Category Archives: Devotional

First Week of Advent: Friday, December 6th

14 “ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. 15 “ ‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.’  Jeremiah 33:14-16

Written to a people in the midst of exile and heartbreak, Jeremiah’s words speak powerfully into Israel’s deepest fears (alienation from God and the land He gave them) and into Israel’s deepest longing (restoration with God a return to the land).  James E. Smith, in his commentary on the book of Jeremiah, writes:

The glorious future which God promised to his people was wrapped up in the appearance of a scion from the house of David. God repeated the promise of 23:5 that he would “cause a righteous branch of David to spring up.” The term “righteous” points to the character of the coming Ruler; the term “branch” (lit., sprout) to his humble origins. This one would “execute justice and righteousness on the earth,” i.e., he would be the ideal Ruler. He would be a savior to his people. The city, saved by his power and grace, would wear a name which would bear testimony to her trust in God: “Yahweh is Our Righteousness.” That which would make possible the salvation and protection of the people was not their own righteousness but that of God himself (33:15f.).

Advent is a time to remember that God’s is eager to address our deepest fears and hopes head-on.  He has a track-record of bringing salvation and shalom to those who turn to Him.  And the good news is that God’s salvation, peace, and protection is not offered to us because of how moral or religious we are, because because of His love and goodness.

“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

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First Week of Advent: Thursday, December 5th

“6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” John 1:6-9

In order to get people ready to embrace Jesus and his message, God sends a man named John the Baptist (Jesus’ cousin) to be Jesus’ forerunner.

John’s life and proclamation is so powerful, he has to continually deny being the Messiah himself.  His role, he says, is to point people towards the light.  John was:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” Isaiah 40:3

John prepared the way for the Lord by calling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:1).

“Completely change how you’re living, because the rule and reign of God is hear!”

Today it seems strange to us that a God of love would make any demands of us.  After all, doesn’t God love us unconditionally?  But that line of thinking misses the point of love.  Love wants the best for us.  And Love is more than willing to confront the attitudes, actions, and motivations that keep us from the taking hold of the incomparable life He offers us.  That’s because Love meets us where we are, but never keeps us as we are.  Genuine love, and certain the great Lover Himself, loves us into a new identity and a new way of being.

In preparing ourselves to encounter Jesus in new ways this Advent season, in what areas of your life is God calling you to prepare the way through repentance, so that the kingdom of heaven can draw near?

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First Week of Advent: Wednesday, December 4th

“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” John 1:1-5

Yesterday I read an article detailing how the Pope Francis regularly sneaks out of the Vatican in order to visit with homeless men and women.

I was simultaneously shocked and inspired to read that someone so important and powerful would condescend from his place of privilege and security, and put himself at great risk for the sake of the poor and powerless.

I remember my first thought after finishing the article: “What if he gets himself killed?!?  He’s too important to take those kinds of risks!”

Today’s Advent Scripture tells us about an even greater example of love-inspired condescension.  It tells us that someone infinitely more important and infinitely more powerful than the Pope left the ultimate place of privilege and security.  It tells us about someone who put himself at tremendous risk–even entrusting himself to be parented by two poor teenagers!–that we may see his glory, know the heart of God, and discover that the darkness cannot overcome his light.

If the example of Pope Francis bucking common sense and ignoring what’s reasonable to expect from someone of his position ignites our hearts, what should it do to know Jesus did even more?

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First Week of Advent: Tuesday, December 3rd

33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” Mark 13:33-37

Advent is a season where I’m invited to “wake up” to what is real and what matters.  While Christmas seems like it should be an easy time for me to focus on God and the gift of Jesus, my experience has often been that the weeks leading up to Christmas have been some of the most spiritually numb times of the year.  There’s so much noise that invades my life at this time of year–to-buy lists, to-do lists, family get-togethers, etc.–that while Christ-mas cues are all around me, nothing seems to stick.

It’s like the experience of being a sailor at sea: Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

That’s why Advent is so important.  It’s a small, simple, seemingly inconsequential season that can help me break out of the sleepwalking mode it’s easy to fall into this time of year.

I’ve even found taking a few minutes each day to read/pray over an Advent Scripture can be enough to jolt me awake keep my mind and heart focused on Christ and his Kingdom.  This process of contemplation, writes Richard Rohr, is critical to “staying awake” to God’s heart.

Jesus will often call prayer “vigilance,” “seeing,” or “being awake.” When you are aware and awakened, you will know for yourself all that you need to know. In fact, “stay awake” is the last thing Jesus says to the apostles—three or perhaps four times—before he is taken away to be killed (Matthew 26:38-45).

What is one thing you can do today to “stay awake” to Jesus’ call?

 

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First Week of Advent: Monday, December 2nd

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

The irony is not lost on me that as I enter a season marked by consumption and greed, the Scripture confronts me with the bold claim that I have been “enriched in every way,” and that I “do not lack any spiritual gift.”

Do I believe that?  It’s a daring thing to believe that God has given me everything I need to live a life that glorifies Him and expands His Kingdom–today.  If it’s true, what excuses do I have?  What do I lack that God needs to provide before I will actually do what He calls me to here and now?

While I look forward to new gifts I presume will enrich my life come Dec. 25th, it might be wise of me to reflect on the fact that there is no “missing piece” that I require in order to live fully into God’s Kingdom priorities today.  God has gifted me with everything I need to glorify and serve Him here and now.

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Advent Reflections: Sunday November 30th

“1 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Romans 13:11-14

When I was at boarding school, I often used to wake up early on summer mornings as the daylight came streaming in from four or five o’clock onwards. I often used to think how silly it was not to get up then. Frequently the day would be bright and sunny until about the middle of the morning, when clouds would roll in and spoil it. Often it would rain later on, despite the bright early sunshine. As a keen sportsman, I used to get cross at having games spoiled by rain when I knew that, if we’d been out playing before breakfast, we might have had several hours in the sunshine. We could always have done our school work once the rain set in. Why wouldn’t my friends wake up so that we could go out and start the match?

This sense, that it’s important to be waking up and getting ahead of the day, is what Paul is picking up in this passage, rather as he does in 1 Thessalonians 5. He is expanding what he said quite densely in 12:1–2. The old world, the ‘present age’, is rumbling on. Most people are ordering their lives in accordance with its style and habits. But the new world has already broken in. God’s new age has begun, and will shortly come to fulfilment. Those who follow Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection inaugurated that new age, are commanded to live already according to the rules of the new world. The day has begun, even though most people are still asleep.

Paul’s instructions for what this daytime behaviour will mean are quite specific and very bracing. Night-time is when people get drunk, go to wild parties and do all kinds of things they would be ashamed of in broad daylight. Very well; that kind of behaviour must go, however fashionable it may be. Night-time is when people feel free to indulge in shameless sexual immorality. That must be ruled out as well.

By this point in verse 13 Paul is heading for a list of types of bad behaviour rather than a list of nocturnal activities. He contents himself with one more double prohibition which has nothing to do with the ordinary contrast of night and day: bad temper and jealousy, alas, can be just as common during the day as the night, perhaps more so. The analogy, but not the point, has broken down. For the Christian, anger and bitterness are just as much forbidden as drunkenness and off-limits sexual activity, though you wouldn’t think so from many churches.

But he doesn’t just tell people what to avoid. He shows them how to avoid it. ‘Put on the Lord Jesus, the Messiah’, he says. What does that mean? How can we do it?

‘Putting on’ comes from the night/day contrast once more. Here we are, getting up while the rest of the world still thinks it’s night-time; we must put our clothes on. The Christian’s ‘clothing’—which two verses earlier he has referred to as ‘armour’, the ‘armour of light’, the clothing we need when the light has begun to shine—consists of Jesus himself, Jesus the Lord, Jesus the king. I know some Christians who in their private devotions each day make a conscious effort in prayer to ‘clothe themselves’ with the very character of Jesus. Some people do this by reading, slowly, a story from the gospels, and praying that the character of the Jesus they meet there will surround them, protect them, and be the thing that other people see when they meet them. For other people it’s a regular discipline of remembering their baptism, the time when they were plunged into the water as a sign of dying with the Messiah, and brought up out of it as a sign of rising again with him, so that (as in Romans 6) they are no longer living in the old world, but in the new. This, indeed, is the heart of what is sometimes called Paul’s ‘ethic’: the new world is here, those who belong to Jesus belong to it, therefore they must live by its standards rather than by the present ones of society.

Excerpt from Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 2: Chapters 9-16 (pp. 88–91).

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Take Up Your Cross: Jesus Through The Looking Glass

This past Sunday Matt and I shared some thoughts on Jesus’ insistence that all who would follow him, “must deny themselves and take up their cross” (Matthew 16:24).

In researching the passage, I came across a very helpful reflection by N.T. Wright that I wasn’t able to get to as part of the message.  I wanted to share it here because it’s fantastic:

When Lewis Carroll had become famous through his story Alice in Wonderland, he decided to follow it up with a second book in which both he and his readers would need to learn how to think inside out. In Alice through the Looking Glass he created a mirror-image world. In order to get somewhere in that world, you discover it’s no good trying to walk towards it; you’ll look up presently and find you’re further away than ever. In order to get there, you must set off in what seems the opposite direction. It takes a sustained mental effort to imagine all the ordinary activities of life working as in a mirror. If you’ve ever tried to cut your own hair, or trim your own beard, while looking in a mirror, you will know how difficult it is.

What Jesus is now asking of his disciples is that they learn to think in a similar inside-out way. To begin with, they find it completely impossible. Peter, speaking for them all, has just told Jesus that as far as they’re concerned he is not just a prophet, he’s God’s anointed king, the Messiah. Their natural next move would be to sit down and plan their strategy: if he’s the king, and if his people are going to be like the house built on the rock, then they must figure out how to get rid of the present kings and priests who are ruling Israel (or, more accurately, misruling it).

The obvious solution would be this: march on Jerusalem, pick up supporters on the way, choose your moment, say your prayers, fight a surprise battle, take over the Temple, and install Jesus as king. That’s how God’s kingdom will come! That’s how ‘the son of man’ will be exalted in his kingdom! That, we may be sure, was something like what they had in mind.

Jesus’ proposal is a through-the-looking-glass version of this. Yes, we’ll be going to Jerusalem. Yes, the kingdom of God is coming, coming soon now. Yes, the son of man will be exalted as king, dispensing justice to the world. But the way to this kingdom is by the exact opposite road to the one the disciples—and especially Peter—have in mind. It will involve suffering and death. Jesus will indeed confront the rulers and authorities, the chief priests and legal experts, in Jerusalem; but they, not he, will appear to win the battle. He will then be raised from the dead, so Jesus says; but neither Peter nor the others can figure out for the moment what he might mean by this.

All they know is that he is talking nonsense, dangerous nonsense. Not for the last time in the story (see 26:69–75) Peter blunders in with both feet. The ‘rock’ on whom Jesus said he would build his church turns out, for the moment, to be shifting sand. We can feel the house tottering, ready to fall, before it’s even been built. Jesus uses for Peter words he’s used before for the arch-enemy, the satan itself (4:10). The passage contains a dire warning for all those called to any office or vocation in God’s church: the one to whom some of the greatest promises and commissions were made is the one who earned the sharpest rebuke.

Like Paul in his letters, Jesus insists that God thinks differently from how we mortals think. God sees everything inside out; or, perhaps we should say, God sees everything the right way round, whereas we see everything inside out. Paul again: we see at the moment in a puzzling mirror, but eventually we shall see the way God sees (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Wright, T. (2004). Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (9–11). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

I’ve found that much of what Jesus invites me into initially strikes me as “dangerous nonsense.”  His up seems down; his forward seems backward.  Denying myself and taking up my cross is the way into life?  It doesn’t, at first, seem to make any sense.

And yet, as I’ve taken (blundering) steps of obedience, I’ve discovered that Jesus’ words are trustworthy and true.  To the degree I’ve fought to make “my” life work, anxiety, heartache, frustration, and a certain spiritual “smallness” has followed. To the degree I’ve adopted cruciform (i.e. cross-shaped) practices and sought to place Jesus’ kingdom agenda first (Matthew 6:33), peace, joy, and a kind of spiritual “spaciousness” has resulted. Furthermore, in denying myself, whatever I’ve given up for the sake of the gospel has been eclipsed by something unexpected and incredible.

Take up your cross, even if it feels like you’re moving in the wrong direction.  You’ll quickly find you’re walking into the beautiful and surprising future that God has prepared for you.

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