The conundrum of gentleness…

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In a world seeking to exalt everything but Christ, it can seem that the only way to fight fire is with fire. Yet gentleness makes the exact opposite claim.

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” –1 Peter 3:15, ESV

Because gentleness stands out against the screaming crowds. The constantly offended will be muted in the face of a calm, gentle retort. Gentleness, after all, is the great draw God uses to bring people to Himself:

“correcting His opponents with gentleness, God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” –2 Timothy 2:25, ESV

If God’s tool for correction is gentleness, who are we to choose differently? Which is a bold statement to make. It remains far easier said that done, but take these encouragements. We can stand in gentleness because we are protected by far greater things than any defense we can fashion.

“You have given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your gentleness made me great.” –2 Samuel 22:36, ESV

“You have given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand supported me, and Your gentleness made me great.” –Psalm 18:35, ESV

We are protected, not by our inflammatory words, but by the very shield of God. His salvation seals us, protects us, and will be our joy. As we rely on it, we can stand boldly with a gentle spirit, knowing the Savior of our soul has our back.

And more than that, the passage in Psalm takes this support one step further. Not only does our shield of salvation protect us from damaging onslaughts, God’s very right hand supports us. It is no small thing to be at the right hand of the King. And that right hand moves, and points, and makes things happen, many of which we will never see or realize.

Standing in the protection of salvation, with our God moving His right hand on our behalf, we can strip away the fear, pride, anger, jealousy, and offense that can express itself in so many ways other than gentleness. We can allow the chains of those negative perspectives to clank powerless to the floor, as we allow the Spirit of God to change our own spirit into one like Christ:

“…by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…” –2 Corinthians 10:1, ESV

For gentleness is not an action. gentleness is a very way of being. It roots from the spirit and extends through every action, every thought, and every defense. It is that gentleness, from the Spirit of God, described in the 2 Samuel and Psalms passages above the lead to greatness.

Greatness in the eyes of men may come with a quick wit and a burning retort. Greatness in the eyes of God comes through a gentle spirit.

It’s amazing what silence will do…

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I didn’t mean to go radio silent on you. Life offers some interesting turns–nothing spectacular, nothing really all that new. But burblings emerging, breaking the surface, and popping in a way that old ideas shine in a new light.

Quietly, surprising in a whispering oh-look-at-that kind of way, confirmation after confirmation emerges. I wondered for many years if I walked the right path. And yet, in all the reflection that an over-analyzer can offer, I cannot see a different way. These confirmations, showing how the circuitous way I arrived here was instead setting a foundation from which to build.

I went into a hiding of sorts that last few months. Hired to achieve a particular goal and knowing it could take three years to do, I hid from the numbers–numbers only I reviewed regularly. The numbers I was brought in to fix, I hid from them. Reason combined with even my own I-can-do-anything approach said it would take three years. And three years was still an optimistic goal. But what I was seeing in the early numbers for the fiscal year had me wondering.

But the come-to-Jesus moment came. In preparing for a team retreat, I knew I had to bring the numbers out onto the table. I prepared for spending three days brainstorming how to keep fixing the numbers. Oh, those numbers. As I built the projections for the end of fiscal year, I had to stop. At first, the potential deficit looked bigger than I had hoped for the first of three years. But there was that big fish at the bottom of the list. And oh how I needed that big fish. I didn’t wait to get that far, I jumped to the bottom, ran some quick calculations, and dumped that fish into the barrel. It provided just a little more hope. I continued on, and not long later, I had to stop. I went back and double-checked, triple-checked everything to that point. I couldn’t believe it.

I took a lap around my office. How could this be? I dove back in and finished the report. Not only did we stop the hemorrhaging, we climbed out of the hole and were already building a new structure for the future. How could things turn in just a couple months? Well, when 70% of your business comes in during those months and each individual account saw growth, hiding from the numbers quickly becomes shouting them from the rooftop.

And inside, quietly all I could repeat was, “it worked.” And all the while, Jesus smiled. We have killed ourselves individually and as a team trying to start scratching back. And the news met with varied reactions. One, who is in the midst of closing his final accounts for the year, took a step back, leaned over on a chair, shook his head, and commented, “I really needed to hear that.” Another got teary-eyed. And a third laughed because neither she nor I believed she would be able to see it before she retires in a couple years.

I wonder how the reaction would have changed had I not avoided the numbers for those couple months. And I have spent (wasted?) much time wondering the same about my life choices. What if…what if…what if…

But the truth of the matter is this: had I seen the numbers creeping up, oh so slowly, I wouldn’t have felt the relief I felt when it broke through this week. The end result is the same–nothing I could have done would have changed that. But the relief, oh the relief. And I see my life in similar terms now. I can question and second-guess, but I keep coming back to the reality that regardless of my choices, I would have ended up right where I am. And any other path I would have chosen would have only brought heartache.

Regardless of where you are in life and what decisions you’re questioning in hindsight, remember this massive promise–post is on your wall, your screen saver, and every social media page if you need to:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” –Romans 8:28, ESV

But wait, there’s more! Yes, the cheesy infomercial tagline is true here too. Often overlooked, the prior verses take Romans 8:28 from a lovely sentiment to a battle cry:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:26-28, ESV

You’re not alone in the battle. The working together for good is not because of you. In fact, it is predicated on your weakness and the Spirit’s prayers. Your weakness plus the Spirit’s prayers for you means that everything will work out.

The Jesus Project: The Anointed Messiah

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Last session (found here), we explored anointing. We looked at what it is and what happens as a result of it. Our focus passage again is verse one of Isaiah 61.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.” –Isaiah 61:1, ESV

We started with the why last time, seeking to understand the because before we try to understand the Who. Today it is time for the Who. Isaiah’s ink flows with words describing the coming Messiah. The people of Israel believed, or maybe hoped is a mores accurate word, that the Messiah would be a conquering ruler to overthrow the nations that held Israel captive. What they received instead was a Messiah who overthrew the sin that holds all people captive. The nations would come later, but Jesus prioritizes. More concerned about the security of a soul, He came first to save the people from sin. He will come again to reign in the kind of power the Israelites expected of Him the first time.

But it all started with anointing. using our same learning points from last time, let’s turn our eyes away from the reference texts and toward the Messiah. What does it mean that our Messiah is anointed?

Making an instrument holy

We learned last time that anointing makes an instrument holy that it may be of service to God. Exodus showed us how each piece of the tabernacle’s service instruments needed anointing before being put into service. The instrument must be holy that it may come before God to fulfill its purpose.

We are made holy through the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice. We have exactly zero other ways to be holy. None. Zip. Zilch. There is one way to God, and that is through believing and confessing the blood of Jesus as the covering for our sins.

We rely on Him alone to be holy. So He better be holy Himself. If we cover ourselves with something that is not holy to get us to God, God will see that filthy thing and turn it away. A wolf in sheep’s clothing can get into the fold because the shepherd sees what looks like a sheep.

We are wolves. Our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and we can do no good thing on our own (Romans 7:18). But we seek the ultimate Shepherd, the God of the universe. The Shepherd only looks after animals that look like sheep. the difference between simile and truth here is this: we are not fooling God by showing up covered in the Lamb. He knows what is under that cover. And He loves us. He just cannot accept us without the cover of the One that is holy.

If our own salvation relies on the holiness of Another, then that Other has to be holy. Yes, Jesus is God (John 10:30), and thereby cannot sin. But we cannot grasp that in its entirety, it is too much. The people of Israel, and now to those who are not of Israel, we can understand cleaning something up so it can be put to good use. Even as I write, the dishwasher cleans the breakfast dishes that they can be used another time. We understand that. And the people of Israel, having lived in the life of the tabernacle, understood the purification of the instruments.

We can understand the need for cleaning. Anointing does that. So in proclaiming the Messiah as anointed by God, Isaiah tells us the One Who saves is already holy. Anointing is the evidence of a holy vessel. Praise God for Jesus’ anointing, for by no other way could we reach to throne of grace.

Sanctifying the anointed

Last session we learned how anointing and sanctification are not interchangeable concepts. However, wherever there is anointing, sanctification hovers nearby. Where holiness prepares an instrument for use in service, sanctification sets that instrument apart for a specific service specifically to God.

Jesus’ primary purpose on earth was to do the will of the Father (Luke 22:42). And we are the beneficiaries of that will. How do I know? Venture with me to some life-breathing, fear-eradicating, welcome-Home scriptures:

“(Jesus speaking) ‘And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.'” –John 6:39-40, ESV

Did that shake your theology for just a second? We are taught that Jesus came for us. Well, yes, kinda. He came to fulfill the will of the Father. Period. If the Father had asked Him to dance a jig, Jesus would have done it. If God wanted Jesus to write the next great cookbook to save the people from their gluttony, then Jesus would be cooking up a storm on the promotional circuit. We must, MUST get off of ourselves as the center of all things. We must set aside the notion that God is only fascinated with us and us alone.

We have to move away from we being the center. For if we continue to believe that we are the point, we will continue to miss the point. If I believe that Jesus’ sole purpose on earth was to save me, then I get fooled into believing that my sole purpose on earth is to either a) save me, b) save others, both of which set me up to be Savior. Jesus is our model, but He did not come to model how to be a Savior.

Read that: Jesus is our model, but He did not come to model how to be a Savior.

Is your ministry struggling? Maybe it is because you are focused on saving people. It is not your place to save people, for only the Savior can do that. Only a Savior can save. You are not the Savior. I am not the Savior. And I can tell you that the very moment I threw my hands in the air and gave up on measuring the results of my ministry by the numbers of changed lives, an immense pressure released from my shoulders. Are changed lives good? Sure. Am I pleased when people turn away from sin? Absolutely. But is that my role in ministry? No.

Stick with this for just a minute more. Yes, I may have just exploded your concept of ministry. You might be feeling a bit unnerved by this and wondering if I’ve gone off the rails. I haven’t. Here’s why.

Jesus’ purpose was the serve the Father. Jesus was anointed that He could serve the Father. Anointing sanctifies in that it sets apart Jesus for a specific purpose in serving the Father. Jesus came to show us how to live by the Spirit serving the Father’s will. That is why He came. That is the model He provides. The root of it all is that it pleased the Lord to provide us an example of how to live. You are not the point of Jesus coming. And that should free you from the pressure that comes when we allow ourselves to be the center.

Jesus’ anointing shows that He is sanctified. And as all sanctified instruments, He is sanctified for service to the Lord. It is the Lord He looks to, the Lord He prays to, and the Lord He serves. If you want to get in good with Jesus, follow His example of serving the Lord.

“(Jesus speaking) ‘Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven.'” –Matthew 7:21, ESV

Jesus was sanctified for service to the Lord. And that example is one we can embrace.

Consecrating the anointed

We learned last session that consecration is not the same as being made holy or being sanctified. Consecration is being filled to overflowing that one can carry out the work set before them. Where does this power come from? Jesus tells us in Acts 1:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” –Acts 1:8, ESV

To quickly review, anointing comes with it being made holy, being set apart (sanctified) for service, and consecration by which one is filled to overflowing with power. That our Messiah is anointed means He was filled with power. Jesus needed the Spirit to fulfill His calling. How do we know?

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” –Matthew 3:16, ESV

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” –Luke 4:1, ESV

“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.” –Luke 4:14, ESV

In consecration, God provides overflowing power by which to accomplish any task He deems necessary. Jesus did not accomplish His ministry alone. He was filled by the Holy Spirit every step of the way. Jesus was consecrated, filled to overflowing, through the Holy Spirit Who was there in every step of His ministry.

That the anointed may minister to God

Jesus had a specific ministry. His time on earth was motivated primarily by serving the will of the Father. For each of us, the will of the Father likely differs. One person may be called to serve through teaching in a religious setting. Another may also be gifted with teaching, but called to serve in a secular forum, showing glimpses of Him though not able to teach specifically about Him. Another may be called to prayer as primary ministry, while still another is called to rely on those prayer warriors that they can go out and teach the gospel through all the earth.

Did you notice the difference. We all have the exact same primary purpose on this earth: to follow the Father’s will. Period. Let that settle in and become the foundation of how you see service to God. Before adding to it, let the primacy of  serving God’s will re-center as the core of your purpose. For if this moves off-center, you are frankly, up a creek in white-water rapids holding onto a twig and grasping for your last breath. Do not confuse your gifting with your purpose. Your purpose is to serve God and to follow His will wherever that may lead.

Jesus was a gifted Teacher. He was a gifted Scholar. He was a gifted Healer. He was a gifted Counselor. And at any given point, He could have used any one of those giftings. But did the woman at the well need a scholar? Or did she need a word of grace? Did the men in the temple need physical healing, or did they really need a scholar to show them the revelation of the very works they spent their lives studying? In each circumstance, Jesus relied on the will of the Father to carry out what the circumstance needed.

In carrying out the will of the Father, Jesus served the Father in each specific situation He encountered. His primary focus tuned to the Father’s will, and being fueled by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was able to carry out every will of the Father. Even the will that kept the Teacher speechless, the Healer wounded, and the Redeemer condemned with the criminals.

The primacy of the purpose allowed Jesus to do whatever was needed in service the to Lord.

So what’s the point? Jesus.

The model Jesus gave is not one of saving souls, but of following the will of God. Did Jesus save? Yes. Has He called us to save? No.

“(Jesus speaking) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” –Acts 1:8, ESV

We are not called to save, we are called to witness. It is not on you to save your neighbor, your friend, or your co-worker. It is on you to do the will of the Father. And if you want fellowship with Jesus, He tells us exactly what is necessary.

“And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” –Matthew 12:49-50, ESV

Jesus’ purpose is to serve the Father. Fellowship with Him requires that you both be looking at the same thing. Release yourself from any self-imposed other purpose. Focus on doing the will of the Father. Jesus did exactly that, and only that. For it was from that sole purpose that everything else He did stemmed. Return to the sole purpose, and the chaos and clutter will fade away.

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For all posts related to The Jesus Project, click here.
Interested in the reference texts used? Click here for the references page.

On That Which is Courageous…

blog--2014-02--courageCourage. So many definitions. So many ways to play it out. Immediately coming to mind is this post about warrior women. Or the two friends today whose loved ones have passed on this week–the courage to put one foot in front of the other as plans are made and things need to be done; the courage to accept a hug, help, and condolences. The courage to allow oneself to hurt.

We honor those who sacrifice for their country, their community, their family, or others–we call them courageous.

And as the quote says, “Sometimes courage is the small voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”

Life, all of it, requires courage. Standing up for what is right, though it may mean being on the “wrong” side of the popular thing or the thing that will get you a promotion or the thing that will earn you man’s praise. Pushing forward with that dream, though it requires so many extra hours beyond the normal job you have to keep in order to pay the bills. Trusting God in every.single.thing. that you might have peace despite circumstances providing anything but peace.

The bottom line is this: life requires courage. The fact that you are still breathing is a miracle. We each struggle. We each strive. And we each need the loving, gracious, merciful hand of the Almighty God, His Saving Son Jesus, and the constant Comforter Holy Spirit. In the life of faith, courage means admitting we can’t do it and need His holy hand.

Whatever your challenge, whatever you face, rely on His Word. Drain His strength, for He always has more. Draw from His deep well that the courage comes from Him and flows through us.

The Jesus Project: Anointing’s Purpose

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“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.” –Isaiah 61:1, ESV

This passage hinges on the anointing of God. The Spirit is upon Jesus, why?

“…because the Lord has anointed Me…”

Everything that comes out of the Spirit’s presence and everything that comes in this passage stems from the core: God anoints. So if this anointing brings about the Messiah, we would be wise to figure out what anointing is. Let’s pause here for a spell. We need to understand the centrality of God’s anointing before we study who receives anointing and the subsequent works emerging from it.

The Hebrew word for anoint used in our Isaiah passage is “mashach” (pronounced maw-shakjh’), which our study buddy James Strong tells us this word is most commonly used to indicate “the sense of a special setting apart for an office or function.”

If God is doing the anointing, and it is for a special setting apart, then what purposes does God want to accomplish through anointing? Cross-referencing the word in scripture brings about several themes. The purposes set forth are four, which we will explore individually: to make an instrument holy, to sanctify that which is anointed, to consecrate, that the anointed might ministry to God.

Making an instrument holy

In Exodus, God instructs the people to mashach both the tabernacle and the altar. These two critical pieces of Israel’s religious life required anointing. They needed to be holy in order that they may be of service to God. Anointing wasn’t an option; God commanded that it happen prior to the instruments being put into use.

The process of making the instruments of worship holy not only were a physical act. The process of anointing reminded the Israelites the holiness is required when approaching the God of the universe. And as the law was designed to do, the process of making something holy reminds the people that they, themselves, are wholly unholy. In reflecting on the glory of God, the people remember the uncleanness of their own hearts and minds.

But God in His mercy didn’t leave the people in their uncleanness. The purpose of the anointing was to make a way to God. If the instruments of worship were anointed and made holy, the people could come to God. It represented one step in the open door to the throne room of God.

Sanctifying the anointed

Throughout scripture, anointing partners closely with the act of sanctification. The terms are not used interchangeably, so be careful of that. But where anointing occurs, sanctification hovers nearby. The word, qadash (pronounced kaw-dash’) is used to identify something or someone as being set apart for God’s work. In holiness, the anointed is prepared for the work of God. Sanctification sets the anointed apart for use in work specifically identified as belonging to God.

Sanctification his not only set apart, it is set apart for a specific purpose. I can say my sanctification means I can choose my ministry. But this is not indicated in scripture. I can make excuses for the forty-two ways something serves God and His kingdom, but I can still be out of God’s will. He sanctifies us, not that we choose our work, but that we choose the work He has set aside for us.

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'” –Acts 13:2, ESV

The Spirit Who spoke to the church of Antioch with a specific call for Barnabas and Saul is the same Spirit working in believers now. You were created a particular way. And the work of God set out for you is for you to do. As a sanctified believer, be not content with settling for anything less than exactly that which God set apart for specifically you.

Consecrating the anointed

In partnership with anointing, consecration bears a remarkable image. The two Hebrew words used are male (pronounced maw-lay’) and yad (pronounced yawd). Each means to fill, even to overflowing. Yad can also indicate overcoming power. Imagine: the anointing makes one holy that they may approach God, sanctification sets them apart for specific work from God, and the consecration fills the person to overflowing in power to carry out the call of God.

I will admit, I used to think sanctification and consecration were basically the same thing. Some word scholars boil down the definitions of consecration to holiness. But digging deeper into the actual definitions rather than someone else’s paraphrase revealed a layer upon layer upon layer of preparation the believer receives as a result of believing that God is Who He says He is, that Jesus came to die a sinless death in our sinful place, and that Jesus rose from the grave to conquer death once for all that we may come to God. That’s the gospel. This layered verse kicking off Isaiah 61 gives us a sneak peek into what all that means.

Do not forsake the call of God on your life. For He gave much, He has prepared you, and He will fill you to overflowing and beyond to carry out the work He set before you. By the power of His Spirit, you are His, and you are ready. But wait, there’s more.

That the anointed may minister to God

Let’s review: anointing involves being made holy, being set apart for God’s specific work by sanctification, and that we are filled to overflowing in being consecrated as His. All this momentum, but where should it all go? The fourth theme gives us that answer.

The purpose of anointing is to set one apart for service to the Lord. That is it. Not service to people, not feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. Yes, those things may come. But the primary and first purpose of anointing is ministering to God. Here’s a taste of how scripture recounts God’s own words to build primacy in purpose of anointing:

“anoint…that they may minister unto Me…” –Exodus 28:41, ESV

“anoint…that they may minister unto Me…” –Exodus 30:30, ESV

“anoint them…that they may minister unto Me…” –Exodus 40:15, ESV

Your first ministry is not to your family, friends, or even the “ministry” you built to carry out the commands of Christ. Your first and primary responsibility in the church of God is to minister to God. Period. If you are balking at the notion that the crying, precious infant laying in your lap is not your primary purpose, remember Jesus’ words on the subject:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” –Matthew 10:37, ESV

If you need to, re-set your ministry priorities now. Right now. I stayed in a ministry longer than God wanted me there. This was not a “impression” or a hind-sight understanding. I knew He wanted me to leave. But I made up excuse after excuse as to why I should stay. Months later, a man from that ministry began stalking me. I cannot call it cause and effect; but I can say that had I left when God urged, I would not have been in a position in the ministry where someone with those kinds of tendencies would have noticed me, and I may have saved myself over a year of fear and stress.

The ministry is not the point. God is. You’ve been chosen to minister to Him. And He will determine the appropriate out-flowing of that ministry.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” –Matthew 6:33, ESV

To understand your horizontal ministry, you must minister first to God. And before all of that, you must be anointed. For the one who ministers to God must be holy. Praise Him we live on this side of the Cross! Jesus made the way that we could come to the Father in our totally unworthy state and be made holy before Him, that we would be sanctified and consecrated, all for the purpose of serving the One Who saved us from the due penalty for our sin.

Anointing is no small thing. W.E. Vine shares this conclusion about anointing:

“Anointing was a symbol of the qualification divinely imparted in the consecration of persons for the discharge of their office, whether prophets, priests, or kings.”

What’s the point? Jesus.

That headline sounds like a cliche Sunday School answer, but hang with me. Do you see? Our passage in Isaiah is describing Jesus. And it is describing the very process you and I experience when we come to Him. But there is one very cool thing: we aren’t responsible for any of it. We don’t make ourselves holy. We don’t sanctify ourselves for God’s work. And we certainly can’t fill ourselves to overflowing power in consecration. We can do none of that.

Jesus can. And He already did.

God has a purpose for your life–an “office” that you are to fulfill in the body of Christ. But to know that office, you must first come to God through Jesus to become a member of his people. Anointed by the blood of Jesus, made holy, sanctified, and consecrated in His perfection, you can approach God to minister to Him. And He will show you your appointed office. Set your ministry priorities straight, and He will bring more fulfillment, more understanding, and more rich spiritual blessings that you can possibly imagine.

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For all posts related to The Jesus Project, click here.
Interested in the reference texts used? Click here for the references page.