Ok – I’m taking a break from my first week of Advent Devotionals to speak to an issue many of us are discussing. Though Matt Lauer is the most recent, the discussion on Christian Radio caught my attention. The morning DJs (one male, one female) were sharing their thoughts on the recent news, and the male DJ talked about how Mr. Lauer had been reporting on others in recent weeks even though he too was guilty. The male DJ suggested that we all need to be cautious about judging. I was ok with his words assuming he was speaking to other men, for we as men need to do some serious soul searching in regard to our use of power and sexual violence. If he was talking about removing the plank from our (men) own eye, then YES! Let’s turn the judgment inward and ask the tough personal questions. The woman DJ followed with a similar sentiment, suggesting how we all have fallen short of the glory of God and should not judge others. In most situations, I would agree with her words, but in this case, women need to “judge” or name or call out or speak up. My concern is the church’s historic silence in regard to such behavior has often left women feeling as if they are committing a sin if they speak the truth. I don’t wish to judge the DJ, but she talked about how she needed to look in the mirror and recognize her own sinfulness. In our culture, victims are expected to make excuses or take some of the blame for those who have caused the victimization. Let us never use the excuse of humanity’s frailties and sinful nature as reason why others should not be called to accountability for their inappropriate actions. As a man, I have to recognize where I have ignored or downplayed sexual misconduct or even predatory behavior because we Christians forgive, we believe a person can change, etc. I do believe in forgiveness and the power of transformation, but rarely does transformation occur without some sort of confession and repentance. We are at a turning point in our culture, and though painful for so many, it is a moment where the death of old unhealthy systems could lead to a birth of new healthier systems… and when I speak of systems, I am referring mostly to the structures that men have built (including myself)…men who need to step back and listen to the painful stories of those who have been mistreated, manipulated, violated and exploited. Our culture has some serious problems around power, sex and love. They are thoroughly mixed up, and on a personal note, I must continue to look deep within myself to see how I have been influenced and shaped by a misguided understanding of love that is overly sexualized and ignores the personhood of others. We are watching a dramatic cultural shift, but will the church remain ambivalent and be seen as more and more irrelevant to more and more people? I hope not…
Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-4
Comfort, comfort my people! says your God. Speak compassionately to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended, that her penalty has been paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins! A voice is crying out: “Clear the LORD’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God! Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain.
Thought for the Day: This and other similar passages are often described as prophecies or descriptions of the coming of Jesus. Before we leap to that place, it is always important to understand the original context of the words. The Prophet Isaiah wrote during a very turbulent time that would eventually find a people in what would be known as the Babylonian Exile. These words of hope are written to a people who feel as if their life in community has come to an end. No longer are they able to go to Jerusalem and participate in the life-giving rituals of faith. Yet amidst their painful longing, the prophet speaks of one who cries in the wilderness, and declares God’s coming. The impossible trek is not impossible, for every known obstacle will be removed.
Instead of simply assuming that Isaiah was referencing Jesus, it is powerful to hear about a God who has done similar work on more than one occasion. God found a way when there did not appear to be a possible way at so many points in history, and for that reason, we can feel comfortable in the belief that God will make a level highway in the wilderness of our own exile experiences.
Prayer: As you made a path centuries ago to a people yearning for redemption, O Lord, we pray for you to hear us and once again create a level road that brings you to us and the difficulties we face. Amen.
Scripture: Luke 1:5-7
During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old.
Thought for the Day: Yesterday, we heard Luke’s explanation for writing the Gospel, but now the story begins with an immediate problem. Bible stories rarely have a long introduction, and the story of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, is no different. Now the problem is put on Elizabeth as she is “unable to become pregnant…” Of course, medical science today would point to two potential concerns – the mother AND the father. Maybe Zechariah simply needed to move to boxers. Whatever the case, the stories of God’s redemption never have a simple plot. There is always conflict and concern, problems and potential roadblocks. Elizabeth is a relative of Mary, the one who will soon learn of her role in the divine drama that would play out on the stage of what could only be called a Way Off Broadway Production. Not only does the story appear to be ending before it really gets started, the characters are not the glamours high paid actors that paparazzis follow. It’s a story far from the headlines, yet again, it is where God does some of the best redemptive work. Might I suggest taking a few days off from watching and reading the news (or whatever its called these days), and search with your own senses that quiet backroom productions of a God whose love continues to find an audience with a ragtag cast of characters. Maybe you’ll have a role, or at least a backstage task.
Prayer: I hope to see what it is that you are doing this day, O Lord. If only I am awake to what is happening around me, maybe you’ll invite me onto your stage where redemption is being told. I offer this prayerful request in the name of the gift that would soon be born to Elizabeth’s relative. Amen.
Scripture: Luke 1:3
Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus.
Thought for the Day: Luke (or whoever authored the Gospel that we have assigned to Luke) seeks to set forth what encouraged him to write the Gospel and to whom he is writing. The name is Theophilus which might have been a real person, but the name simply means Lover of God. Luke seeks to set forth the redemptive story of Jesus Christ for those who love God, yet their love remains incomplete. The Jesus found in Luke’s Gospel will show how the one great commandment has two parts to it – a love of God and a love of neighbor. The question will be asked: Who’s my neighbor? And with a simple parable (the Parable of the Good Samaritan), Jesus will completely redefine what it means to be Theophilus – a Lover of God.
Prayer: Teach me, O Lord, how to love you as one who is called to follow in the ways of Jesus. Amen.
ADVENT BEGINS THIS SUNDAY
Scripture: John 14:2
My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?
Thought for the Day: Often shared in the context of a funeral, these words should be heard first from the perspective of those beginning to know real persecution for their faith. John’s Gospel was probably written around 88-93AD. Domitian was the Roman Emperor, and he demanded that people worshipped a statue of the Emperor. Followers of Jesus struggled with how best to respond. They knew he wasn’t a god, but to bend a knee before an image was idolatry. Of course, to not bow down could bring exclusion from the economic system of Rome, arrest or even the possibility of death. For Jesus followers, the words from John’s Gospel were more than hope in their old age. These words were a source of courage – providing them the Good News of a God who had already made a space for them in the household of God. Appreciation and true gratitude for God’s graciousness creates within us the ability to be courageous even in the face of great risk and danger. How has God’s promise to you inspired a willingness to stretch your faith beyond what was previously comfortable?
Prayer: Owner of the Eternal Household, I give you thanks for your generous welcome and your gracious hospitality that prepares a space for me. With that beautiful image in my mind, I look for opportunities to live my life beyond my definition of comfort. I ask for your encouragement in the name of Jesus, the one who risked everything while trusting in you. Amen.
Another Sunday of…
One Week From Advent
Scripture: 1st Corinthians 1:4-6
I thank my God always for you, because of God’s grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus. That is, you were made rich through him in everything: in all your communication and every kind of knowledge, in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed with you.
Thought for the Day: On Thanksgiving Day, I spent some time going through my prayer list and the church’s online directory, and I found myself echoing Paul’s words: “I thank my God always for you…” So often in ministry, like many other jobs, a person can get caught in the daily grind and unintentionally miss the grander picture. If there is any job where this should not happen, it would be ministry…especially when you serve with such amazing people. Sadly, it happens often, though I will add how it makes for moments when the words of gratitude are even more pronounced and enthusiastic. Though the leftovers are diminishing quickly from the refrigerator, it is as good a time as ever to say, “I thank my God always for you…”
Prayer: For all the amazing people you have put in my life, O Gracious God, my spirit takes this moment to appreciate and to say, “Thank You!” Amen.
CAN YOU HELP
This Morning At 8AM
Cleaning & Resetting
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 9:6-8
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
Thought for the Day: What is enough? That is one of the great questions that human beings have tried to answer ever since we started walking the face of the earth. As human beings gained more resources, the line between need and want became much more gray. We argued and fought over those things that we perceived as needs, but were nothing more than selfish wants. The old adage remains true, ‘We should live simply so others may simply live.’ During this time of Thanksgiving, let us be mindful of how reducing our wants will give rise to others having what they need.
Prayer: Continue to work on my spirit of generosity, O God, so I might sow bountifully. Amen.
Another Sunday of…
Scripture: 1st Chronicles 29:12-13
Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.
Thought for the Day: The author, Henry Van Dyke, wrote: “Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” For all we have received, let us make sure we follow the path presented by Van Dyke and make Thanksgiving more than a holiday, but a responsive and tangible act.
Prayer: For all that I have received, O God, I am more than thankful. May I continue to allow this feeling to express itself in acts of thanksgiving. Amen.
In the Gratitude Series
Then Comes Advent
Scripture: 1st Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you…
Thought for the Day: That’s easy for you to say! Well actually, probably not. The Apostle Paul was on the road, facing constant persecution, being vilified by many, and all along, figuring that he would meet the same fate as Jesus. With Paul’s claim of giving ‘thanks in all circumstances,’ many people might wonder exactly how Paul could say such a thing. I think people get hung up in thinking that Paul is giving thanks to God for his difficulty. I could see how some might think that, but such thinking is far from Paul’s intention. We are to give thanks to our God who does not cause suffering or disease, but is the One who stands with us amidst such problems. God is not the source of hate or violence, brokenness or pain. Instead, God is the source of love and hope. When I think of it in those terms, it is much easier to allow words of gratitude to slip from my lips even when life is rough.
Prayer: I give you thanks, O Lord, for you are the One who is worthy of my gratitude. Amen.
For Sermon Series On Gratitude
AND THEN ADVENT
Scripture: Ephesians 2:20
As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
Thought for the Day: I’m sticking with this verse of scripture for another day as there is another perspective. Paul speaks about the household of God being built upon the apostles, prophets and Christ Jesus himself, and to claim such a foundation is to suggest a life built upon their principles and values. At the same time, it is essential that we understand Paul’s foundational concept of grace that stands as the cornerstone. Paul continued to hold the tension between the nonnegotiable of grace and the transformed life touched by this grace. We stand in the household of God as those who have been adopted through the gift of grace and not by our own doing. But once we understand the generosity of God, there is a responsibility as those who enjoy the benefits of grace to become a witness to that household. Our witness is never our doing, for it is entirely dependent upon the first actor who is God. At the same time, we must know the apostles, prophets and Christ Jesus himself if our witness is going to resemble their values and priorities. Though some have tried to make it an either-or, it cannot be. I am saved by grace and grace alone, but I cannot sit quietly by and ignore the responsibility that such a gift invokes.
Prayer: Thank you, O Gift of Grace, for bringing me into your household. May my life be more than one who simply enjoys such a gift, but provides a witness to other human beings whose lives are searching for the gift of grace. Amen.