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In Step. In Unity. In Boldness.

Father of lights, Lord of Creation, Author of my life, Sovereign over me,
Please grant us the strength today to stand in service of You. Purify us from all the filth that clings to this sin-drenched, mortal life. By the blood of Jesus, poured out over us, cleanse us from human brokenness & chart a pathway through the wilderness of our hearts that they might become springs of life by the power of Your Holy Spirit at work in us. Remember our sins no more, as You have promised, and grant us confidence in Christ, united together, to step boldly into the day You have created and lay at our feet. We pray this in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.

Hebrews 10:11-25
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Paul reminds Timothy (2 Timothy 1:7) that God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but a spirit of power through Jesus Christ. There is boldness that should inherently come from being made pure by the blood of Christ, and by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. There is a confidence (not an arrogance) that should come from knowing whose we are and what it is that we are up against. There is  a strength of character that comes from walking with Jesus, as He works His will in us day after day after day that should exhibit that handiwork and the Master Craftsman behind it.

If Jesus grants us the confidence to enter the holy places by His blood, how much more so those places where He already holds victory over the enemy? Why should we cower in fear? Why should we worry? If we have been washed with pure water, why would we not walk in that newness of life, throwing off the faithlessness that used to bind us, but that binds us no more?

This is one of the reasons why the author of Hebrews is encouraging us to continue gathering together. This is just one reason why it is good that we look other Christians in the eye, shake their hands and give them hugs. We need to be in the presence of other people who have seen victory at work in their own lives. We need to see people whose faces have been lifted up to heaven, whose eyes have looked upon the cross and we need to stand in boldness with them as we unite in Christ, our Great High Priest, and stand in bold assurance against the schemes of the enemy.

Standing alone is wrong & dangerous. God did not design us or example to us this stand-alone mentality. Instead, we are gathered together with our people to receive this encouragement: God has the victory. He is in charge. He loves us dearly. He has paid the price. He will bring change about in us. He will see change happen in the lives of others through the work He is doing in us today. We are meant to be together, walking in the rhythms of grace together. Praise God for that.

Father of lights, Lord of Creation, Author of my life, Sovereign over me,
Please grant us the strength today to stand in service of You. Purify us from all the filth that clings to this sin-drenched, mortal life. By the blood of Jesus, poured out over us, cleanse us from human brokenness & chart a pathway through the wilderness of our hearts that they might become springs of life by the power of Your Holy Spirit at work in us. Remember our sins no more, as You have promised, and grant us confidence in Christ, united together, to step boldly into the day You have created and lay at our feet. We pray this in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.

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The Rhetoric for Life in the Heart of God

Father, today we find set before us life and death. In everything we do, may we choose life. Amen.

“On January 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court decided in Roe v Wade that a mother has the legal right to end her pregnancy up until the point at which the baby can live outside of her womb. We lament the death of each child lost to abortion. We pray for each parent who has chosen to terminate a pregnancy. And we commit to become a people who welcome life in a culture of death.” – Jonathan Hartgrove

“The world is going mad in mutual extermination, and murder, considered as a crime when committed individually, becomes a virtue when it is committed by large numbers. It is the multiplication of the frenzy that assures impunity to the assassins.”
– Cyprian of Carthage

Ephesians 2:1-10
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We can argue points and policy until we are blue in the face. When it comes down to it, as a Christian, we must seek the wisdom and direction of God in all things, in every occasion. For those who walk with Christ, then, it should be no surprise that we will always have a strong rhetoric for life and the preservation of life, because that is what we see at work in the heart of God.

Paul repeats what we have all felt before. We were dead. Dead in our sin. Dead because of our offense against God. We were doomed, damned and determined for hell. As Paul said, “We were, by nature, children of wrath.” Destined to stand before God, facing extermination because of our sin, we had no hope within us, nor strength to change our situation. And while it may have been easier to finish us off, we find a different impulse within the heart of God.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved”

This is the heart of God. For His glory and for the preservation of the life He created, He drew us, who were dead, into life. He redeemed us from the heap, and returned to us the joy that comes with life & salvation. He raised us up from that state of destruction and placed us somewhere we did not deserve, seated in a place of favor in His presence. This gift of God comes because of His grace, and with an intention, that we would do good works, walking the path prepared for us.

Since this is the case, there should always be a strong rhetoric for life at work in the hearts of those who follow Christ. There should always be a drive to protect and preserve life, whether in the womb or stretched out somewhere along the years that follow. Every life matters, every person is deeply loved and cared for. And despite living in a culture that worships and celebrates death, we stand for life. We are -for- life in every way imaginable, with all of the implications that come with that stance. We agree and say ‘Yes & Amen!’

Because of what God did for us, because of the drive for life that He has shown to us, because of the lengths that He went to to preserve our own lives, we can never look at another human being, inside or outside the womb, and agree to their destruction. God saw us, lost, broken and deserving death and He provided a way for life instead…and so we are a people of life, echoing the heart of our Savior.

This isn’t a political issue. This is a sin issue. We ourselves have been defended, we ourselves must stand to defend. We ourselves have been loved beyond measure. We ourselves must stand for love, life and equality of value for every human being on this planet. It doesn’t matter how loud the voice of death becomes, we find life granted to us, and so we strive and fight to see it maintained. This is love. This is what God would have us echo to everyone, everywhere. There is a rhetoric for life & love, intimately folded within the fabric and patterns of the rhythms of grace.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved”

Father, today we find set before us life and death. In everything we do, may we choose life. Amen.

That Immeasurable Greatness

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Hubble Deep Space View

Lord, grant us this grace, that as servants of Your unending love, as ambassadors of mercy in Your Name, that You would open the eyes of our hearts, that we may better see and express Your immeasurable greatness to our broken and sinful world. Grow our confidence, give us a holy boldness that defies principalities and powers and withstands the onslaught of the enemy. May he break around us (because of Your presence) as water breaks around a rock. All things, especially us, are under Your feet, O Righteous One!

Ephesians 1:15-23
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

If you live in a city, and odds say that you do, if you look up into the night sky on a clear winter’s evening, you will see a handful of stars spread out across the inky, deep blackness of space. If you’ve ever been outside of the city at night, you’ll also know that if you look up into the night sky on a clear winter’s evening, you will see a innumerable panoply of stars and galaxies, gaseous clusters, unblinking planets and a greater whole of the starry host (so far as the human eye can perceive them.)

So foreign are the real night skies to Los Angeles that in 1994, after the Northridge earthquake jostled Angelenos awake at 4:31 a.m., the observatory received many calls asking about “the strange sky they had seen after the earthquake.”

“We finally realized what we were dealing with,” Krupp said. “The quake had knocked out most of the power, and people ran outside and they saw the stars. The stars were in fact so unfamiliar; they called us wondering what happened.”

When we blind ourselves with our own false glory, it becomes difficult to see what God has already done. When we build ourselves up, a la the Tower of Babel, we give ourselves a false view of reality that keeps us from seeing what really matters and from gazing upon the Immeasurable Greatness of God. We exchange cheap, temporary light for the real thing, and we act like what we have created is some big deal. Nominal output from a 60 watt incadescent is 740 lumens. The sun produces 2.12×10^28 lumens (aka 21,200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lumens.)

But because of His grace, God has placed our planet almost 93 million miles away from this behemoth of burning gas. (Science Alert) So, if the extraterrestrial solar radiation is 1367 watts per square meter, then the direct sunlight at Earth’s surface when the Sun is at the zenith is about 1050 W/m2, but the total amount (direct and indirect from the atmosphere) hitting the ground is around 1120 W/m2. In terms of energy, sunlight at Earth’s surface is around 52 to 55 percent infrared, 42 to 43 percent visible, and 3 to 5 percent ultraviolet. At the top of the atmosphere, sunlight is about 30% more intense, having about 8% ultraviolet (UV), with most of the extra UV consisting of biologically damaging short-wave ultraviolet.

Direct sunlight has a luminous efficacy of about 93 lumens per watt of radiant flux. This is higher than the efficacy (of source) of most artificial lighting (including fluorescent), which means using sunlight for illumination heats up a room less than using most forms of artificial lighting.

Again, we will always pale in comparison, and still be impressed by what we produce. That’s the fallen nature of man. So, in His Immeasurable Greatness and love, He has allowed us to experience real light, real life through Jesus Christ, removing all cheap substitutes from our field of options, and granting us a place in His presence every day. What great grace and mercy He has on silly, sinful humanity, that He should love us so well. Read this again, and let it be your prayer today, thanking God:

“17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might,”

He’s got the whole world in His hands

Hubble Photos

Psalm 33:1-6

1Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

When was the last time you made something with your hands? Maybe it was your breakfast today, maybe you’ve been working on a home improvement project. When was the last time you made something, looked at it, and got that feeling that made you say, “Hey, that’s not half bad.”? Have you ever surprised yourself with the outcome? Put something together that you weren’t sure you could finish? That sens of accomplishment is part of what drives us forward, it’s what compels us to try the next thing, and the next thing. Finishing things is definitely good for us. Completion builds us up.

Here in Psalm 33, the psalmist reminds us that God made everything good that you and I experience by speaking it into being. He willed it, declared it, and it was so. That’s -real- creative power. It’s not a ham sandwich made from Christmas leftovers, it’s real, raw substance. Louie Giglio calls God “The Great Star-Breather” and I think that’s a wonderful description. That phrasing invokes a mental image of the power of God. As easily as you and I inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, God spoke and stars were formed, galaxies swirled and beautiful nebulae came into existence.

There’s comfort in His power. There’s a reassurance that comes from remembering just how big our God really is. Listen again to another reminder:

Psalm 95:1-7a

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

The deepest deeps we have on earth, and the highest highs are all contained within His hand. Do you ever picture God holding you like that? Not just you but your whole world? Every bit of you existence. All you joys, all your sorrows, everything that happens in you, near you, around you, and around everyone ad everything you care about…it all rests in the palm of His hand. The universe spins and sings, all right there in the palm of His hand. Everything is in His hand, and then also must rest under His watchful gaze. He is here, present. Not watching from afar, but close, holding us, concerned for us and always working for His glory.

Matthew 10:29-31

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Be comforted. He knows your name. He knows your heart, and He loves you just the same.
He knows our pains, and He discerns our needs. Be comforted, you are always in good hands if you are in God’s hands. Draw near to Him. He is near to us.

You _are_ an example.

George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends wrote, “People must be led out of captivity up to God. Be patterns, be examples that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

In Genesis 12, Abraham has his encounter with God that sets the course and pace of his life and radiates forward through time through the lineage of his children in faith. We have been blessed to be a blessing. Just as God called Abraham, He calls out to us. Listen:

“Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said,
“To your offspring I will give this land.”
So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.”
Genesis 12:1-7

We have to leave behind what is comfortable, what we know and have feelings of control over and fall in step behind Jesus. Where God directed Abraham to Canaan, Jesus guides us today to live and serve outside of what is comfortable and brings us to places where others hurt, where others struggle and where others have need. Because God, in His infinite wisdom and compassion, knows that if we take the focus off of ourselves and point our hearts toward the need of another, we will be filled in the process.

Abraham could have stayed on the family land, Terah could have remained where he knew everyone and understood how everything worked, and where he had respect. But God took them to a new place where their reputation would be built on the activity of God in their midst. Where people wouldn’t see Abram the shrewd herdsman, but they would see God’s blessing on the life of this man who just moved into the countryside, they watched his blessing increase and so Abram’s business with them brought prosperity to those around him. But God isn’t just some initiator of an economic engine. No, God worked this way through Abram so he could build positive relationships with the people in this new land, so they could see his life and his example, and with the handiwork of the Lord in their sight, they would receive a testimony about the goodness and provision of God.

Abram’s life and relocation and business and family all made up the components of the sermon of his life. When you and I look at what God is doing in our life, at all of the components that He has seen fit to incorporate in our life, then we will begin to see the story of His glory at work in us, and we will understand a little bit more of what it means to submit our lives to Him so that He can do it more and more, making an impact on the world and communities around us by His good blessing. And when we see that, we, like Abram, will want to build a point of praise into that moment, and give up even greater offerings to the Lord our God.

Whether or not we are looking to be one, we are an example to the world around us.
What would our world look like, what would our church look like, if everyone followed and was devoted as we are? We have one life to live, one Lord to serve. Find your joy in submitting to Him and bringing others to Him as worship and a sharing of blessing.

A Song for the Brokenhearted

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“1 Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
    for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.”
Psalm 147:1-5 ESV

How do you respond to someone when they’re brokenhearted? What do you say when someone’s world has come crashing down? What words are there in the midst of tragedy?
Too often, our song of peace for others in these times is silenced because we fear crossing a boundary. We are worried that we will overstep, say too much, maybe, somehow, make things even worse. And so we give someone a nod, a pat on the shoulder, and simply mutter “I’m praying for you.” Then we walk away wishing there was more we could have said, dozens of phrases begin swirling in our head. But we tell our self that the moment has passed, and it’s best not to make it any more difficult of awkward than it already is…

But that is not where we find God. The psalmist points us in the right direction here. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in his heart and hand, we find this gentle reminder that we can always share. Look at Who God is, and what He does:

1. God is always worthy of praise, no matter what may be going on.
In times of tragedy, we are often reminded of Job. And what does Job say when he has lost his fortune, and more importantly, his own children?

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Job 1:20-22

It may feel absurd to praise God in these moments, but look at what praise does in us. It restores the most basic function of our life, it reminds us of our purpose…to do just that, praise God. And when we praise God we are comforted by His presence, because when we praise Him, we stand before Him.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

We are comforted when we come into the presence of God, and praise is the remembering of the good things that He has done. In spite of whatever else may be going on, God has been good, is good, and will continue to be good. It is our world that is broken, not Him. And so we praise Him, and in turn we are comforted. He responds when we respond in faith.

2. He builds us up. He heals us. He binds our wounds.

When we feel broken, when others are shattered by the events of life in this sin-wrecked world, when death rears its head and that valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23) looms high over our hearts and heads, we find ourselves still in the almighty clutches of the Good Shepherd (John 10), the Great Physician (John 5) who has promised The Comforter (John 16), The Holy Spirit to be present with us in all things, just as He is (Matthew 28.) He is the Traveler along our road, who stops, stoops down and meets our every need (Luke 10.)
He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13) He has promised us this. He is near to the brokenhearted, and He knows our pains.

3. He reminds us that He is still in control, ordering our days. He knows all the details, and nothing escapes His watchful eye and loving heart. Listen again to what the psalmist says:

He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.

When we feel broken, when others are shattered by the events of life in this sin-wrecked world, we look to God and are lovingly reminded of this great truth. If He knows and names the countless stars in a billion, billion galaxies, surely He knows my name, too. He knows my every hurt. He knows what brings me joy, and He knows how to share His peace.

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 10:29-33

He knows us. He acknowledges us. We need only to turn our eyes back to Him, trust in Him, and remember who holds our days. Again, faith brings us to this point of healing. If we allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us, healing will be longer distant and harder fought.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Hebrews 12:15

Grace is quickly given, but we must also see to it that we allow it to rest on our hearts. It is easy to sink into the mire of depression in a dark season. It is easy to be a party of one, closing ourselves off in a solitary prison of pain. But that root of bitterness grows and strangles, and the answer to it is to seek out God, and serve someone else. Comforting others, even in the midst of our own pain, can be a great healing experience, and help us remember the goodness of God.

3. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.”

When we feel broken, when others are shattered by the events of life in this sin-wrecked world, we need to submit ourselves to this one unbending truth. God is great. He is abundant in power. We cannot grasp the depths of His understanding. And even if we don’t feel like we have the words to share in the midst of pain, this one thing we do have.
Nothing is beyond our God. No hurt stands beyond His understanding, and even when we feel utterly powerless, God is still Sovereign-over-all. He will never fail us. He is our joy, our rock, our refuge and our hiding place.

He never promises us that we will understand everything that happens in this life, either on this side of eternity or the other. But He guarantees us this: He knows, He is in control & He loves us deeply.

Comfort someone with these truths, or allow God to be your point of comfort in the midst of your own trials.

You_are_not_alone.

Psalm 118

1Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
    the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.

10 All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
    they went out like a fire among thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard,[a] so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16     the right hand of the Lord exalts,
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”

17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.[b]
23 This is the Lord‘s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
    O Lord, we pray, give us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
    up to the horns of the altar!

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Acts 17:16-21 // Where Concern Leads

“16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, ‘What is this pseudo- intellectual trying to say?’

Others replied, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities’ — because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection.

19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, ‘May we learn about this new teaching youre speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.”

Acts 17:16-21

Verse 16 allows us a glimpse into the heart of Paul, and in turn into the heart of an evangelist. But not only that, we see the heart of a man who understands the heart of Christ and what his priority ought to be as He walks with Him. Paul is troubled in his spirit. And why? Because this great city, Athens, is full of people who are lost, wandering and who are spiritually bankrupt. Faith of any kind had first become an intellectual exercise for them, then it was part of their cultural identity, but it was lacking in their hearts. Add to that the fact that what faith they may have possessed was wasted on dead, stone idols and we see a picture painted of a city that is in the grip of moral and spiritual poverty.

Now, the Athenians would have still thought themselves to be something great, mayeb not at their peak anymore, but still they lived in Athens, and how many cities could contend with the grandeur of Athens? They were still riding the wave of where they had been before the Romans came through and thought themselves something important. This is pretty obvious when we look at how they respond to Paul, insulting him with the term “pseudo-intellectual.” But because what they heard from him was novel, they decided to grant him an audience. 

In Western culture today, there are many, many people who think that they are intellectually above faith of any kind. They look down on people to cling to their Bibles and gather each week in churches. They see faith as a crutch for the ignorant, maybe even something that preys on the poor and weak-minded. I’ve heard all the arguments and talking points. They want nothing to do with faith, because, in thier mind, it is an unreasonable dependence on something that has no emperical evidence. They can’t see it, quantify it, catalog it and examine it the way they want, and so it is pushed aside. 

Religious apathy, pride and a worship of self-intellectualization are at the center of this mindset. It’s all about what you know and how well you can express yourself, and faith cannot play a part in the process. Most of us know people who think themselves to be fairly intellegent, and they are always leaning on that faith in their intellegence to carry them through. As we GoLove them in the Name of Jesus, we are going to find hard packed soil and hardened hearts many times. But that is where our own preparedness to speak of Gospel things, and to present evidence of the truth of Christ is so important. We must pray before we engage with them (as we should with any opportunity to witness) and we should still have that heart that Paul had, the heart that had compassion on the lost. The heart that hurts for those who are so wrapped up in their own ideas and philospohies that they cannot see hope, who cannot know love (only ever examining it) and who don’t know the peace that faith offers when we come to God in Christ. These people are not impossible to talk with, and you don’t have to have your doctorate to do so (although a good dose of hard-headedness doesn’t hurt.) But we speak the truth in love, standing firm as we do so, and present the hope that only Christ can bring. The heart that hurts for them is the heart that will continue going back to present the hope of Christ.

  

Psalm 119:41-48 // ו Vav // My Heart, Your Law

“41 Let Your faithful love come to me, Lord,

Your salvation, as You promised.

42 Then I can answer the one who taunts me,

for I trust in Your word.

43 Never take the word of truth from my mouth,

for I hope in Your judgments.

44 I will always obey Your instruction,

forever and ever.

45 I will walk freely in an open place

because I seek Your precepts.

46 I will speak of Your decrees before kings

and not be ashamed.

47 I delight in Your commands,

which I love.

48 I will lift up my hands to Your commands,

which I love,

and will meditate on Your statutes.”

Psalm 119:41-48

Would you say these same things as David? Do we praise God simply because of His commands and statutes? Do we find our rest and our hope in them? We may acknowledge that He has authority over kings and countries, but do we admit His Lordship over our lives? Do we appreicate His instruction this deeply?

Read through this portion of Psalm 119 again a second time, listening a little more deeply to what David is saying.

Read through a third time, and evaulate how you hold the statutes of God. Are they drawn close to you rheart, or held at arms’ length? Ask God to help you see yourself honestly.

Read through a fourth and final time, uttering a prayer to God, and talk with Him about how your heart receives His rule and reign. Thank Him for His great grace, mercy & instruction.

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Psalm 118 // God brings the victory!

“1 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;

His faithful love endures forever.

2 Let Israel say,

“His faithful love endures forever.”

3 Let the house of Aaron say,

“His faithful love endures forever.”

4 Let those who fear the Lord say,

“His faithful love endures forever.”
5 I called to the Lord in distress;

the Lord answered me

and put me in a spacious place.

6 The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid.

What can man do to me?

7 The Lord is my helper,

Therefore, I will look in triumph on those who hate me.

8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust in man.

9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust in nobles.

10 All the nations surrounded me;

in the name of Yahweh I destroyed them.

11 They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me;

in the name of Yahweh I destroyed them.

12 They surrounded me like bees;

they were extinguished like a fire among thorns;

in the name of Yahweh I destroyed them.

13 You pushed me hard to make me fall,

but the Lord helped me.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song;

He has become my salvation.
15 There are shouts of joy and victory

in the tents of the righteous:

The Lord’s right hand performs valiantly!

16 The Lord’s right hand is raised.

The Lord’s right hand performs valiantly!

17 I will not die, but I will live

and proclaim what the Lord has done.

18 The Lord disciplined me severely

but did not give me over to death.

19 Open the gates of righteousness for me;

I will enter through them

and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous will enter through it.

21 I will give thanks to You

because You have answered me

and have become my salvation.

22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.

23 This came from the Lord;

it is wonderful in our eyes.

24 This is the day the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Lord, save us!

Lord, please grant us success!
26 He who comes in the name

of the Lord is blessed.

From the house of the Lord we bless you.

27 The Lord is God and has given us light.

Bind the festival sacrifice with cords

to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will give You thanks.

You are my God; I will exalt You.

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;

His faithful love endures forever.”

Psalm 118:1-29

Read this psalm of thanksgiving again, a little more slowly, considering what has taken place.

Read it a third time, remembering the victories of God in your own life.

Read it a fourth and final time, praising God for His handiwork in your life. Give Him glory!

  

Acts 7: 44-50 // Jesus and the story of redemption (pt 5)

“44 Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses commanded him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors in turn received it and with Joshua brought it in when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers, until the days of David. 46 He found favor in God’s sight and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built Him a house. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, as the prophet says:

“49 Heaven is My throne,

and earth My footstool.

What sort of house will you build for Me?”

says the Lord,

“or what is My resting place?

50 Did not My hand make all these things?”

Acts 7:44-50

God knows our needs. He does not react to our needs or desires. He needs nothing we can offer. Here in Acts 7, Stephen remids the Sanhedrin that the tabernacle and the temple that they are so attached to, so proud of, isn’t something that God needs in order to be worshipped. He doesn’t require an edifice in order to dwell among His people or to receive sacrifices. God has accomodated the human need to have a set place to do things, but He doesn’t need a building in order to be worshipped. The earth is His, and everything in it, so why would He require something extra in order to interact with mankind? God is not deficient in any way, He does not lack or need.

Stephen is saying this to them because the crowd He was addressing was so hung up in their rituals, rites and ceremonies that they had lost sight of the bigger picture. God didn’t need any of those things they were so worked up over. Instead, He instituted them so that we would have what we needed in order to worship Him consistently. That repeated minsunderstanding, about Jesus tearing down the temple, was something that really struck a chord with them. They saw that as a kind of ‘ultimate insult’ against who they were and the honor of God. At the end of chapter 6, this comes up yet again just before Stephen begins his sermon. 

We forget that God doesn’t -need- us in order to be worthy of worship. God doesn’t have human attitudes or issues of selfishness. He isn’t sustained by our singing and sacrifices, and even if there were no church budilings anywhere, God would still be glorified. We spend a lot of time and effort on things that are simply not the ‘main thing’ because we think too small when we think of God. And often when we think of God and His expectations, we are actually thinking about our own wants and needs and desires, rather than what He has actually asked for…

The issues that Stephen was addressing with the men in the Sanhedrin are issues that people still get hung up on today. People reverence a church building or a tradition more than God Himself. They get upset over the decorations on the inside of the church, or the style of music, or how people dress rather than concerning their own hearts with God Himself. The temple didn’t make the people of Israel, and the worship center doesn’t make the church. It is so much more than these basic, physical things. But being small and finite, we forget this and get hung up in the details rather than getting hung up in God. 

As we GoLove people, we need to make sure that we are portraying an accurate picture of who God is, what His expectations are of us, and how we are to properly reverence and worship Him. And that means we have to move beyond what is simply a human need and look to what God really and truly desires of us, not what we think He “needs.” God doesn’t want pews and stained glass. God wants our hearts. 

  

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