Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come

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Reflections on The Lord’s Prayer

I listened to a teaching by R.C. Sproul about the Lord’s Prayer.  He pointed out that the disciples could have asked Jesus to teach them anything. They could have said, “Teach us to turn water into wine” or “Teach us to feed 5,000 with one small lunch,” but they didn’t.  They went to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and his response, as many of us know, is what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”  There have been many times in my life when I didn’t know how to pray, when I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, with sadness and grief. At times like that I found myself turning to the Lord’s Prayer, confident that at least I know these are Jesus’ own words I’m saying.

There was a time when the Lord’s Prayer was included in Christian liturgies around the world.  Somehow in our desire to spread the gospel and expand the Kingdom, to be culturally relevant and make the good news more accessible, many of us set aside the most powerful way to pray for that Kingdom to come!

About four years ago I decided to buy myself a ukulele. Sitting at my dining room table I began picking out a few simple chords and the words to the Lord’s Prayer began to pour out of my heart in song.  I began to share it with a few small groups of trusted friends — after thanksgiving dinner, at a small group of young friends, at my church’s staff meeting — but it wasn’t until recently that I ventured out and shared it in worship with my church family here in Oregon.  And something incredible happened.  As we joined in singing the words that have been prayed and sung in worship gatherings for over two millennia there was a tangible sense of the Spirit’s presence in the service. The song came alive in a way I had not anticipated. We experienced what the creeds refer to as “the communion of saints,” both with one another and with all those brothers and sisters who have gone before us who had also prayed these words. I was deeply moved.

My desire is to share this simple “call and response” version of the Lord’s Prayer with the larger body of Christ.  Sometimes our songs of worship feel cluttered with too much instrumentation. I intentionally recorded it with just ukulele and voices to keep it simple and pure and to let the voices of God’s people rise up and shine!  My prayer is that this will bless those who begin to sing along and find themselves throughout the day worshiping Our Father, singing his very own words back to Him.  Please feel free to share this recording or your own version of it with your brothers and sisters in worship.

Soli Deo Gloria.

http://youtu.be/z8d0wCZQtc8&hd=1

Adoremus

It’s Christmas Day. . . “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift…” 2 Cor. 9:15

His life is matchless,
and His goodness is limitless.
His mercy is enough,
and His grace is sufficient.
His reign is righteous,
His yoke is easy,
and His burden is light.
He is indestructible.
He is indescribable.
He is incomprehensible.
He is inescapable.
He is invincible.
He is irresistible.
He is irrefutable.

He is your Lord, your Saviour, your Jesus!
O come, let us adore Him! Venite adoremus!

Merry Christmas, my friends!
Thank you for joining me on this Advent journey.
-mary

The One

Ahhhhhh. Take a deep breath. It is the eve of Christmas. We often don’t take time to read poetry. I love knowing that we are called God’s poema (Eph. 2:10 – translated as handiwork, workmanship, masterpiece). . . that we are like a poem crafted by the supreme everlasting almighty loving and holy Poet. Take some time to read this beautiful poem several times. Read it aloud. Be blessed, my friends!

ONE by Luci Shaw

Winter, and very cold,
and the night at
its deepest. The politicians,
as usual, double-tongued.
The town chaotic, teeming
with strangers.
And tonight, as often
in winter, in Bethlehem,
snow is falling.

I always love
how each flake,
torn from the sky,
arrives separately
without sound, almost
unnoticed in
a flurry of others. How
each one (on a clear
night) lies there glittering
on the swelling breast
of snow, crisp
and intact, as wholly itself
as every radiant star
in a sky sparkling
with galaxies

How many new
babies tonight
in Judea, coming
like snowflakes?
But plucked,
dazzling, from the
eternal heavens
into time,
tonight is born
The One.

All Things New

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer….
“It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent — that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: “On earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”  Learn to wait, because he has promised to come.”

Reflection:
There are times in life when it becomes difficult to remember Jesus’ promise to come back and “make all things new”.  We all go through times of loss, hurt, disappointment, failure, struggles.  We find ourselves overwhelmed by what is going on in our lives today and we are often unable to stay grounded in that profound promise. I know this firsthand. This past year of my life has been one of unprecedented sadness and darkness, grieving the losses that come with major life changes. Somehow, through all the tears and numbness, in my heart of hearts I still believed that “there will be a brighter day” when that final Advent arrives. No matter what we are feeling in the middle of our “today”, the truth remains the same.  Ask Him to teach you how to endure patiently, how to wait with anticipation for the day when “the sun has been replaced by the light of Jesus’ face” and He makes all things new again.

You Make All Things New Again” on iTunes

Courage

From Phillip Yancey….
“It took courage, I believe, for God to lay aside power and glory and take a place among human beings who would greet him with….a mixture of haughtiness and skepticism…..
It to courage to risk descent to a planet known for its clumsy violence, among a race known for rejecting its prophets. What more foolhardy thing could God have done? The first night in Bethlehem required courage as well. How did God the Father feel that night, helpless as any human father, watching his Son emerge smeared with blood to face a harsh, cold world? Lines from two different Christmas carols play in my mind.  One, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes,” seems to be a sanitized version of what took place in Bethlehem.  I imagine Jesus cried like any other baby the night he entered the world, a world that would give him much reason to cry as an adult.  The second, a line from “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” seems as profoundly true today as it did two thousand years ago: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Reflection:
Of all the things I think about during this season, courage is not usually one of them.  G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtue of the Creator.” When Jesus came into this dark world he willingly and courageously took on the hopes and fears of all the world and yet we are still surrounded by hopelessness and fear, some of which live in our own hearts.  What do you think of when you see the word “courage”?  Perhaps it’s someone running into battle, or rushing into a burning building to rescue a child.  Or maybe it’s the face of someone going through yet another chemo treatment, or living each day in chronic pain. It takes a lot of courage to live in this broken world.  It’s takes a lot of courage to truly follow Jesus, to walk through this world the way he did.  To put away your sword, to forgive your enemies, to love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t think of these things as courageous acts, but they are.  Take some time today to meditate on the courage of Jesus.  Ask the Spirit to show you how you could bring hope to the hopeless, peace to the fearful, grace and mercy and comfort to the brokenhearted people you encounter during these last few days before Christmas.

Help

John Piper’s third and final gift…
“Finally, the third implication of the double truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins, is this: Christ will really help us in our fight. He really will help you. He is on your side. He didn’t come to destroy sin because sin is fun. He came to destroy sin because it is fatal. It is a deceptive work of the devil and will destroy us if we don’t fight it. He came to help us, not hurt us.
So here’s your third Christmas gift: Christ will help overcome sin in you. 1 John 4:4 says, ‘He who is in you is greater than he that is in the world.’ Jesus is alive, Jesus is almighty, Jesus lives in us by faith. And Jesus is for us, not against us. He will help you. Trust him.”

Reflection:
It’s amazing to me how we keep coming back to the simple truth that God is for us. In a few days we will celebrate the birth of Jesus — the proof that He was truly alive and walked the earth in order to “dwell among us” and bring us into a reconciled relationship with the Father. But the greater truth (if that is even possible to have a greater truth!) is that He is alive right now, seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for you and for me. He is truly with us in the middle of the disappointments and pleasures, failures and successes, losses and gains; right in the middle of our sin.   The Light of the World came to be with us right in the middle of our days and our nights, no matter how bright or dark they may be. He is no longer in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. He is in all his majesty, wrapped in glory! Get ready to celebrate His birth in you, giving you a purpose for living, grace to be forgiven, and all the help you need to overcome sin. Take some time to meditate on the present reality that Jesus is the King of Kings, seated at the right hand of the Father, with us by His Spirit, preparing a place for us where God will once again physically dwell among us (Revelation 21:1-4).  This is who we worship in all His glory!

Fail

Fail

John Piper’s second Christmas present…
“Now consider the second implication of the twofold truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins. It’s this: We make progress in overcoming our sin when we have hope that our failures will be forgiven. If you don’t have hope that God will forgive your failures, when you start fighting sin, you give up.
Many of you are pondering some changes in the new year, because you have fallen into sinful patterns and want out. You want some new patterns of eating. New patterns for entertainment. New patterns of giving. New patterns of relating to your spouse. New patterns of family devotions. New patterns of sleep and exercise. New patterns of courage in witness. But you are struggling, wondering whether it’s any use. Well here’s your second Christmas present: Christ not only came to destroy the works of the devil—our sinning— he also came to be an advocate for us when we fail in our fight.
So I plead with you, let the freedom to fail give you the hope to fight. But beware! If you turn the grace of God into license, and say, “Well, if I can fail, and it doesn’t matter, then why bother fighting?” — if you say that, and mean it, and go on acting on it, you are probably not born again and should tremble. But that is not where most of you are. Most of you want to fight sinful patterns in your life. And what God is saying to you is this: Let the freedom to fail give you hope to fight. I write this to you that you might not sin, but if you sin you have an advocate, Jesus Christ.”

Reflection:
“Let the freedom to fail give you the hope to fight” — what a thought. Back in the day when I was a skier I would do anything I could do to keep from falling. As a result, I don’t think I took the risks I maybe could have, and I definitely didn’t experience the ultimate thrills that so many of my friends did on the slopes (then again, I never smacked into any trees or broke any bones!). I didn’t give myself the freedom to fall or fail in that arena and as a result I maintained a pretty intermediate status as a skier. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be an intermediate in my walk with Jesus. Not that we have a score card or a report card to worry about, but I just want to know that I’m truly surrendering all to Him, doing everything in life as if I’m doing it for Him, taking the risks He calls me to take, trusting that He’ll be with me in the “fight” — so that at the end of it all I could honestly say “I have run the race; I have fought the good fight.” How about you?

Trust Jesus

Trust Jesus

John Piper again…
“Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” — 1 John 3:7–8

“Ponder this remarkable situation with me. If the Son of God came to help you stop sinning—to destroy the works of the devil—and if he also came to die so that, when you do sin, there is a propitiation, a removal of God’s wrath, then what does this imply for living your life?
Three things. And they are wonderful to have. I give them to you briefly as Christmas presents.
First: A Clear Purpose for Living
It implies that you have a clear purpose for living. Negatively, it is simply this: don’t sin. “I write these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). “The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
If you ask, “Can you give us that positively, instead of negatively?” the answer is: Yes, it’s all summed up in 1 John 3:23. It’s a great summary of what John’s whole letter requires. Notice the singular “commandment”—“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” These two things are so closely connected for John he calls them one commandment: believe Jesus and love others. That is your purpose. That is the sum of the Christian life. Trusting Jesus, loving people. Trust Jesus, love people. There’s the first gift: a purpose to live.

Reflection:
What else can I say than to reiterate what Piper has said: Trust Jesus…love people. What a fabulous purpose, a humbling purpose, a holy purpose. Take some time today to thank God that, in a world where so many people feel like their lives are meaningless, you have a purpose! Then, live it out today in all that you do, wherever you go, whoever you are with — trust Jesus, love people! Remember: you cannot do this in your own power.  Ask God to give you the grace you need to both trust Jesus and love people.

Bethlehem

Bethlehem

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”  — Luke 2:1–5

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From John Piper…
“Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?
Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of seven billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige? If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s little people—the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless his children.
Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”
He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Reflection:
Powerful words: “It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart.” I love knowing that He truly is a big God for little people but sometimes I forget that He is truly “for” me. Or maybe it’s just that I forget that what He is really “for” is my transformation, my being “conformed into the image of His son, Jesus Christ” and that usually doesn’t come about as a result of prosperity….more than likely it comes about as a result of adversity. As you reflect on the past year, thank Him for those times of adversity which, whether you see it or not, He has used to shape you, to mold you, to change you. Remember: if our God is for us, then who could be against us! Thank Him that everything He does is for your good, and His glory!

Chains

Chains

From Johann Christoph Arnold…
“In Dickens’s Christmas Carol, the bitter old accountant Scrooge provides a memorable illustration. Tight-fisted and grasping, he goes through life dragging a chain that he himself has forged, link by link, with each miserly deed. Having closed himself to human kindness, he lives in a universe so calculating and cold that no one escapes his suspicion. Before long he begins to despise himself and look for a way out of his misery. But he cannot find one. He is trapped — trapped in the prison of self. Worse, he is haunted by dreams of death, and dreads its approach…then he changes. Loosened by those same dreams, the scales fall from his eyes, and he sees a way out: ‘The time before him was his own, to make amends in!’ No longer consumed with his own needs, he is free to love, and vows to dispel ‘the shadows of the things that would have been.’ And as he runs from one old acquaintance to the next, he rediscovers the world around him with the unselfconscious happiness of a child…Such happiness can be ours, too, if we live for love. By ‘love’ I am not speaking simply of the emotion, nor of some grand, abstract ideal, but of the life-changing power Jesus speaks of….Love is a tangible reality. Sometimes it is born of passion or devotion; sometimes it demands hard work and sacrifice. Its source is unimportant. But when we live for love, we will be able to meet any challenge that comes our way….”

Reflection:
As I read this excerpt I was struck by this line from Dickens’s Christmas Carol, “The time before him was his own, to make amends in!” Make amends — it’s not a phrase we often hear or use these days unless you’ve been in some sort of recovery program. But it is a principle for godly living to be willing to make amends with people and to make them whenever possible (“except when to do so would injure them or others” — from the 12 steps). I’ve been reflecting on a deeper level of making amends. It’s that place in our hearts where we still hang on to old offenses or old interactions with people whose names we may not even know — clerks in stores, tellers at the bank, people in traffic or on the phone, etc. It’s so easy for us to see people as obstacles in our way and not as opportunities for us to love. The good news is, we all do it — it’s human nature. The bad news is, it’s not OK and whether we know it or not, we end up dragging chains around just like Scrooge, and we are trapped in “the prison of self.” Jesus came in part to “set the captives free” — free to love without fear. Let’s be people who walk in the freedom to love; let’s say together “The time before us is our own, to make amends in!”; let us be willing to make amends whenever possible and when not, let us ask God to help us see others as He sees them — as opportunities to love!  Take a few moments and ask God to reveal to you if there is someone with whom you need to make amends. Begin with the people that you have sinned against.  It is possible that coming face to face with our own sins against others and receiving God’s forgiveness and grace will set us free from the offenses we’ve experienced from others.  After you have worked through your own sins against others, ask Him to reveal any offenses from others that you are hanging on to.  Surrender those to him, one at a time, specifically describing each one to Him.  Ask Him for the grace to forgive and the willingness to let go of the offense, all the while being mindful of His grace towards you for your sinfulness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Ephesians 4:32

p.s. If you discover that this stirs up old hurts and you just can’t forgive — if you find that your own past sins against someone else are overwhelming and you feel condemned — I encourage you to explore the possibility of doing this with another trusted person.  There is no shame in going through this process with a brother or sister in Christ.  I especially recommend finding a Celebrate Recovery ministry wherever you live to see if that Christ-centered program would be a good fit for you (www.celebraterecovery.com).

For Love

For Love

Final thoughts from Brennan Manning….
“In 1980, the day before Christmas, Richard Ballenger’s mother in Anderson, South Carolina, was busy wrapping packages and asked her young son to shine her shoes. Soon, with the proud smile that only a seven-year-old can muster, he presented the shoes for inspection. His mother was so pleased, she gave him a quarter.
On Christmas morning as she put on the shoes to go to church, she noticed a lump in one shoe. She took it off and found a quarter wrapped in paper. Written on the paper in a child’s scrawl were the words, ‘I done it for love.’
When the curtain falls, each of us will be the sum of our choices throughout life, the sum of the appointments we kept and the appointments we didn’t keep. The glory of the “shipwrecked” will be that they habitually failed to turn up for duty. In their defense they claim that they were detained by a baby in swaddling clothes. When interrogated as to why they hung out at a stable, they answer, ‘We did it for love.’”

Reflection:
I began wondering what people would do for love so I got on line and “googled” the question. Interestingly, I came across a post where someone asked the question and then rated the answers people gave. The questioner’s favorite answer was a total surprise to me. Someone’s response to the question “what would you do for love?” was “Die”. And this was the questioner’s favorite answer.

My mind immediately went to Jesus and these words from Paul in Romans 5:6-8:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
What would Jesus do for love? Die for us! It’s a sobering thought when you realize that the reason this little baby was brought into the world some 2,000+ years ago was to die for you and me. And he did it while “we were still sinners.” When is the last time you demonstrated your love to someone who was still sinning against you? That’s not my usual response when I’ve been sinned against. There’s no way I can love like that in my own power. It is only Jesus in me by the power of the Holy Spirit that can demonstrate love in such an amazing way. Ask Jesus to help you surrender to his Holy Spirit today so that you can experience the sacrificial love of God in a more personal way — by dying, by laying down your life and your own interests, for someone who has sinned against you.

Anchored

Anchored

From Brennan Manning….
“Circumstances can play havoc with our emotions, the day can be stormy or fair and our feelings will fluctuate accordingly; but if we are in Christ Jesus, we are in peace and there unflustered even when we feel no peace. Meister Eckhart’s equation, ‘In Christ equals peace,’ is always valid. When we accept the truth of ourselves — shipwrecked and saved — our lives are henceforth anchored in the Rock who is Christ, not in the shifting sand of our fickle feelings. . . When we are in right relationship with Jesus, we are in the peace of Christ. Except for grave, conscious, deliberate infidelity, which must be recognized and repented of, the presence or absence of feelings of peace is the normal ebb and flow of the spiritual life. When things are plain and ordinary, when we live on the plateaus and in the valleys (which is where most of the Christian life takes place) and not on the mountaintops of peak religious experiences, this is no reason to blame ourselves, to think that our relationship with God is collapsing, or to echo Magdalene’s cry in the garden, ‘Where has my beloved gone?’ Frustration, irritation, fatigue and so forth may temporarily unsettle us, but they cannot rob us of living in the peace of Jesus Christ…The shipwrecked have stood at the still-point of a turning world and discovered that the human heart is made for Jesus Christ and cannot really be content with less. They cannot take seriously the demands that the world makes on them.”

Reflection:
This is often the season of “frustration, irritation, fatigue.” Take a moment to ask yourself “What is robbing me of living in the peace of Jesus right now?” Allow yourself a few moments to hear the answer. The rapid fire of thoughts that so often run through our heads prohibits us from hearing answers to questions such as these. You will really need to quiet yourself for a few moments to do this. In the quietness, meditate on the truth of Romans 8:38-39 from The Message translation: “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” These words are written by a man who was literally shipwrecked and adrift at sea three times! He was beaten, stoned, left for dead, imprisoned. Will your life be shipwrecked by circumstances out of your control? Absolutely. The question for today is this: will you be “anchored in the Rock who is Christ?”

Jesus is Better

From Brennan Manning… “I wonder if we were to stop people at random on the street on December 24 and ask them what they want most for Christmas, how many would say: ‘I want to see Jesus’?. . . I believe the single most important consideration during the sacred season of Advent is intensity of desire. Paraphrasing the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel, ‘Jesus Christ is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance.’ An intense inner desire is already the sign of His presence in our hearts. The rest is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Reflection: Take a few moments to reflect on these words: “Jesus Christ is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance.” Supreme importance. Better than anything you could ever desire, want or need. Sit quietly and ask God to reveal to you any desires you have that are greater than your desire for Him. Confess that and ask Him to increase your desire for Him. Ask Him to help you to truly believe that Jesus is better! May this be your prayer today.

L`Enchante

L`Enchante

From Brennan Manning…
“There is a beautiful story recounted every Christmas in the forests of Provence in southern France. It’s about the four shepherds who came to Bethlehem to see the child. One brought eggs, another bread and cheese, the third brought wine. And the fourth brought nothing at all. People called him L’Enchante. The first three shepherds chatted with Mary and Joseph, commenting on how well Mary looked, how cozy was the cave and how handsomely Joseph had appointed it, what a beautiful starlit night it was. They congratulated the proud parents, presented them with their gifts and assured them that if they needed anything else, they had only to ask. Finally someone asked, “Where is L’Enchante?” They searched high and low, up and down, inside and out. Finally, someone peeked through the blanket hung against the draft, into the creche. There, kneeling at the crib, was L’Enchante — the Enchanted One. Like a flag or a flame taking the direction of the wind, he had taken the direction of love. Throughout the entire night, he stayed in adoration, whispering, “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu — Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”….the Enchanted One is laid waste by pure passion…As Christmas approaches, an honest question is: Do I want to be or merely appear to be a Christian?”

Reflection:
We get so busy with the concerns of our daily life and especially at Christmas the busyness and concern seems to increase and can often choke out our passion for Jesus. Take a few moments to clear your mind of your “to do” lists, your calendar, your financial or health concerns, your future. And in those few moments surrender your heart and mind and be enchanted with the love of Jesus — with the unmatched passion he has for you, that he would rather die than live without you, that this is what he came for — you! Let yourself love him back with that kind of passion. Allow yourself to be moved to tears, or get up and dance for joy, or sit in awestruck silence. Ask God to show you how to be like L’Enchante – empty handed but completely enchanted with Jesus. Repeat over and over the name of the Lover of your soul – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Agape

Agape

From Phillip Britts
“…It was never Christ’s purpose to bring about self-improvement. He became poor not to offer us a moral toning up, however good this may be. The Word became flesh so that the same amazing life that broke into the world when Jesus Christ was born actually becomes realized in our own lives here and now.
The meaning of Advent and Christmas is thus the coming down of God’s love. This love alone revolutionizes our lives. Only God’s love, not the elevation of human souls, can effect a transformation of the world. . . Human love depends on human character and certain virtuous qualities. It propels some people to attain greater heights than others. A spiritual hierarchy is thus created in which each person climbs to a different height of godliness or saintliness according to his or her spiritual capacity. This is not the way of the manger. The love of God lays low all such hierarchy. Gifts, however spiritual, are not decisive. What is decisive is agape, the pure unconditional love of God.”

Reflection:
Agape….not a word we hear much these days. There are four types of love described in the Bible and four Greek words to describe them:
eros – physical, sensual love between a husband and wife
philia – close friendship or brotherly love
storge – family love, the bond among mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers
agape – selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible
As well-meaning and important as humanitarian efforts are, this agape type of love cannot be mustered up by the human heart. It’s just not possible for us to love the way Jesus loved — selflessly, sacrificially, unconditionally — apart from His Spirit being in us. Read Romans 5:5 and John 13:34. Meditate on the reality that God’s love is already in us through Jesus Christ. His love flows freely to others through us when we don’t let our self-centeredness get in the way. There is no need to pray “Lord, help me to love others more!” when the prayer we might need to pray is “Lord, help me to love myself less!” We are the only real obstacle to God’s love being expressed through us to others. In a world that says “you’re #1” God says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4) Confess any self-centeredness to God today. Receive His amazing grace and let it saturate those pockets of your heart that nobody else sees — except Him. Now, let His love, His agape love, flow freely to you and through you today!

Thirst

Thirst

More from Phillip Britts…
“Surrender does not mean the cessation of seeking, for we must always seek the will of God in every situation. We seek in order to obey. And in obeying the small thing that we see, the greater is revealed to us. True surrender never separates itself from carrying out God’s will.
This is why we do not come to know God by musing or by contemplating our highest ideals in splendid spiritual isolation, nor by disputing religious points and striving for a state of spiritual perfection. No, God comes to us when we offer a cup of water to the thirsty, whether it be plain water in an enamel cup or the water of life found in God’s Word.
Let us not be deceived by such humble gestures. Human love cannot redeem. If it could there would have been no need for God to be born as a human child on this earth. . .”

Reflection:
It can be a difficult balance to strike….this balance between a cup of physical water and the water of life found in God’s word. Think about which “cup” of water you are more prone to offer someone. Ask God to show you how to grow in the other area of “quenching the thirst” of the people around you. Look for opportunities to do so! If you are feeling balanced in this area (quenching both the physical and spiritual thirst of others), then praise God for his faithfulness to you! Thank Him that He is truly using you to bring both kinds of water into this thirsty world!

Yield

Yield

From “Yielding to God” by Phillip Britts
“Spiritual experience, if it is of God, will indeed lead to a life of activity. But the nature of the true activity is surrender and obedience. The most striking revelation of this is found in the conception and birth of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he told her, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you.” And she answered, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.”
It was in this submission, this surrender and obedience, that Christ was conceived. And it is the laying down of power that is revealed in his birth. Christ did not spring armed from the head of Zeus. He came as a child. He was not even born in the protection of a royal court, with soldiers to guard against intruders and physicians to guard against sickness. Rather, he was born in a stable, at the mercy of Herod and the stark elements of cold and dirt.”

Reflection:
“…The nature of the true activity is surrender and obedience”. . . “It was in this submission, this surrender and obedience, that Christ was conceived.” Powerful statements.
Mary’s surrender and obedience resulted in the Incarnation, God taking on flesh and dwelling with us. Meditate on this incredible miracle and think about this: As followers of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, we, in a sense, incarnate God in the world today. He calls us to dwell with others in His name. Ask Him to show you who He wants to dwell with today and how you can surrender to Him so that He can dwell with that person through you. It could be a spouse, a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend. He will tell you. You might be afraid. Surrender and obedience are frightening propositions. Quiet yourself so that you can hear His voice saying “Do not be afraid.” Thank Him that He has chosen you to incarnate Jesus today!

Believe

Believe

Phillip Britts (1917-1949) British poet and horticulturist…

“True expectancy, the waiting that is genuine and from the heart, is brought about by the coming of the Holy Spirit, by God coming to us, and not by our own devices. Spiritual depth, if it is true, is the working of God coming down and penetrating to the depths of our hearts, and not of our own soul’s climbing. No ladder of mysticism can ever meet or find or possess God. Faith is a power given to us. It is never simply our ability or strength of will to believe. The spiritual experience that is truly genuine is given to us by God in the coming of his Spirit, and only as we surrender our whole lives to an active expression of his will…To put it quite simply, spiritual experience, whether it be of faith, hope (or expectancy) or love, is something we cannot manufacture, but which we can only receive. If we direct our lives to seeking it, for ourselves we shall lose it, but if we lose our lives by living out the daily way of Christ we shall find it.”

Reflection:
Jesus is God’s gift of love to us. Faith is also God’s gift to us. (1 Cor. 12:8-9) The gift of faith is the ability to envision what needs to be done and to trust God to accomplish it even though it seems impossible to most people. People seem to have different measures of faith. There are those who believe the truth about the gospel and have declared their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, and have received his grace and forgiveness, and the assurance of a life forever with Him. On the other end of the spectrum there are those who view obstacles as opportunities for God to accomplish the impossible. They pray big prayers and dream big dreams; they are optimistic, persevering, “hopeless romantics in the Gospel,” convinced in the truth and power of God and his Word.

Take a few moments with God, humbly acknowledging that “apart from him you can do nothing” — even believe in Him! Thank Him for the measure of faith He has given you. If you are willing, pray this prayer: “Lord, increase my faith today. I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” (Warning: asking for such a thing may result in circumstances requiring you to have more faith!)

Gift

Gift

The Risk of Birth
This is no time for a child to be born.
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born.
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
-Madeleine L’Engle

Reflection:
2 Corinthians 9:15 says “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” As you read (and re-read) this short poem, reflect on what it costs you when you give someone your love. Is it your money, your time, your attention…..your affection? It often doesn’t involve a great risk. Take a moment to thank God for his indescribable gift to you; then ask Him to show you who He wants you to risk loving today with His love – His selfless and sacrificial love.

Let It Shine

More from Madeleine L’Engle …

“Power. Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing. Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough and it is time for birth.
Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years to show us what we ought to be and could be. Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine, to show us what it means to be made in God’s image…
Jesus, as Paul reminds us, was the firstborn of many brethren.”

Reflection:
How many times have you read or heard Philippians 2:5-11 and thought about all that Jesus left in order to come to us. Take a moment to read those passages now, slowly.

BUT we don’t continue on and read what comes next often due to the superficial breaks that have been placed in the scriptures by translators. Look at what verses 12-16 say:
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”
Just as the “star of Bethlehem” shone so brightly that it led people to where the infant Jesus could be found, reflect on how your life “shines like a star” to lead people one step closer to Jesus — not the infant (wordless) Jesus, but the risen, living, saving Word of God, made flesh, alive today in us by His Holy Spirit! Ask God to shine through you today to the people you encounter.

Joy

More from Madeleine L’Engle….
“Children of God, made in God’s image. How? Genesis gives no explanations, but we do know instinctively that it is not a physical image. God’s explanation is to send Jesus, the Incarnate One, God enfleshed. Don’t try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy. It is love, God’s limitless love enfleshing that love into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully divine.
Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?”

Reflection:
There is much to celebrate today! We are created in the image of God and so is every person you come in contact with today. Ask God to remind you of this truth as you go through your day. Ask Him to give you a heart of celebration, filled with joy today!  If “the angels clapped their hands for joy” at the moment Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb, we also know from God’s word that “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 10:15) Our God is a God of new life. Walk in this truth today: you are created in the image of God and you have new life in Him. His Spirit is in you. Go ahead and smile! As Brennan Manning used to say: “notify your face” of the truth in your heart that the God of the universe is very fond of you!

Child

Child

The next several days are readings from Madeleine L’Engle. A little bit about Madeleine would be helpful before you read. She was a poet and novelist who was most famous for young adult literature (A Wrinkle In Time being her most well known piece). She was an Episcopalian and considered herself a Christian universalist, which would set her apart from evangelical Christians. Nevertheless, she is a brilliant writer, who loved Jesus and was unafraid to wonder about the things of God. As you will see, she takes much poetic license with scripture but I think what she says stirs up deeper truth in all of us and is well worth reading….

“I look at the stars and wonder. How old is the universe? All kinds of estimates have been made and, as far as we can tell, not one is accurate. All we know is that once upon a time, or, rather, once before time, Christ called everything into being in a great breath of creativity — waters, land, green growing things, birds and beasts, and finally human creatures — the beginning, the genesis, not in ordinary Earth days; the Bible makes it quite clear that God’s timing is different from our time…In God’s good time came solar systems and planets and ultimately this planet on which I stand…as the Earth makes its graceful dance around the sun…part of the intricate pattern of the universe. And God called it good, very good! . . . Each galaxy, each star, each living creature, every particle and subatomic particle of creation, we are all children of the Maker. From subatomic particle with a life span of a few seconds, to a galaxy with a life span of billions of years, to us human creatures somewhere in the middle in size and age, we are made in God’s image, male and female, and we are, as Christ promised us, God’s children by adoption and grace.”

Reflection:
We human beings are the ones who are made in God’s image. We, of all of creation, are the ones He has made joint heirs with Jesus through adoption and grace. As Romans 8:14-16 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.”
Many years ago my brother and his wife adopted a baby boy and brought him into our family.  I remember a conversation I had with my brother while watching his son playing out on a field with a bunch of other kids.  He said to me: “You know the only difference between my son out there and all those other boys?”  I asked him “What?”  He replied, “I chose him.”  Such a simple yet life changing statement. It truly is an amazing kind of love that my brother has for his son. Be overwhelmed today by the reality that of all of God’s creation He has chosen you and adopted you as His child. As you talk with Him today, feel free to call Him Abba, Father, Daddy, Papa!

Mystery

Mystery

“The Annunciation” – (read Luke 1:26-38)
…from Kathleen Norris
“We all need to be told that God loves us, and the mystery of the Annunciation reveals an aspect of that love. But it also suggests that our response to that love is critical. A few verses before the angel appears to Mary in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, another annunciation occurs; an angel announces to an old man, Zechariah, that his equally aged wife is to bear a son who will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (John the Baptist)…Zechariah says to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so?’ which is a radically different response from the one Mary makes. She says ‘How can this be?’
…Mary’s ‘How can this be?’ is a simpler response than Zechariah’s, and also more profound. She does not lose her voice (as Zechariah did for nine months) but finds it. Like any of the prophets, she asserts herself before God saying, ‘Here am I.’ There is no arrogance, however, but only holy fear and wonder. Mary proceeds – as we must do in life – making her commitment without knowing much about what it will entail or where it will lead. I treasure the story because it forces me to ask:
When the mystery of God’s love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it?
Do I ask of it what it cannot answer?
Do I retreat into facile cliches, the popular but false wisdom of what ‘we all know?’
or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say something new, a ‘yes’ that will change me forever?”

Reflection:
Ask yourself these same questions and if possible, write out your answers. Take some time to meditate on the reality and the mystery of God’s amazing love for you — a love that has the power to change you every time you say “yes!”

Community

Community

Today is our last day with Henri Nouwen…
“How do we wait? One of the most beautiful passages of scripture is Luke 1:39-56, which suggests we wait together, as did Mary and Elizabeth. What happened when Mary received the words of the promise? She went to Elizabeth. Something was happening to Elizabeth as well as to Mary. But how could they live that out?

…Elizabeth and Mary came together and enabled each other to wait. Mary’s visit made Elizabeth aware of what she was waiting for. The child leapt for joy in her. Mary affirmed Elizabeth’s waiting. And then Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” And Mary…burst into joy herself. These two women created space for each other to wait. They affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for.

I think this is the model of the Christian community. It is a community of support, celebration, and affirmation in which we can lift up what has already begun in us. The visit of Elizabeth and Mary is one of the Bible’s most beautiful expressions of what it means to form community, to be together, gathered around a promise, affirming that something is really happening.”

Reflection:
Think for a moment about your community, your “household of faith.” How could you help to make it a community of support, celebration and affirmation? How could you lift up what has already begun in your life and the lives of those in your community? How can you do more to gather around a promise when you are together with your community, affirming that something is really happening? Pray and ask God to show you one person you could support today; one person with whom you could celebrate what God is doing; one person whose faith you could affirm. Then do it!

Open

Open

Henri Nouwen continues – “Waiting is very open-ended. Open-ended waiting is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete, for something that we wish to have. Much of our waiting is filled with wishes: ‘I wish that I would have a job. I wish that the weather would be better. I wish that the pain would go away.’ We are full of wishes, and our waiting easily gets entangled in those wishes. For this reason, a lot of waiting is not open-ended. Instead, our waiting is a way of controlling the future. We want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen we are disappointed and can even slip into despair…But Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were not filled with wishes. They were filled with hope. Hope is something very different. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended.

…Just imagine what Mary was actually saying in the words, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord….let what you have said be done to me’ (Luke 1:38). She was saying, ‘I don’t know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen.’ She trusted so deeply that her waiting was open to all possibilities. And she did not want to control them. She believed that when she listened carefully, she could trust what was going to happen.

To wait open-ended is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear…(this) is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.”

Reflection:
Sit quietly for a moment. Be honest with God…no one else is listening right now. What area of your life, what part of your future are you trying to control? Are you truly open to all the possibilities God has for you, or are you entangled with your own wishes. Share those wishes with Him — we all have them and He knows them already. Then, if you dare, pray as Mary did – “I am the servant of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word!” – and ask God to help you surrender any control you are trying to have over your future. Open your heart to His definition of your life, His desire to mold you according to His love.

Look at your feet

Look at your feet

Again, from Henri Nouwen – “…waiting is active. Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? You cannot do anything about it, so you have to sit there and just wait. It’s not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, ‘Just wait.’

But there is none of this passivity in scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. That’s the secret. The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment.”

Reflection:
I have a good friend who always reminds me to “look at your feet,” to just BE in the present, right where I am in that moment. Stop right now and look at your feet! Remember that God is with you and that the ground upon which you stand is “holy ground.” Allow yourself a moment of deep personal worship, acknowledging His presence with you and in you.

“This is holy ground.We’re standing on holy ground.
For the Lord is present and where He is, is holy.”

Promise

More from Henri Nouwen…“But what is the nature of waiting? What is the practice of waiting?…Waiting, as we see it in the people on the first pages of the Gospel, is waiting with a sense of promise. “Zechariah, your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son.” “Mary….Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son” (Luke 1:5-17, Luke 1:26-38). People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun in us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more. Zechariah, Mary, and Elizabeth were living with a promise that nurtured them, that fed them, and that made them able to stay where they were. And in this way, the promise itself could grow in them and for them.”

Reflection:
Read Philippians 1:6 and Psalm 27:13-14 aloud in any translation you prefer (or several translations) and spend some time meditating on the reality of those words in your own life, giving thanks to God for His promise that allows you to wait, and being confident in His faithfulness!

Waiting

Waiting

First Sunday of Advent….from Henri Nouwen
“Waiting is not a very popular attitude. Waiting is not something that people think about with great sympathy. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, ‘Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don’t just sit there and wait!’ For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. They want to get out of it by doing something.
In our particular historical situation, waiting is even more difficult because we are so fearful…People are afraid — afraid of inner feelings, afraid of other people, and also afraid of the future. Fearful people have a hard time waiting, because when we are afraid we want to get away from where we are…
…All the figures who appear in the first pages of Luke’s Gospel are waiting. Zechariah and Elizabeth are waiting. Mary is waiting. Simeon and Anna, who were there at the temple when Jesus was brought in, are waiting. The whole opening scene of the good news is filled with waiting people. And right at the beginning all those people in some way or another hear the words, ‘Do not be afraid. I have something good to say to you.’ These words set the tone and the context. Now Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna are waiting for something new and good to happen to them.”

Reflection:
“Fearful people have a hard time waiting, because when we are afraid we want to get away from where we are…” Take a moment to ask the LORD to show you any fears you may have. Wait quietly and if He reveals anything to you that resonates with you, “confess” that fear to him. Confession just means to agree with God. Acknowledge your fear and hear His words to you: “Do not be afraid.” Ask Him if He has anything else “good to say to you” today. Give Him some time to answer. Wait for Him to speak to you. It may be a thought you’ve never had before, or a scripture verse that suddenly comes to mind, or you may experience a deep peaceful silence. As you release your fear to Him, receive what He has for you today. Enjoy the waiting.

Advent

It’s that time of year again and I’d love to invite you to go on an Advent journey with me.  What is advent anyway?  Why do some Christians celebrate this season while others seem to gloss over it and head right to Christmas? The first question is much easier to answer than the second one, that’s for sure.

Advent is the four week period leading up to our celebration of Christ’s birth.  The word literally means “arrival” or “coming” and the season has been celebrated for centuries as a time to reflect on Christ’s birth and all that it means to us as individuals, and to the world!  It’s also a time to for us to consider the second Advent — the second coming — of God’s kingdom here on earth.   Some churches see Advent as an important part of the Christmas celebration.  Others, not so much.  Lighting a candle, reading a scripture passage, singing a special Advent “hymn” and  meditating on things like hope, joy, love and peace — there is a beauty in the simple observance of Advent that is much needed these days.   Which is exactly why I love this season and celebrate it at home as well!  I love pushing against the pace and stress of the Christmas season and anchoring myself in the quieter truths of Christmas.  Advent encourages me to do just that and I would love to share in this season with you.  Your church tradition may or may not actually celebrate the season of Advent.  Either way, I hope this will be a blessing to you.

Beginning Sunday, November 29th (the first Sunday of Advent) I will post on this blog, sharing with you a short reading to reflect on each day.  The majority of these readings are excerpts taken from an Advent devotional entitled Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.  A few of them are excerpts from other favorite authors of mine. They are a variety of writers from different Christian traditions.  Following each reading will be a personal comment or question for you to reflect on if you so desire.

My prayer is that this devotional journey will encourage you as you prepare your heart for the celebration of His first coming, that monumental moment in history when the indescribable God of the universe became man and “moved into the neighborhood.”

Grief

Holy Saturday

Not much is written about the days immediately following Jesus’ death and before his resurrection. In shock, frightened, perhaps doubting, Jesus’ followers were probably gathered together “sitting shiva” in the Jewish tradition, no bathing, no shaving, reflecting only on the Torah or books like Job, Lamentations, Jeremiah to assist them in their journey of being “brought low” by the grief. They did not know what we now know — that Jesus would soon be raised from the dead and alive among them once again. So they grieved deeply without hope.

Today, enter into their story, meditate on their reality — the emptiness, the loneliness, the confusion, the fear, the hopelessness — and truly give thanks to our Lord and God that none of this is your reality. Then take some time to pray for those people in your life who do not “know what we now know.”

How He Loves

Watchman Nee, 20th century convert and leader of the persecuted church in China:

When the Lord Jesus died on the cross he not only bore your sins away but he bore you away too. When he was crucified, your old man was crucified in him, so that the unforgiving ‘you’, who simply cannot love those who have wronged you, has been taken right out of the way in his death. God has dealt with the whole situation in the Cross. Just say to him, ‘Lord, I cannot love and I give up trying, but I count on Thy perfect love. I cannot forgive, but I trust Thee to forgive instead of me, and to do so henceforth in me.’ . . . (you say) ‘I feel I must DO something about it . . . What can I do?’ The answer: God is waiting till you cease to do. When you cease doing, then God will begin. Have you ever tried to save a drowning man? The trouble is that his fear prevents him from entrusting himself to you. When that is so, there are just two ways of going about it. Either you must knock him unconscious and then drag him to shore, or else you must leave him to struggle and shout until his strength gives way before you go to his rescue. If you try to save him while he has any strength left, he will clutch at you in his terror and drag you under, and both he and you will be lost. God is waiting for your store of strength to be utterly exhausted before he can deliver you. Once you have ceased to struggle so hard, he will do everything. God is waiting for you to despair. He has done it all.

It is Friday. It is done. It is finished. See Jesus, your Lord, on the cross with arms outstretched across the brutal beam of death. Hear him say to you, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Perhaps we all need to cease struggling to “do” and get close to drowning today — “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking . . . Oh, how He loves us . . .” Immerse yourself in His grace today. His grace given freely to you but oh so costly to Him. Ask God to never let you forget what it cost Jesus to set you free from your striving, your struggling, your “doing”. Rest in His work accomplished for you, and in you. Yes, it is Friday. But Sunday’s coming!! Alleluia!!

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

Maundy (Holy) Thursday:

Traditionally this is the day we commemorate the Last Supper. Interestingly, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) describe this event but it is noticeably absent from John’s account of Jesus’ last evening with his 12 disciples. John tells us of Jesus washing the feet of of his disciples and giving them a new command — to “love one another as I have loved you.” Derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “commandment,” maundy refers to the commands Jesus gave his disciples at this last gathering: to love with humility by serving one another and, in the synoptic accounts of the supper, to remember his sacrifice.

This is an “all day” devotional. If you have the time today, read all of these gospel accounts — John 13:1-30, Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-23.  Then obey his “commands”. Ask God to show you one person that He wants to serve through you, one person whose feet He wants to wash with your hands, metaphorically speaking or maybe literally!  Once He has brought to mind the person you are to serve today, ask Him to make it clear how you should serve them.  The clarity may not come in advance or all at once, but might be revealed to you as you go through your day.  Step out in obedience and serve the person with the same love that Jesus gave to you — a humbling sacrificial love.  And take time to remember, truly remember, that His body was broken for you and His blood was spilled out for the forgiveness of your sins and all the sins of humanity.  If possible, find a friend to “break bread” with today in order to remember Jesus’ sacrifice.  Thank Him for loving you and working through you to love someone else today. 

Rock of Ages

from John Stott, 20th century Anglican theologian, evangelist and Bible expositor:

The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.

As we stand before the cross, we begin to gain a clear view both of God and of ourselves, especially in relation to each other. Instead of inflicting upon us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured it in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the ‘scandal,’ the stumbling-block, of the cross. For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin and guilt or our utter indebtedness to the cross. Surely, we say, there must be something we can do, or at least contribute, in order to make amends? If not, we often give the impression that we would rather suffer our own punishment than the humiliation of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place.

. . . we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing stark naked before God. It is no use our trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness, see the divine substitute wearing our filthy rags instead of us, and allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness. Nobody has ever put it better that Augustus Toplady in his immortal hymn “Rock of Ages”:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your Cross I cling;
Naked, come to you for dress;
Helpless, look to you for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Slowly read through the lyrics of that old hymn several times, aloud if possible. Meditate on the truths set forth in these simple lines of poetry . . . of song. Allow yourself to stand before Him stark naked, without any cover-up of self-justification. Then in your mind’s eye, step under the fountain of his grace, his mercy, his love. Remember your baptism (if you can) and see yourself washed clean, wholly forgiven, completely justified!

Passover

Passover

from George Whitten, Worthy Ministries, Christian ministry located in Israel:

. . . Pesach (Passover), the day we remember God’s merciful redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt. When the final plague struck Pharaoh and the Egyptians in Exodus, those who were spared were the ones who applied blood to their doorposts as God warned. Interestingly, the blood that God required them to apply then was the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb.

As believers in Messiah, we are blessed to have the blood of Yeshua (Jesus), our Passover Lamb, applied upon the doorposts of our hearts. The judgment we deserve has passed over us! And thankfully we can celebrate His redemption in our lives as well this season. While this is a special time to celebrate God’s passing over our sins, there is one thing we sometimes overlook. Not only should we remember the Lord’s passing over our sins, but equally important is our obedience in passing over others’ sins. Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. This is the way Jesus taught us to pray, is it not? Today we have the opportunity to make this prayer a reality in our lives. Has someone offended you? Committed a sin against you? It happens, and unfortunately, it will probably happen again, as we live in a world full of sin. But we need to pass over those offenses just as God has passed over ours.

Pray aloud the first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Sit quietly for a moment. Enter into the reality that you are speaking to your Father, your Abba, your Dad, your Papa in heaven who is also the Holy One! Open your heart up to the power of His grace — the amazing grace that He poured out for you when he “passed over” your sins with the blood of his son. From that place of gratitude and humility, ask Him to show you who it is you need to forgive. Right now! Who is the person upon whom you need to pour out His grace? Who is the person who needs you to bring His kingdom of love and grace into their lives? Release the grace He has given you to the ones who have offended you, and you will experience His will being done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Crux

Crux

from Evelyn Underhill, English Anglo-Catholic, novelist, writer, mystic, early 20th century:

To look at the Crucifix and then to look at our own hearts; to test by the cross the quality of our love — if we do that honestly and unflinchingly we don’t need any other self-examination. The lash, the crown of thorns, the mockery, the stripping, the nails — life has equivalents of all these for us and God asks a love for himself and his children which can accept and survive all that in the particular way in which it is offered to us. It is in no use to talk in a large vague way about the love of God; here is its point of intersection in the world.

Elisabeth Elliot once said “The crux of the matter is the crux — the cross.” Crux — a small but powerful word. It comes from the Latin word for cross and it’s meaning is pertinent to Evelyn Underhill’s words above, that the cross (the crucifix) is God’s love intersecting in the world. From Merriam Webster: “crux: a puzzling or difficult problem; an unsolved question; an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome; a main or central feature.” The cross of the crucified Lord Jesus is all of these, isn’t it? It makes no sense to the world — “for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18). It is the main/central feature of our faith, often considered the climax of the gospel. But why is it that we often move quickly past the crucifix and on to the empty cross. Yes, we are “resurrection people”, celebrating an empty cross and an empty tomb, but should we not meditate a little longer on the crucifix — the cross with the “corpus Christi” — the body of Jesus. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Find a picture or painting of the crucifix and meditate on the reality of this demonstration of God’s love for you; the quality of His love for you. Enter into His suffering love and thank Him for the opportunities He gives you to join in that suffering as you seek to love others with His love.

Everyday

from Thomas Howard, 20th century American Catholic writer:

This figure on the Cross . . . assists us to gather our wayward thoughts and feelings. It focuses things. It may even come to our rescue if words fail: the corpus, bowed in agony but with arms stretched wide, says, not in sentences but in its very shape, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.’ . . . This Crucifix bids me also to the place where my exasperation or ire over other’s sins must be forsworn in the name of the Mercy that God himself offers the perpetrators of sin (I being the chief among them). What is it that rouses my ire in the passing scene? Someone cutting into the line at the ticket window? Bloody-mindedness on the part of some driver on the freeway? Cretinous inefficiency on the part of committees, boards, and panels of experts in local, state, or federal government? Monumental waste of taxpayers’ money on all sides? Cruelty to children, animals, the poor? Poisonous ingratitude and self-absorption on the part of some old person being cared for? The list goes on and on.

Ask God to call to mind a recent incident where you were exasperated by another’s sin. You may have felt justified in your response. Now, go back in your mind’s eye to that incident and ask God to replay it but with the figure of Jesus on the cross in the foreground. Ask Him to show you the incident in light of His mercy. Meditate on these words from Luke 6:36-37: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Ask God to show His mercy and grace through you as you go about your day today.

Engaged

Engaged

from Tommy Green, contemporary evangelist, church planter and pastor:

Jesus loves you. Period. You are loved and desired by the God of the whole universe. You do not have to earn His love. God loves you. That is the most important thing in the whole world. You are loved with the type of love you have wanted from the beginning of time. The love that would give anything and everything it had for you, without needing you to do anything in return, is yours. This is the kind of love that truly doesn’t need you to do anything to keep the Lover engaged or interested. This love simply exists and takes all of its pleasure in giving itself to you. It is otherworldly to really think about . . .

What a thought . . ”this is the kind of love that truly doesn’t need you to do anything to keep the Lover engaged or interested.” How many times have we felt like we had to jump through all sorts of hoops to keep a “love interest” engaged or interested? How many times have we felt the person slipping away and said to ourselves “what do I need to do?” or “if only I had done . . . ?” What an incredible joy and freedom to know that this can never happen with God and His love for us. It is an amazing thing to think about, an important thing to believe, and a life-changing way to live. It really is “otherworldly.” What will it take for you to walk in this truth today? What will it take for you to literally walk in this world with your heart and your mind in another world, that is heaven? Let yourself be loved deeply by His love today — filled to overflowing! Let that love spill out of you today to the people around you in all that you say and do and think. Make this “love fest” a preparation for worship of Him tomorrow “in the assembly” of His people! Enjoy!

Thorns

Thorns

from The Confessions of St. Augustine, 4th century bishop, church father and spiritual writer:

The Maker of man was made man, that the Ruler of the stars might suck at the breast; that the Bread might be hungered; the Fountain, thirst; the Light, sleep; the Way, be wearied by the journey; the Truth, be accused by false witnesses; the Judge of the living and the dead, be judged by a mortal judge; the Chastener, be chastised with whips; the Vine, be crowned with thorns; the Foundation, be hung upon the tree; Strength, be made weak; Health, be wounded; Life, die. To suffer these and suchlike things, undeserved things, that He might free the undeserving, for neither did He deserve any evil, who for our sakes endured so many evils, nor were we deserving of anything good, we who through Him received such good.

Read this slowly . . . several times. Enter into the flow of this piece written 17 centuries ago and let the truth of it speak to you in a powerful way. Pause after each statement describing Jesus and meditate on that description of him. If one in particular “speaks” to you, stop and journal your thoughts about it.

Inside Out

more from Mother Theresa:

No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life, there is one thing I want you to remember always, one thing that will never change: I thirst for you — just as you are. You don’t need to change to believe in my love, for it will be your belief in my love that will change you. You forget me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day — standing at the door of your heart, and knocking . . . Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at my heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood my cross. Then listen again to the words I spoke there — for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: ‘I thirst’ (John 19:28). Yes, I thirst for you . . . all your life I have been looking for your love — I have never stopped seeking to love and be loved by you . . . Come to me with your misery and your sins, with your trouble and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to me . . .

What powerful words: “You don’t need to change to believe in my love, for it will be your belief in my love that will change you.” Let those words sink deeply into your heart and mind today. Ask God to increase your faith, your belief in his love for you. Trust that He is a God of his word:

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (Romans 12:2 The Message)

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