Even After the Denial

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It doesn’t take much to deny Him. Ask Peter. We see him after the passover meal skulking around a fire,  countering his true identity and affiliation. This is the same man who said before anyone else, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” This is the one who was bold enough to get out of the boat. This is the man of ambition whose words were always three steps ahead of his heart.

But he’s not alone. I, too, deny Him. I am quick to laugh with the crowd.

I, too, am quick to change my tune to match the beat of the clamorous cosmos.

I, too, allow my passions and my ambition to spin wildly out of control. I doubt His judgment regarding my life. I die on the wrong altar.

I, too, curse more vehemently and emphatically to preserve my own shadow mission.

But still He remains.

I don’t understand this kind of grace that covers my wrong thinking and illogical fears. And the struggle continues– my gangly, strutting, dodging, frenetic activity. But it is no match for His dogged pursuit. The Creator of love runs after me with profound determination.

Finally, after running from the truth, breathless, weary, I am mess to behold, And He is there.

This is not a soft-rock, falsetto kind of love, filled with flowery fragile words. This driving anthem of truth echoes wildly into the valleys of my rebellion and sallies forth with light and victory into the abyss of my futility.

Eyes of Compassion

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Jesus hangs on the cross bearing the bleak rebellion of every age. Who can measure the weight of such a burden? Who can scan the circumference of this transaction? In our repentance we grieve of what our sin has done to us, but at the cross,  we mourn of what our sin has done to God.

This obelisk of sin that outweighed the mass of Jupiter leveled itself against His weakening limbs. Still his eyes remain compassionate. He speaks to the beloved ones of his life: “Woman behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother.”

This moment of compassion seems insignificant considering that humanity would soon be forever changed. Jesus was a Savior but indeed He was still somebody’s boy. We hear Him tie up the loose ends of His next of kin. These details would not escape the attention of Jesus.
We look back at the compassion of Jesus as He stood at the grave of a close friend. Those around Lazarus tomb that day observed His grief:

Jesus wept. The community said, “See how he loved him!”
John 11:35-36

Jesus knew the end of the story. He would call out and Lazarus would come forth, but He stepped into the moment.

He stepped into the pain.

He stepped into the grief of a broken family.
What are you mourning today? He is mourning with you. He, too, has compassion and is making accommodations on your behalf to get through this. You’ll get through it together.

We often forget that even though there are pressing issues on every continent, He still has a heart for the small. There are kings and presidents and war on every side, but Jesus still has the capacity to know your secret wounds and weep over the tombs of your cloistered dreams. He is a God of compassion.

He took care of the people He loved.

When we fail to remember this, we struggle. Jesus eyes aren’t solely fixed on the White House, the Vatican or the United Nations.

His eyes are in the marriage counselor’s office,

His eyes are on the wounded warrior half a world away,

at the funeral of a grandfather,

and under the bed of an abused child who prays for the gift of peace.

He’s there, too. 

The shape of the cross is the template of compassion. In order to die on the cross your arms must be open.

God of Wonders,

King of Glory,

Grant us the courage to look beyond our own pain and enter into the pain of another.

For in this act we receive a more glorious vision of the cross of our slain Savior, Jesus Christ.

In Whose Name we pray,

Amen

 

A Different View of the Cross

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There was another perspective of the crucifixion. It was hidden from the gaze of those on Earth. The great cloud of witnesses watched from Heaven as Jesus exhaled one last time before mourners and murders. Millions of souls, from centuries past, witnessed in amazement the unthinkable death of Jesus. They watched His stillness from beyond the veil, perhaps in wonder. It seemed less like a death and more like a realization. Suddenly they understood their story.

David understood why giants fell and kings collided into their own destiny.

Abraham understood the incomprehensible test of Mount Moriah.

Jonah experienced epiphanies of his three days in the belly of the fish.

The three Hebrews who spent time in a furnace, recognized the Visitor again. This time on the cross…

Solomon understood the reality of a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

And Isaiah surely wept as he saw the Man who bore our griefs and was bruised for the iniquities of us all. 

They watched. All of them watched–the angels, demons and mortals, the judges and criminals– the wretched mass of man’s worst epics, the ravished ones of the innocent garden. Betrayers and hypocrites understood this story and their role in the middle of this divine denouement. The broken and beaten wept in the midst of their personal revelation. The rabble of messy humanity watched as the last drop fell.

And we too, like the men on the road to Emmaus who walked and dined with the resurrected Jesus, experience revelation. It’s a moment of epiphany.

We say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

The cross makes sense of our struggle. It endows us with meaning and hope. Some will never accept the truth of Jesus and His mercy until they stand before Him. I wouldn’t want to live a day without it.

 

The Hands of the Betrayer

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The betrayal of Jesus didn’t begin with a bitter kiss. It began with skepticism. All betrayal will find its roots back-stories and subplots.

The night before Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus celebrated the passover meal with His disciples. His friends knew that Jesus carried a heavy burden. As they were eating Jesus said, “You can count on the fact that one of you will betray me.”

Jesus words crushed them as they looked at each other trying to decide if this was another parable. Others tried to understand who that betrayer might be.

Jesus said, “He who dips his hand with me in the dish will betray Me.” (Matt. 26:20-23, NKJV). Jesus didn’t come out and say, “OK. You want to know so here goes. It’s Judas. He’s the villain here. He’s the betrayer.” No one knows for sure why Jesus chose to give them a hint rather than a name.

I would imagine that those words were pondered long after that night. He did mean Judas. The Bible leaves no room for uncertainty as to the identity of the betrayer.

And their suspicions were well founded because Judas was the one. The one who identified Jesus in the garden. He was the originator of the kiss of death. Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah he expected. Jesus was a pauper, not a conqueror. Maybe Judas thought he could force His hand and be the catalyst of a great rebellion. And by the time He had realized his mistakes, by the time Judas had collected the blood money and changed the direction of history… By the time he had betrayed innocent blood—

it was too late.

Remorse overtook him. He threw the money into the temple courtyard and hanged himself.

His hand was in that dish because He was a betrayer.

Still there were others at the table that night.

I sit here typing this story, imagining how it all went down and I look at my hands and I realize that I’ve seen with my own eyes what the hands of a betrayer look like.

My hand was in that dish.

I was one of the betrayers, because in a thousand ways I have denied our Savior. In a thousand ways I’ve broken not His rules, but His heart. In a thousand ways I’ve qualified as a betrayer.

But the glory of the Gospel is that He lived and died for betrayers. And after He died, He rose from the grave and then went back to that same band of failures and underdogs. Astounding! The creator of the universe search for a rag-tag group of ragamuffins!

Can you hear the voices of the skeptics saying, “I can’t believe that he’s going back to Peter, the denier, Thomas the doubter, Andrew the glory hoarders, and on and on, because they all deserted Him and fled that night. All of them left Him!

And yet still there was one whom Jesus couldn’t redeem. He was a man so seized with grief and remorse that he threw the money onto the temple courtyard and hanged himself.

I know it’s not my place to judge history or to think of all the what ifs, but if I were a betting man I’d bet the farm that if Judas had waited three days, Jesus would have taken him back.

“How can you say that?” You ask.

Because he took me back. 

He died for betrayers. To take their shame in exchange for His glory. And He’s still calling out:

Come home. You denied me. You shirked responsibility at the very mention of my name. Come home. You doubted my Lordship, but I still believe in you, child. Come Home. You didn’t want me to be a suffering servant. You wanted a magician who could solve all your problems in the blink of an eye. But now you understand. So come home. You’ve kept silent in the past when I’ve wanted you to speak out. But you’re still my child. Come home. All is forgiven. You are free to love as You are loved. Come home.

If it be Your Will…

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Out of the darkness of an ancient garden, we hear a sobbing voice. The One who crafted kingdoms and set the stars, pleads, “If it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” This plea reveals both His humanity and divine nature. He knows that destiny stalks Him on this night. It follows us as well.

When we run out of pretty prayers and Sunday School answers, pleading is an intimate, ugly cry that dares to cast away its pride.

Some roads we travel are eminent and relenting. There is no turning back, no escape…

  • We gather around a hospital bed as the beeping of the monitors slowly cease. If it be your will…
  • We leave our longtime home to discover a new life. If it be your will…
  • Our worst nightmares are realized as a prodigal is cuffed and carried away for years. If it be your will…
  • Documents are signed and delivered. The marriage is over. If it be your will…
  • Your mind is unclear and you are carried to assisted living knowing this room will be your last. If it be your will…

For Jesus, the world He came to save is now turning against Him. At this moment, one of His followers combs through the garden with a band of conspirators to capture Him. At the time of His greatest need, His dearest companions are comatose and negligent. He is utterly alone and the weight of the harrowing pain—every kind of pain including isolation, torture, shame, nakedness, blood and farewells, would soon appear under the rays of the moon and the poor light of a covered sun.

We see Him in the garden, a different garden that served as the arena of man’s fall, and He pleads, “If it be your will…”

Ultimately this is the cup of God’s fury. There is only One who experienced the wrath of God in its completeness, in it’s fearful symmetry, in a place where the forces of evil converge into one horrible event. This is place where Jesus is kneeling tonight– in the crosshairs of deep malevolence and holy blood soaked redemption. And Jesus knows this. He knows this well.

You may be pleading in your own sweat and blood eve of consequence. Pleading is messy prayer. It’s when we can do nothing else but cry out.

When we plead, we come to the end of ourselves and stumble toward the One who loves us. Beggars are never rejected at the footstool of the Almighty. We can come to the One who knows the harsh fulcrum of our pain.  When we fall, we fall to Him.

Away with Him

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But they cried out, Away with him, away with him.
John 19:15a KJV

These heartless words are scattered across the landscape of a world full of religion, judgment, and bloodlust. And worst of all, the cruel apathy that pushes divine grace aside like a dead weed.

“Away with Him!” they shouted, as if this suffering Hero had the looks of last week’s garbage– vile and putrid under the haze of a bitter sun.

How often I have dismissed the precious Lamb of God from my life. I, like Pilate, have whisked Him off the throne at the slightest moment of inconvenience, seeking to please the masses by releasing the Lamb who knew no sin.

“Away with Him!” I’ve said, when life seemed unsure.

“Away with Him!” I’ve said in my exhaustion.

“Away with Him!” I’ve have said in times of pride and vainglory.

And we, the bride He so loved have said, “Away with Him!”

…from our culture,

…our schools,

…our homes,

…our values,

…our bank accounts,

…our futures.

We, like Pilate, have called out, faultless though Jesus is, “Away with Him!” We have washed our hands of this divine enigma.

Lord, Jesus Son of God, have mercy on us. We have condemned you with our actions in exchange for the false security of our personal idols and jewels. Lord, have mercy on our country for we too have condemned innocent blood.

There was no one standing beside You that day.

You stood alone without a defender. And in this moment, I draw strength from the thought that through You, I too may stand alone in my desperate hour of need. When I am treated unfairly, help me to reflect on that moment in History when, under the greatest anguish known to man, You suffered rejection as a balm of hope on my behalf. You stood under a cascade of shame and rejection so that I may draw strength and help in my darkest hours. 

Lord Jesus, Son of God, I thank Thee for the power to stand alone, defenseless.

The Path of Surrender

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Jesus walked to the cross in total surrender.

He explained it this way: “No one is taking it from me; I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This is what my Father has commanded me.”  John 10:18 (HCSB)

There has always been a controversy around who killed Jesus. But Jesus was clear. He gave up His life as an offering. As we remember the brutal account of Jesus’ death, He invites us to see the cross as an embraced undertaking. We are His prize and He snatched us away from the enemy through the brutality of an unthinkable surrender. He loved us enough to engage himself in a 33 year passage toward an unspeakable end.

In this act we see how real love works and He is inviting us to enter this story, to live, die and live again. When we live like Jesus, life is ever before us as an opportunity to surrender everything. What does that look like for you? Only Jesus knows and He will reveal it to you soon enough.

Catherine Doherty’s Little Mandate

Arise — go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.

Little — be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.

Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you..

Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me.

Love… love… love, never counting the cost

Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast. Pray always, fast.

Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbor’s feet. Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you. Pray always.

I will be your rest.

The image of the cross is an image of absolute surrender.

When we enter into the story of Christ we see a point in time when we cannot use our hands to control anything. Our will, determination, ambition and skill are nailed to the holy cross of Christ. While the world’s system teaches us how to control others and change ourselves, the cross has no such purpose. On the cross, our hands are not busy. They are surrendered. The cross compels us to die to that old foe that the world calls “a self-made man.” Everything that feeds our own power, pride, ego and self-determination has to go. It simply must. God is not improved by our efforts. He is glorified by our surrender.

 

When absolute and complete surrender takes hold of you, you will experience the bliss of satisfaction in Him. Whatever you have or don’t have… it wholly means nothing when you have given it all to Him. You live. You breathe. You worship. You give.

This is enough.

Gethsemane Courage

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Everyone has a Gethsemane. This is the time when everything in your natural mind wants to run away. You realize that the next few hours, months or years are out of your control and that the decisions you make today could change your life forever.

Every David has a Goliath.

Every Esther has a Haman.

Every Paul has a Jerusalem.

Every believer has a Gethsemane.

We fear the unknown. We fear abandonment. We fear surgeons, retirement, cancer, termination, divorce, long-term dysfunctional relationships and, for some, even intimacy.

We come to the realization that closing our eyes, walking the plank and jumping off, may result in not only a change in location, but also being in the belly of a beast. What can you do when you are in the belly of a beast? Nothing but pray.

We all have a natural response to change, loss, and pain. We fear.

But Jesus displayed the courage that we need. I’m so glad for the Gethsemane narrative because it reminds me that every step toward the unknown, toward death, toward loss is not something me are experiencing in isolation. We have a Savior that whispers, “Me, too.”

Gethsemane courage isn’t fearless courage. It’s not a stony, lifeless courage. It is blood-sweat courage. It is self-talking courage that admits, “I’m scared out of my brain but I will step out, step forward, and step closer to God’s plan.”

Narrow is this way that leads to life.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, why am I so afraid of life in it’s unmasked glory? I long to move toward You and yet I am so afraid of the cost, the faith, the trappings of glory without evidence through sight. Teach me to rely on You. Show me the deep and abiding warmth of radical courage— the kind of courage that refuses to trust in only those things that I can see with my eyes and yet remain a saboteur of true and living trust in You.

Somehow, we have become comfortable with the cross. The cross is not a place of comfort. It is a place of courage in the midst of excruciating consequence.

A Famine is Coming. How Will You Respond?

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I hate to sound bleak but this much is true. In our lifetime, we will experience a famine. It seems more and more possible that there will be a societal collapse, a financial reset, or a global crisis. At the very least, you will experience one personally. (So have a nice day! insert emoji here!)

If things are great today, awesome! Enjoy the halcyon days but get ready.

How will you respond to a natural disaster, a financial disaster or personal disaster? Know this, when you experience it, you’ll be you. The old saying is true- Wherever you go, there you are.  So you must work on yourself to prepare.

Travel writer, J. Maarten Troost observed, “Paradise was always over there, a day’s sail away. But it’s a funny thing, escapism. You can go far and wide and you can keep moving on and on through places and years, but you never escape your own life.”

We often think about adversity as something brought on by outside forces, but adversity and it’s outcome really begin inside the soul. Our character is formed along the road with God. There is no greater man to illustrate this than Abraham. We pick up the story before he was called Abraham. The name Abram means “exalted father.” Perhaps he thought it was a bit of a joke, that he was called Abram since at that time he had no children. His wife would later laughed at that joke. We see this somewhat misnamed journeyman on a road to who knows where. He traveled by faith… most of the time.

Let’s look at a small somewhat less heroic chapter in the life of this patriarch.   We pick up the story in Genesis 12 where this God-follower encounters famine.

  •  Famine isn’t synonymous with “time-to-go”

There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine in the land was severe.
Genesis 12:10

Notice Abrams mentality: Famine equals going.

Here is the man who God had led to a promise land, a place to build a nation, a place to set up an altar and raise a family. Then famine hits and he calls the movers! Abram didn’t have the full counsel of scripture that we have or he may have understood that famine doesn’t mean flee.

In my experience, those who stick it out through the famine will ultimately be better off than those who dodge the famine and change jobs, houses, cars, or strategies. If you can bloom throughout a famine just think about what your life will be like during the days of harvest and prosperity.

  • Famine is a test.

Perhaps you are in a famine. Your job stinks. The commission isn’t coming in like you thought it would. There are more sad days than happy ones. You are in the middle of a famine. If you’re like most, the first thing that comes to mind is change. Change locations, change jobs, change churches, or even more tragically–change spouses. How many horrible decisions have been made in the middle of a famine! Don’t make the move before you pray. Ask God to show you what you need to learn. God loves a good famine! It gets His child’s attention.

  • Famine can lead to fear and deception.

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “Look, I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ They will kill me but let you live. Please say you’re my sister so it will go well for me because of you, and my life will be spared on your account.” Genesis 12:13-15

The plan really sounds pathetic doesn’t it? But let’s be honest. We all posture. We find half-truths and finesse language in such a way that we are protected. We all do that from time to time and do it habitually. It becomes a part of our language. “Tell the story so that you get what you want.” It’s all a lie. You can almost hear the wheels of rationalization turning in Abram’s mind. “We have some family connections so it’s kind of true. Right?” We must fight this fleshy bent in our character or it will destroy us. It will do whatever it takes to be the hero of the story and it always ends up being the villain.

Deception may work for a season but it always ends poorly.

Jesus doesn’t mince his words on the subject:

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Luke 12:2-5 (HCSB)

  • What’s more powerful that Pharaoh’s and famines? God is!

But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh sent for Abram and said, “What have you done to me? Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She’s my sister,’ so that I took her as my wife? Now, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave his men orders about him, and they sent him away with his wife and all he had.
Genesis 12:17-20

We often realize that our poor decisions in the heat of the moment, helps no one. Our manipulation leads people to ask “WHY?”

Why didn’t you just come clean at first?

Why didn’t you tell me the whole story?

You could have saved us a lot of trouble.

Our lack of authenticity often causes pain, not only to ourselves but those around us. We represent Christ poorly before those who don’t have a clue about God.

Abram’s decision showed that He didn’t quite believe God. God was there long before the drought. He was there before a silly man-made plan. God was there all the time and yet Abram genuinely feared that God wasn’t enough. We do this all the time. We say to “God, I’ll figure it out on my own.” And God knowingly smiles at the proposition. He knows the foolish import of our puny plans. But still he protects. Abram learned a humiliating lesson that day but it prepared him for the tests to come.

Yes, a famine is coming, but it doesn’t have to affect your soul. Famine days can often be days of joy, contentment and peace, IF YOU PREPARE.

4 Undeniable Truths about Snap-Decisions

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Life really does come at you fast. Sometimes our greatest decisions are made in a split second. Sure, there are decisions that take time. There are decisions that we mull over. But often on ordinary days I have decisions that show up at my doorstep without a moments notice. These are the decisions that test our character and require us to APPLY our faith and purpose at the drop of a hat. Every now and then God comes to us and whispers in our ear. “Put your text book under the desk and grab a pencil and a loose leaf sheet of paper.” Yes, I am suggesting that from time-to-time God gives us a pop quiz.

This was certainly the case as we look at the life of Joseph, the son of Jacob. He’s of the few characters in the Old Testament without a huge downfall. Sure his dad spoiled him but God sanded out the rough edges of his character. The virtue instilled in him paid big dividends when he had to make snap-decisions. His time as a slave in the palace of a desperate housewife provides a stunning example of applied purpose.

1. Snap-decisions are daily decisions.

We’ve seen lots of guys ruin decades of relationships and reputation in a moment of sexual weakness. Joseph certainly had to make some good snap-decisions when he encountered Potiphar’swife. It was a decision he had to make over and over and over.

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome. After some time his master’s wife looked longingly at Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.” But he refused. “Look,” he said to his master’s wife, “with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority. No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?” Although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her.

Genesis 39:6-10

Notice that this proposition occurred “day-after-day.” There are many temptations that you are going to face daily. Although these temptations don’t own us they certainly would love to rent us out on a regular basis. For some, rage is the daily challenge, of that drive by the liquor store, or that associate that wants to connect with you in an inappropriate way, or that business account that is seemingly an easy source of misappropriation. These temptations occur day after day after day.

  2.  Snap-decisions are dangerous decisions. 

Now one day he went into the house to do his work, and none of the household servants were there. She grabbed him by his garment and said, “Sleep with me!” But leaving his garment in her hand, he escaped and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment with her and had run outside, she called the household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “my husband brought a Hebrew man to make fools of us. He came to me so he could sleep with me, and I screamed as loud as I could. When he heard me screaming for help, he left his garment with me and ran outside.” She put Joseph’s garment beside her until his master came home. Then she told him the same story: “The Hebrew slave you brought to us came to make a fool of me, but when I screamed for help, he left his garment with me and ran outside. When his master heard the story his wife told him—“These are the things your slave did to me”—he was furious and had him thrown into prison, where the king’s prisoners were confined. So Joseph was there in prison.

Wouldn’t it be great if every time we make the right snap-decision we were immediately rewarded for our virtue? Alas, this is not the case. In fact, every Christian who is radically Biblical will face adversity, and hardship because the radical believer naturally messes with the mainstream.

You only get splinters when you enter through the narrow gate.

The Christian faith would be more appealing to the mainstream if it was formulaic and of course many personalities try to make it more palatable. But to follow God is to place yourself in the dangerous fray of consequence. Joseph did good and his immediate reward was hard time in a dungeon. He must have thought even God had forsaken him. Where is God when you are isolated? John the Baptist, Paul, and Joseph would be the ones to answer that one. They traded their temporal comfort for a far greater prize.

 3.  Snap-decisions are made in advance. 

Daniel and Joseph, separated by centuries shared a common virtue. They made a decision that their character was far more important than their safety.

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

A follower of God must purpose in his heart in advance that she will not sin against God. It’s a hard decision. It requires the believer to step out of grade school Christianity and into the Grad school of adversity.

   4. Correct snap-decisions come with a far greater reward.  

But the Lord was with Joseph.
Genesis 39:21a

Joseph traded a life of prostitution for a life of purpose. It could have prostituted himself for a more comfortable life but in the end he would have missed the presence of God. He wanted less of this world and more of God. He willingly separated himself for comfort, but the Lord was with Joseph.

King David also had this sole focus on applied purpose.

I have asked one thing from the LORD; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the LORD and seeking Him in His temple.

Psalm 27:4

Whether it’s an angry tweet, a sudden act of kindness, or a reckless u-turn, snap-decisions can make or break you. You’ll probably have a snap decision some time today. Here’s to wisdom, courage and the heart of Joseph…