Amen.

Shared Purpose

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My wife and I recently went to The Speed Art Museum for a date day. The Speed has a variety of art styles spanning centuries of human history. One room or gallery will exhibit one style or era or culture’s art or art history, and when you turn the corner, you may walk into a room with a completely different feel, cultural background or context than the space you were in 30 seconds ago. There is a shift in perspective then, that is forced or coerced so that the visitor is taken on a journey throughout the breadth of human creativity.

While we were walking, my wife asked me if I thought that ‘high school me’ would have anywhere near the appreciation or understanding that I have today. And, of course, the answer would be no. I used to be very skeptical of ‘Modern’ art, and openly mocked efforts that I deemed possible for a toddler to reproduce. Even some classical art fell under my scrutiny for various reasons. I didn’t understand individual movements, let alone the progression from one form to another. I didn’t see value where I didn’t understand value to already exist.

Pictured here is Sfumato,by Teresita Fernández, a piece made very recently in 2005. It’s a simple piece containing glass cubes placed directly on the wall. It’s the type of piece that I would have seen in high school, thought was interesting, but would have passed over as being ‘actually art.’ It falls under the realm of ‘cool’ or ‘interesting’ but would not have left me with any more reaction than a passing glance would have afforded.

Today, as an adult (as someone who spent hours and hours in a humanities program in college and who is married to an art lover) I can see more clearly, and I can extend appreciation for art that doesn’t sit bounded in by a frame, for pieces that don’t require a Leonardo or a Pablo attached to it in order for me to see its value.

When I looked at Sfumato last week, I saw the church. I saw all the individuals who gather in Christ and who reflect and redirect His light. I saw individuals making up a collective whole. I saw individually crafted pieces, set in a particular way, that while they do not directly interact with one another, they complete a larger image. I saw people with different talents, different backgrounds, different cultures coming together. Remade, re-imagined and re-purposed by the one who is setting the scene of eternity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you turned one, twisted it, removed it or replaced it with something else…it would have been glaringly obvious. Each one has its place for a reason. Each one spaced closer to one and farther from another with a greater vision in mind.

I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My wife and I have different styles that appeal to us more so than another, and that’s totally fine. And she may look at Sfumato and see something totally different than what I see. But I see Romans 12 at work on a wall in a secular art museum.

I see the body of Christ being drawn in and carrying a single identity as she is in process of coming together. Each one sculpted according to one standard. I see as casting off of individual desire for a greater will. I see uniformity in purpose, a shared purpose. Each one receiving the same light, standing on the same pure white field, but still maintaining its own perspective, its own place and its own context while still pointing toward that overarching, external influence.

We all see different things from wherever we stand, but we who are in Christ must also keep in mind that the end result is not about us, but about God and what He is doing. He is the artist, we must trust in His plan.

Shadows & Glory

Father, thank You for bringing us signs and symbols along the way that point our hearts toward You and toward Your plan. Shadows of glory-to-come remind our hearts of Your provision in the past, present and future. Shadows of glory-to-come remind us of Your intent to see Your Name glorified and Your will done.  These shadows were not without purpose and meaning, but they are not as deep, or wide or full as the true sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. We bless His Holy Name & we bless the Holy Spirit that reveals these things to our hearts. Amen.

Hebrews 10:1-10
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.
Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

As we read through the Old & New Testaments, we find so many parallels, so many things that call forward and backward to one another. Abraham sacrificing his only son, the son he loves, as an act of trust in God and God’s provision in that moment of sacrifice with a ram is a direct call to Christ’s sacrifice, His substitutionary death. God, working through Moses, parts the waters, His people pass through from an old life into a new following and dedication to Him pointing toward baptism and new life yet to come through Christ. All these shadows, all these interconnected events throughout history point us toward God’s will and His provision throughout the course and pathway of time.

But God wasn’t content to let things rest in shadows and symbols. He would be glorified when they played out to their fullness. We see humanity keeping laws and walking in the rhythms of the law, but God speaks to us through Christ and teaches us to walk according to the rhythms of His grace. Walking in the reality of the thing, rather than just in the symbol of it, is walking in depth and mercy and love. He has provided a deeper meaning for us to lash our hearts to and find our rest.

It also comes down to intent. Obedience to God’s will matters more than our ritual obedience. Our hearts must be engaged, not just our schedules. Jesus’ sacrifice is the true sacrifice, the others were simply shadows pointing towards it. He had to be engaged, not just pointed toward in order for wholeness to come to us and for glory to go to God.

Acting within the symbol of the thing does not mean as much as actually doing the thing. Otherwise it’s just words & words without action equates to hypocrisy.

And so we come to God, thanking Him for not just giving us a symbol of salvation, but for actually providing it for us. Through Jesus Christ, we find the symbol & shadow, the ritual sacrifice, done away with and the true sacrifice taking its place. In this fact and in the faith God provides, we find our rest. May we be that shadow, then, that points someone toward the reality of the cross today. May the image of Christ at work in us draw people to the true Christ and their salvation. May they see Christ at work in our speech, our actions and our attitudes as we walk with Him daily in the rhythms of His grace. May we step aside, so they can see God & give Him the glory.

Father, thank You for bringing us signs and symbols along the way that point our hearts toward You and toward Your plan. Shadows of glory-to-come remind our hearts of Your provision in the past, present and future. Shadows of glory-to-come remind us of Your intent to see Your Name glorified and Your will done.  These shadows were not without purpose and meaning, but they are not as deep, or wide or full as the true sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. We bless His Holy Name & we bless the Holy Spirit that reveals these things to our hearts. Amen.

Rivulets of Divine Conspiracy

Father, we can look back now, and see how Your grace snuck up on us. Working through the blood of Christ, in rivulets of divine conspiracy, you crept in from all angles and wrought Your terrible torrent of life-giving love on our broken, dead souls. Through something tangible, You did the unthinkable. Through something physical, You worked the eternal. Holiness shrouded in flesh, mystery upon mystery, You overtook us with the flood of Your poured out love and raised us to life. We praise Your handiwork, O God! We bless Your holy Name! Amen & Amen!

Hebrews 9:1-14

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

The blood of God Himself, let loose in a divine river of life. It flows from Emmanuel’s veins. How sweet the sound of its rushing, how terrible the price. By You called us worthwhile, and You sang over us in our distress. You brought us comfort upon comfort, and You glorified Yourself all the while. This Lamb & Priest, the Sacrifice & Architect of salvation for all who will come to You. He poured out His life into the locks of the passageways of Your throne room, Father, and opened the way for us to return home.

It’s funny that we think the road back to You is ours to walk, ours to determine, Father, when You are the One who cut through the terrain, who smoothed out the way, who removed rocks and obstacles and build bridges over dangerous rivers so that we might survive the journey. The prodigal came home because the father provided the road, otherwise he would have been lost forever. Jesus paved the road with His sacrifice, and through Him, You provided The Way. We never saw them coming, these rivulets of divine conspiracy. But You work as You will, and Your will was bent on Your glory and on saving us from ourselves.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity.
Robed in flesh, on earth to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel!

Thank You for taking our temporary sacrifices and completing an effort we could never accomplish. We bless Your holy Name! I love that You do not work in direct paths, but in those circuitous rivulets of love, You teach us to follow along in step with Jesus, Your Holy Spirit guiding and comforting us in the pace and the rhythms of Your grace.

Father, we can look back now, and see how Your grace snuck up on us. Working through the blood of Christ, in rivulets of divine conspiracy, you crept in from all angles and wrought Your terrible torrent of life-giving love on our broken, dead souls. Through something tangible, You did the unthinkable. Through something physical, You worked the eternal. Holiness shrouded in flesh, mystery upon mystery, You overtook us with the flood of Your poured out love and raised us to life. We praise Your handiwork, O God! We bless Your holy Name! Amen & Amen!

Generous God, Generous Love

Bless the LORD o, my soul! How excellent is His greatness!

Ephesians 4:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Bask in that for a moment will you? Listen again to what you just read. Rest in words of grace and provision, forgiveness and the mystery of the opening of the will of God to His people. Remember the sealing of the Holy Spirit that came to you when your faith came into being, and your submitted your heart to His, being baptized into His baptism for the praise of His glory.

Remember.

This is our resting place, within the generosity of God. We deserved death as the payment for our sins, for our rejection of His will and Lordship over us. We were guilty, broken and damned. There is no sadder state than the one we occupied before we met Christ, no condition more hopeless. We were sinners in the hands of a just, wrathful and holy God. Hell and desolation were our destination, separated from Him for eternity, goats, chaff & weeds all.

But through Christ Jesus we have stepped out of darkness and into His glorious light!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise God all creatures here below!
Praise God above, you heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son & Holy Ghost!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Dwell in this blessed truth today, if you are in Christ! If you are not, listen to the words of promise above, the words of hope and expectation. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart, the ears of your soul, so that you might see and hear what so many already enjoy and find their peace within. God is generous with His grace. He is generous with His love.

Praise God!

Romans 2:12-16 // Law & Judgment

“12 All those who sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all those who sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous. 14 So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them 16 on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.”

Romans 2:12-16
==

So, who is it then that does the Law that will then be declared righteous? It is good for us to desire to obey God. It is good for us to act in that obedience, walking according to His statutes. But in reality, none of us are capable of keeping the Law. We will break it, struggling against our own sin, even as we try our best to walk according to the will of God. 

Does that mean that we are without hope? No! Because of the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus, He who does not allow for sin has made a way to continue to lift us up even when we do stumble. Through Jesus, He has made a way for us to be made holy even when we have been soiled with sin. Now, does that mean we kee on sinning, knowing that God will forgive us? As Paul will later say, “By no means!” we cannot continue in our sin, intentionally living in rebellion. We must make the consious effort to walk according to the will of God, choosing His ways over our own. The desire to do this comes from the movement of His Spirit within us, not from some sense of weighted obligation. It is based in love & thanksgiving, coming from that change of heart that He works in us through His grace. 

Being a doer of the Law is evidence of this, not what draws the Spirit to us. That would put the power in our hands, as if we had some authority over God. No, we work and move according to His will, under His authority & because of His grace. Every marker, every bit of evidence points toward Him, bringing Him glory & honor. It isn’t about us. It isn’t about putting ourselves up on a pedestal. It’s about humbly submitting to Him, letting His light shine. In showing that the Law of God is written on our hearts, we show that He has worked a miracle in us, changing our sinful inclinations into righteousness. It is by His power that we live & move. It should then be for His honor that we do whatever it is we set our minds to, whatever tasks are produced by our lives of faithfulness. 

God’s desire for man is plain. Even without the Law, people still know that murder, theft, lying & other such activities are wrong. There is no mystery to this. God has set a compass in the hearts of mankind that point us toward a sense of right & wrong, a desire to see justice done. So, as Paul says, the Spirit speaking through him, we are all without excuse. People will ask about the groups that never hear the Gospel, the people who were never taught the Law. Well, God’s answer to that series of questions is found here, too. Those who hear it are judged by it. Those who do not are judged differently, but they are still judged. God is fair & He is just. We must trust Him to do what is right & to weigh the hearts & lives of men. He will not act contrary to His own nature or statutes. He is unchanging. 

As we GoLove others, we must tell them about the expectations that God holds for us, every single one of us. We who know are responsible. We who have the truth are the ones who have been commissioned to share it with the world. We do not bear the weight of judging the souls of men, but we will be held accountable for bearing the message to them. We do this, partly, by walkingin the rhythms of His grace every day, walking according to His will.