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Letting grace move us

Father God, Lord of life, You provide us in every way & for every need. You keep us running, direct our hearts & sustain our souls, body & mind. You bring us life & a hope we can call on every single day. We come seeking You out in all these ways & more every day, because outside of You, we have nothing. On our own we have no hope, no strength, no provision, only empty promises we make to ourselves, but have no power to see through to the end. Forgive us our failings & pride, guiding us to completion in Jesus Christ instead. Empower us through Your Holy Spirit to walk with You today. We need to desperately & deeply. You are our rock & refuge. Restore us & bring glory to Yourself. We bless Your holy Name. Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do you feel called by God? Can you sense His will at work in your life? Have you ever felt sent by Him to do a particular work? Do you know what that connection feels like & what it is He compels you to accomplish?

Here’s what we find to help us answer those questions. Paul begins by acknowledging these callings in his own life. God has made them abundantly clear. He says that he is called to do these things & that the church in Corinth is called to be a gathering of saints that call upon the Name of Jesus Christ. He acknowledges the call of an individual & the call of the gathering of believers collectively. There are things that we must do on our own & there are activities that we participate in together. That’s not revolutionary or difficult to comprehend, but there are temptations to neglect one of them or both, from time to time.

We often make excuses & tell ourselves it’s okay that we aren’t doing something that God has called us to as an individual, or that it’s not a big deal that we aren’t serving corporately with the rest of the body. But when we look at the second part of the passage today, we find out just what we are missing when we stand apart from this work of God in us.

Paul begins talking about grace & peace that comes to us through Christ. He acknowledges that this same grace is a gift from Christ and how He enriches us in every way through that grace. He blesses our strength. He blesses our knowledge. He blesses our speech & fills us so we do not lack in any gift. This all comes from walking in His will & in being obedient to the call of grace on our lives.

Grace doesn’t call us to simply rest in Him, which it does provide. Grace doesn’t call us to simply know about itself, which is part of how peace works its way in us. Grace calls us to an active participation in the Gospel work in us, it leads us into a new way of living, a movement in the rhythms it provides us, and in those rhythms, we find a new cadence for our lives that brings fulfillment, hope, peace & joy that we can in turn share with others. None of this is passive. None of this is meant to belong only to us. We live this & share in this together. This is what grace does. We are called, provided for & encouraged by grace into a deeper love, a full life & a living hope.

Because of this grace, we can also stand guiltless before God, and that is the greatest gift of all. This is what Jesus has provided for us through His life, death, burial & resurrection. Grace makes the calling & the life of dedicated obedience possible & it brings us to God’s unending well of joy, peace & fulfillment. It’s a wonderful place to be & a deep joy to walk out day by day. Christ is revealed in us through it all. Let Him reveal Himself in your life today. Seek His leading. Walk in His rhythms.

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Seeking Peace Along a Hard Road

Blessed Father, we desire to break bread with You, to walk with You & enjoy Your company. Make our hearts burn within us as we meet with You, unfolding Your Word in our hearts. Help us to see, hear & gain wisdom. Prepare us for the difficulties & joys of the day, so we may rely on You & give You glory no matter what may come. We seek You out for these blessings of faith & for the sake of Your glory being shown through us.
We pray this in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 24: 13-35
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I long for these moments & experiences. As Christians, we long for the Lord’s presence, we desire to walk with Him, listen to Him & experience what these two experienced along the road to Emmaus. There is no greater joy than to be able to give our whole selves over to the will & mystery of the Lord, to be bundled up in His arms & to close out every sound but the sweetness of His voice. Swift & powerful, His tongue comforts & convicts, He cuts to the root of our sin & draws us up into the highest heaven. It is almost indescribable. But we long for these moments. We want every weekend worship gathering to be a place where we meet with Him like this, every moment spent in the Word like this, every encounter with a stranger, friend or family member like this when we share our faith with them.

But we must also be reminded of these two on the road. They were consumed, troubled & sad. They had expectations, desires for redemption & they wanted to see God’s hand move in a mighty & powerful way. And it took Jesus’ presence to bring them comfort. His Words, His presence, His laughter, teaching & prayer to open their eyes to what God had done & was continuing to do.

If we would feel His presence, then we must draw near & listen. We must hear what He says, and leave behind what fills our mind, giving it all over to Him in these moments where we need to draw near. While Jesus spoke, they were silent. They listened. They didn’t interrupt every third word, they weren’t engrossed in another activity. Their focus was undivided & therefore laser focused on everything He had to say. It was time spent just with Jesus. Unrushed, untouched, unadulterated. Just them & just Him.

If we want to feel the comforting presence of Jesus, then we need to give Him our attention. We need to listen & remove distractions. If we are broken & hurting inside, if life’s events are too much to handle & understand, then we need to trust Him with those moments & draw near to Him & Him alone.

Praise God for His Holy Spirit who can & does walk with us, even within us, through these moments of our day-to-day life. What a precious gift to know He is with us, moving, present & speaking to us. We simply need to seek Him out for peace & be still, trusting in His footsteps along the way.

Father, we bless Your holy Name! We praise the movement of Your Word in our hearts!
Teach us to listen & be still. remind us of Your presence & may we feel that sweet stillness in our spirits as we draw near to You along life’s road. Again, we pray in Jesus’ Name, amen.

The Intention of Agony

Father, these moments of remembrance, the pauses in prayer, the pleas from Jesus for support from His friends, even today we can feel the tension & difficulty of the moment rising, time closing in & the plan of redemption bearing down in the fullness of its weight & urgency. This was not a desperation of confusion, but a desperation for Your glory & for the saving of many, many souls. The garden was pregnant with intention & Your preparation that night, Father. Jesus was not ignorant of what was coming, even if it was heavy beyond reckoning from a human perspective. Betrayal happened in darkness, but darkness cannot overcome You. May our hearts be reminded of Your great love, patience & design as we walk through Holy Week with You. May we keep watch with Christ in anticipation of Your good grace. We pray in His Name, amen.

Luke 22:39-53
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

This makes me uncomfortable.
This passage begins the portion of the Passion that is easier to read through quickly than to stop, slow down & be intentional about meditating & praying through. The agony of Christ in the garden that night was & still is, an agony that I have contributed to, personally. The suffering that began its work, pressing sweat & blood through His skin came from what I have done, will probably do today & haven’t yet done tomorrow. My brokenness, my sin, my intentional, willful disobedience & my momentary transgressions that I am tempted to pass off as if they are nothing all combine here. They press upon the heart of the Lord of Heaven, the Lamb of Glory, perfect & pure, & my struggles become His struggles. This is hard to think about. This is hard to come to terms with every time I read it. The reality of my shame & the unbearable weight of the separation it has caused between my heart & the heart of God comes crashing down in this moment, & Jesus steps in to take that weight, that blow, so that I, so that we, are not utterly destroyed.

This should make me uncomfortable. This should bring me face to face with my brokenness & my absolutely desperate need for Jesus & the grace of God. I would be lost, crushed & dead before I made it to my own cross if I had to begin to wrestle with the wrath of God for my sin. The suffering I would endure would be beyond comprehension, beyond weighing out & I would be utterly spent from the first moment, destroyed. But Jesus begins this struggle, wrestling with the brokenness of man & the glory of God, here in the garden. This isn’t the moment of redemption, but the doors are closing on the first leg of the human journey to sanctification by grace & the weight of the Law, & opening to the relief of grace by faith & the new rhythms it would bring. Relief is on the way, but this struggle cannot pass if it is to come. This cup must be drained to the dregs & Jesus alone can carry it, lift it to His lips & drink the fullness of it all.

And so we find ourselves, here in the darkness of the garden that most of us will never visit in person, but where our hearts remain present with Christ, keeping watch with Him, as His disciples sleep for grief. We count the hours, we see the suffering beginning & we account for every drop of blood that presses its way through His precious forehead. We want to take our portion from Him, but that is not ours to decide & we know we cannot bear it. And so we watch, & we wait with Him & We pray that we may not fall into temptation. We do not rush through this moment, but we keep watch with Him. We thank Him & we are brought to that place of repentance again, knowing our part in this scene. He bore it because we cannot.

Precious Jesus…our Wonderful Redeemer, we watch & pray & praise Your blessed Name.

The Way of Deepest Honor

Father of mercy & grace, I praise You this morning for Your consistency & faithfulness. You are deeply loving, and amazingly generous with us who are so broken & so desperately in need of You. It is so easy for us to get hung up in ourselves, to focus on our own accomplishments & struggles. Thank You for these reminders about Your authority, grace & humble servanthood. Remind us again today what it means to serve like Jesus, having the same attitude humility. I pray this in His Name, amen.

Luke 22:24-30
24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“But I am among you as the one who serves.” We should probably reread that sentence every morning at least, shouldn’t we? Maybe we should put it on Post-It Notes, and tack it up around our home & work spaces, put one on our dashboard in our car & stick one on the handle of our grocery cart on days when we’re in a hurry, too. Jesus says, “Look, I see this world & it’s structures, I really do. I understand the social pressures & the expectations you put on yourselves & your culture presses on everyone…but I am different. And because I’m different, I want you do be different just like I am different. Look at my example. Examine what I’m doing. Look more deeply into me & put less stock into what this world says. Follow Me.”

For those of us who’ve spent any time with Jesus, we know this is the right answer. We know what His example is for us, but we still struggle like the apostles did with this expectation we see the world cramming in our faces. Humility is a trait that is definitely admirable, but in this world it will get you run over, left behind & forgotten. People who really accomplish things are bold & make a name for themselves. They are pacesetters & captains of industry. People take notice of them & they build a name for themselves, These are the people set as our examples. They write books & do interviews. They get things named after them & they gain the admiration of everyone. That’s what we’re trained to shoot for in this life.

Count Nicholas Von Zinzindorf said this though, and he is more on track with Jesus than this mindset of looking out for number one. He said, “Preach the Gospel, die & be forgotten.” Inspirational, right? We’re probably not going to see a poster made of that one & hanging on the wall of a Fortune 500 office anytime soon.

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This isn’t the way our world works. But this is the way of Christ. This is the reality that we are adopted into when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior & Master. Listen to Jesus again. Hear what He has to say.

“But I am among you as the one who serves.”

What would change in your world today if you and I really adopted that mindset? What will you do differently today if you choose to be forgotten so that Christ might be exalted? Who will you find to focus on if you take the efforts of your heart today and turn them toward that person in an attitude of servanthood like Jesus showed us? What kind of impact would you have on your family? Your friends? How might Jesus be lifted up & how might God be more deeply praised & glorified because of you?

Be among your peers today as one who serves. Walk among your family today as one who serves. Don’t seek your own way, your own priorities today. Walk like Jesus walked. Move in the rhythms of His grace. Wrap a towel around your waist & pick up the basin of water as you bend to wash the feet of those around you in His example & in His Name. You’ve seen the example of this world. You’ve seen what temporary things that accomplishes. Look instead to Jesus & serve today as He would serve.

 

The Sacrificial Lamb hosts a dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lowest Moments Begin

Sovereign Lord, I must confess there are things I do not understand, & events that are difficult for me to fully comprehend. Betrayal by a close friend, a compatriot, a partner in ministry is such an abhorrent thing, but Jesus experienced it, too. Divisive, poisoned thoughts, selfish prioritizing, & an apparent refusal to express what was on his heart to Jesus…this all led to his downfall. The world is full of this type of behavior, but that doesn’t make it easier to accept. Father, give us strength to be honest & open with one another in love. Give us the grace to walk in the light as You are in the light. Release us from selfishness & pride as we walk with Jesus. May we glorify You. It is through Christ we pray, amen.

Luke 22:1-6
1Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

So the Passover celebrations were beginning, a day of remembrance & delivery from slavery. So much speaking to freedom, a removal of the yoke of oppression & there is no doubt that Judas had felt that yoke from the Romans for as long as he thought he could stand it. He saw what he thought was the perfect timing, the perfect opportunity to stand up & point things in what he thought was the right direction. He felt his motives were right, he was convinced that he knew best & there was no way that he could mess this up.

I know some people speculate that Judas betrayed Jesus in order to provoke Him to do something miraculous, something that would force His hand so He might begin the overthrow of the Romans. Others say he did all this because he was tired of seeing Jesus refuse the kingship that the people were trying to press on Him. He made his own plans for the Messiah. There are plenty of other ways to attempt to explain the actions of Judas Iscariot, but no matter how the events came together in his heart & mind, he still wound up betraying Jesus & it resulted in His death by crucifixion.

It seems like everyone was aware that something was coming. Judas knew, the chief priests & scribes knew, the people had picked up on it & things were coming to a conclusion of some sort. Desperation comes into play. Social pressure leans heavily on people & impatience becomes a minute-by-minute struggle. Justifications are made & evil’s presence is secured. Judas was entered by Satan, who is always looking for opportunity, & things were set for this most horrendous betrayal, this ultimate rejection of God by humanity.

Betrayal is ugly. There is no way to make it less than what it is. It is painful. It is cruel. It is unfeeling. It is soul-wounding. But Jesus came to bear it all for us. He wasn’t spared anything. Judas would betray, a stab in the back by a close friend. The High Priests would betray God, the final snub that expressed their desire for self over submission. The people would shout “Crucify,” their voices echoing the hollowness in their spiritual walk. Even His closest friends would abandon Him. And Jesus would experience every moment of it.

This is the love of God poured out for us. That Jesus would come, take on our flesh & all the suffering that comes with it. The Prophet reminds us that He is a man of sorrows & acquainted with suffering, David saw His bones exposed through skin & God the Father had spoken of this moment from the beginning with Adam & Eve at the Fall of humanity. Everything was coming to a climax, & God allowed what needed to be allowed while He orchestrated our release from death & the bondage of sin. Pride & betrayal began it all & pride-laced betrayal would bring about the solution.

Father, give us eyes to see & ears to hear the correction that comes from You & in Your love. Teach us to obey You & reveal the intentions of our own hearts to us as we walk in the rhythms of Your grace & in the power of Your Holy Spirit. Open our eyes so we might see, open our ears so we might hear. Open our heart so we would be aware of our own struggles & receive the light of Christ as our daily guide. Please forgive us our pride-filled weaknesses & poor judgment. In Jesus Name, amen.

Wonderful Wednesday is Coming…

Father, Creator of light & life, guide our pathway in Your wisdom.Help us to see. Your ways are higher than our own, Your intentions more secure than the heavens themselves. What we call wisdom is utter foolishness compared to Your truth, wisdom & knowledge. Give us eyes to see & ears to hear. Give us faith where ours falls short. Help us to see Your handiwork all around us, & prepare our hearts for today & the days yet to come. Give us strength to stand, so that we might endure & give glory to Your Name.
It’s through Jesus I come to You & make my requests known. Amen.

Luke 21:29-38
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.

We had this great day every spring when we went to Milligan College & I am very glad to say the practice still continues. Depending on the day of the week when it occurs, it will have a different name, but it is affectionately referred to as “Wonderful Wednesday.” As an alumnus, I still get an itch for Wonderful Wednesday every spring. When the weather starts to turn, & when the world starts to wake up again, I still long for a “Wonderful Wednesday.” So, very kindly, the president of the college will at least acknowledge that desire with us all & periodically sends out an “excuse note” that we can playfully offer to our employers & supervisors if we so desire. Here is last year’s note:

Wonderful Wednesday Note

There are signs all around us that Wonderful Wednesday is somewhere on the near & coming horizon. Our anticipation grows & we begin to look for it every single day. We wake up, waiting for the notice that was slid under our door in the middle of the night, by surprise, letting us know that classes have been cancelled for the day & that we want to wear something we don’t mind getting really wet, dirty or even ruining. And we will eat very well, too. It’s a great day!

Jesus has been talking about the coming of The End here in Luke 21 & He has been very clear & open with the fact that there will be things that happen to tip us off to its proximity. He also lets us know that there will be other things that occur, other events that will feel an awful lot like the end, but they’re just a part of the stage being set for the final act.

However you slice it, though, Jesus is giving us an assurance that the day of Judgment is indeed coming & that we ought to be prepared for it. And since we don’t know when that day or hour will occur, we need to be ready for it every. single. day. Just like Wonderful Wednesday, we need to wake up with anticipation growing in our bones. We need to look for the signs of its coming & we need to talk about it with people, sharing it with people who don’t know about it. Wonderful Wednesday, as an alumnus, is a teaching tool for people who didn’t attend Milligan. It’s an opportunity for us to wax nostalgic & brag on our school. We want to talk about Wonderful Wednesday because we enjoyed it so much.

Jesus knows that we all live in anticipation of The End, & so we must choose our attitude towards it. We can either use it as a point of fear or a point of triumph. If you view it from a point of fear, you are less likely to talk about it, less likely to address it personally & more likely to pretend that it doesn’t exist. But if you are looking forward to it, if you anticipate it with joy, then you’re going to get yourself psyched up for it, & being excited about it you naturally engage other people with its coming.

So it takes strength to make it to that day, because this life is difficult & full of distractions. There are worries & concerns that drag us down & pull us away from our focus in Christ. So He encourages us to stay awake, to pray & to look forward to the end with an eternal perspective that will help to propel beyond the hard days & into the joy that is to come.

No one knows when that divine note will slide under the doorway of our reality, & when Jesus will crash through letting us know that classes are permanently cancelled. But until that Marvelous Monday, or Terrific Tuesday (or whatever it is) rolls around, we need to live in joyful anticipation of the return of our Lord & Master, our Savior & King Jesus. And we do this by walking in the rhythms of His grace, every day, sharing the joy we have found in Him.

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.

If you’re going to get worked up over something…

Father, grant us an eternal perspective today. Help us see what we hang on to that is really just temporary, and what we ignore that we should treasure. This life is something we live quickly through, and there’s only so much that really maters in the middle of the noise. Give us wisdom to latch onto those things, and to leave what is worthless or fleeting behind. Give us ears to hear & eyes to see what maters most of all. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 21:5-9
And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

The disciples just heard about the widow’s offering moments before. Jesus talked to them about how her gift from the heart mattered more than someone else’s impressive looking gifts and offerings. He let them know it wasn’t about the pomp and ceremony, the first glance. Was this a ‘Nice story, bro.’ moment for the disciples? It sure sounds like it.

“Jesus, we get the widow, that’s sweet & she definitely has faith, but this place? This is still impressive. You can’t deny how awesome this building is.”

And we see a quick course correction by Jesus, again. He picks up right where He left off. This Temple was being freshly rebuilt. There was still work being done on it.The shine hadn’t worn off the steps or gutters even. In the face of a massive, moving human effort, Jesus was letting them know that it wasn’t going to stand for long. In fact the hinges on the gates wouldn’t even get a chance to start squeaking real good before the Romans came along and decimated the place. This impressive stuff was temporary, too.

It’s not the big offerings, the big stones that matter. We’re reminded by Solomon that life is temporary. He wrote Ecclesiastes as a treatise on the fleeting nature of pleasure, purpose & significance of human life apart from God. “Building projects?” he asks, “Meaningless.” Chasing after human passions, again he says, “Meaningless.” There is no eternal meaning in just doing things for the sake of doing them. There is no reward that actually comes from our little projects or attempts to draw attention to ourselves. It all turns to dust. Sounds uplifting, doesn’t it? But at the end of the book, Solomon brings it all back around and says that the end game for you & I is to honor & obey God with everything we have. That is where meaning comes from.

So the disciples ask a question of timing. They want to know when all this is going to happen. And that’s no surprise. Anyone would want to know that little tidbit. If you knew you were going to have a wreck on the way to work Monday, wouldn’t you change your route? If you knew a meteor was going to hit your hometown next Thursday, wouldn’t you warn people? Of course you would!

How do we prepare for the inevitable? How do we make sure that we are safe & square & that the people we care about have ample time to get clear, too? That is a perfectly sane & logical question to ask. What are the signs? How can we know?

Jesus doesn’t give them a day, hour or minute though. He warns them about something that is more pressing. More distractions & lies are coming. The Pharisees & Sadducees already had a hold on people and distracted them from God’s real desires for their lives. But now, after He goes, there will be more & times will be harder. But we aren’t to be distracted by that anymore than we are distracted by these big, impressive, temporary buildings & impressive offerings by impressive people.

Even the worst sorts of things are not to consume you. We have been given something better to consume our time, talent & treasure. There is a Kingdom on the move, a movement away from these temporary things & an eternal perspective to gain which propels us so far beyond this tangible, most, rust & thief prone things we see every day. If we will look to Jesus, and walk in the rhythms of His grace every day, then we will see what really matters. If we serve humbly & spend our life’s efforts on those things that really matter, we will see why timing is of the essence & why our concern needs to be for those who will find themselves unprepared when that day of wrath & judgment comes. We don’t build sandcastles in the face of waves. We work for the One who parts the sea itself & dries up the water so we can move beyond into promise & deeper things.

Eyes up. Heart aligned. Move in what matters today & leave the rest behind.

Taxing Questions

Father, in You is the house of Wisdom. Lord, within Your heart & mind we find the origins of all truth & knowledge. Help us to see our lack, assist us in our foolishness and give us good counsel. We are prone to twist things & we try to distort Your truth to meet our own agendas. See if there is any offensive way in us and lead us according to Your good grace & mercy. Help us to see plainly beyond this world’s distortions. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 20:19-26
19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.

21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

Sometimes I wonder how tiresome it was for Jesus to deal with these Jewish leaders & authorities. They’re obviously jealous of the attention He gets. They cannot begin to speak with real authority like He does. He constantly breaks down the walls of their sanctuary of rules, and exposes their inner thoughts and weaknesses. He draws the affection of the people, while they can only muster up loyalty through fear and misused authority.

He is everything they are not & the people see it.

So, Jesus deals with these people who should be leading the nation in a God-honoring way, but who can only seem to focus on polls and perceptions. And rather than working with Jesus to bring the hearts of the people to God, they are authoritarian aggressors, always seeking out new plots, plans and schemes. And they’re moving beyond the boundaries of discourse & debate and sliding into the realms of intrigue and isolation. They plot and scheme and send others out to try to ensnare Jesus with words & social perceptions.

They ask pointed questions meant to trap & polarize the people. They want to lay hands on Him, but are relying on these spies and unruly people to stir up trouble. They pray for mobs to rise up against Him, because they lack the skill, wisdom and courage to do so themselves. These men who are not used to being contested suddenly find themselves marginalized & they simply cannot handle it.

There is nothing of God in their attitudes. Their god is their own image, their own expectation, their own fleshly desires. They may call it G-D, but they have an idol in their own hearts. And so they use flattery, and send smooth talking saboteurs to weave a web of misdirection.

What do we do when we find ourselves faced with people who should be in authority, but who cannot wield that authority properly? Paul has an encounter with the Sanhedrin later on in Acts, and after being struck by someone at the direction of a man who turns out to be the current High Priest, Paul corrects his language after lashing out at him in return. We are not free to bully our way past human authority figures, but we can stand in defiance of them like Peter and the other Apostles had to when they were told not to speak in the Name of Jesus anymore. We must respect the office, but we follow God first and foremost.

So we do not use their tactics: false flattery & misdirection.
We do not use their motivations: being thought well of, lording over people.
We do not follow their examples: plotting & planning in order to ensnare.

Jesus does tell us to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves, because He knew we were going to have these encounters. He knew we would find ourselves standing in places & dealing with situations that would press our buttons and leave us desiring to play by those same twisted rules. And so He sets an example for us that shows us a better way.

These shrewd speakers start asking Jesus about what is lawful & right, & since Jesus knows their hearts and motives, He responds with plain, rightly given truth. He distinguishes between the authorities these men deal with: God & Caesar. He then speaks to the limited realm of human authority & it’s physical limitations. If Caesar wants this slip of metal with his picture on it, then let him have it. Everything belongs to God, it all has his fingerprint on it anyway. Caesar’s reign and power comes from having his image on a coin, God’s power is not so small & finite.

When I was in elementary school I was at a friend’s house, and we walked over to play at another kid’s house because he had this great swing-set in his backyard. We were all having a good time, but my friend and I were a year or so older than this kid. He wanted to twist the rules and be in charge of the games we were playing because it was his backyard & his swing-set. He started getting agitated with us, made us sit down on the edge of his play area and wait for him to come back out.

When he came out of the house, he had a full sheet of yellow legal paper in his hand & he said, “If you all want to keep playing on my playground, then you have to watch me eat this whole sheet of paper. If you don’t then you have to leave.” Now, I’m sure he thought he was coming out to impress us, and he thought we would all be wowed by his digestive prowess. But about 1/3 of the way into the sheet of paper, you could tell that his mouth was drying out & that there was no way he was going to finish.

I’m not sure what he thought this little show would accomplish, but it fell flat and we all just got up and left. He was a child & so he behaved childishly when he felt he was loosing ground on his own turf. Now, we weren’t being mean to him, we weren’t excluding him from play. But it was his yard, his stuff & he had an expectation for being in charge of everything that went on there.

Jesus deals with this attitude over and over again. He has to stop teaching and pay attention to these men who should be leading the people, but who fill their mouths with nonsense in order to maintain control. And so Jesus’ approach should be our approach. When we deal with difficult people who struggle with authority, then we look into their motives, rather than lashing right back at them. We examine the power structure they operate within & we set that understanding & worldview next to the things of God with an understanding of His authority over all mankind. And from the origins of truth, we speak simple truth. We cannot play by their rules, we cannot run by their expectations. We do not walk down convoluted paths of deception, but we speak plainly, allowing God to be our guide.

The simple answer is powerful. True authority stands up to scrutiny. Looking to the base of where aggression finds its beginnings will reveal much. Truth often silences foolishness, but when you deal with fools, their silence is not often guaranteed.

We, as Christians, should continue to examine Jesus’ response to people like this so we might gain wisdom, be slow to anger & slow to speak. We must unlearn what the world has taught us, and gain wisdom from seeking out the heart of God instead. This doesn’t come overnight, but with discipline and wisdom gained from experience. If we walk with Jesus daily, in the rhythms of His grace, & if we are patient with others and with ourselves, we will find that God provides all we need in dealing with difficult people & difficult situations.

Father, in You is the house of Wisdom. Lord, within Your heart & mind we find the origins of all truth & knowledge. Help us to see our lack, assist us in our foolishness and give us good counsel. We are prone to twist things & we try to distort Your truth to meet our own agendas. See if there is any offensive way in us and lead us according to Your good grace & mercy. Help us to see plainly beyond this world’s distortions. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

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