Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent 3 - Isaiah 53:5 - November 30

He was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5
"[Isaiah] was more of an Evangelist than a Prophet," said St. Jerome, "because he described all of the Mysteries of the Church of Christ so vividly that you would assume he was not prophesying about the future, but rather was composing a history of past events."
That was Isaiah. For example, seven hundred years before the angel appeared to Joseph, he proclaimed, "7:14 Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Prophesy? Or history?! Was he quoting the angel? Or was the angel quoting him?! Or were both quoting the living God?!!
In this week of Prophets and Hope, I invite you to encounter the living God. Isaiah -- chapter 6 -- fell down when he encountered the living Lord, who was "sitting high and lofty upon the throne." Part of the advent adventure is searching for God ... and trembling because he is almighty. 
Part of the advent adventure is finding our Awesome Lord laying humbly in a manger. 
In Christ's Love,
A guy who feels like a brainless scarecrow.
I tremble at the awesomeness as I approach the mighty Oz.
But when I pull back the curtain of swaddling clothes,
I encounter one whom I can approach after all

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent 2 - John 1:5 - November 29

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
John 1:5
The candles mean light in the midst of darkness. The evergreen means life in a season of winter. The circle has no beginning nor end -- like God and his unending love.
We're talking, of course, about the Advent Wreath.
  • The first of three blue candles symbolizes Prophets and their Hope.
  • The second candle -- blue again -- represents Bethlehem and Preparations.
  • The third candle -- a celebratory pink -- represents Shepherds and Joy.
  • The fourth -- blue -- signifies Angels and Love. 
  • In the center is the fifth candle, as white and pure as Jesus Christ, the spotless lamb of God.
Now ... where's the advent adventure in the midst of candles? We live in a world of fluorescent bulbs and artificial light. Fire calls us back to nature. 
Imagine that you're a shepherd in a wind swept field. The world outside is cold. It's also dangerous. Can you name the wolves that prowl around your family?
Each night when you strike the match, make it a statement of faith. Say, "Lord, help me conquer my dark predators with your bright light."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to light the fire
and confront dragons
(after he toasts a few marshmallows)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent 1 - November 28 - Psalm 57:8

This month --- if you can --- spend a minute with your family lighting candles,
reading the daily devotions together, and watching for Christ in Christmas
Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.
Psalm 57:8
Today is the first Sunday of this holy season.
In one sense advent means dawning. And dawn means awakening. Two thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit was moving like a gentle breeze that stirs before the rising of the sun. In moments, earth and Israel would awaken to the coming of the Messiah. Unfortunately, too many people kept on sleeping. (Indeed, they wound up shooting the rooster; crucifying the Son.)
The Holy Spirit still stirs today. He wants to awaken our world and stir your heart.
In one sense advent means dawning. This year, I hope it also comes to mean adventure. Lace up your hiking boots and join me for four minutes a day as we turn this December into an advent adventure.
In Christ’s Love,
a guy who wants to awaken his heart
from a long winter’s nap
(and it's not even winter yet)
Quick Question: What does advent mean to you?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

November 27 - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Be joyful always; 
pray without ceasing; 
give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God's will for you
in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Do you ever want to know God’s will?
My wife Mary Louise says, "That’s why I like this verse!"
To know God's will, God invites us to do three things:
  • Instead of thinking about what we get, need, what, or have – or don’t have – this verse invites us to focus on what we can give.
  • Instead of worrying about what may or may not come, we need to give things back to God – regularly, repeatedly, unceasingly.
  • And instead of being sucked into dramas that are dark – monitor your friendships, values, and TV choices – and habits that are unproductive, focus on things that are light, bright, worthwhile, productive and affirming. And see if joy doesn’t begin to chase you a little more.
In Christ’s Love,
a guy whose last name is Will
(and want’s his first name
to be "God’s" not "My")

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 26 - Matthew 27:45

From noon on,
darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon.
Matthew 27:45
"I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black."
That old song seems appropriate for the day our country calls "Black Friday." Apparently we ate enough yesterday that we now have enough energy stored up to shop for a whole day.
As I write this – on Wednesday – I must confess ... I just finished shopping. It seems unavoidable in our American society. But do you remember the next line to that song? "It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back."
I am as guilty as anyone. Gluttony and greed define this weekend. I pray that I discipline myself instead to focus on a little more thanks … a little more giving … a little more family … and a little more faith.
In Christ’s Love,
a guy who weighs three pounds more today
than I did yesterday
(it’s hard to dance with that on my back too!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 25 - Luke 22:19

Then he took a loaf of bread,
and when he had given thanks ...
Luke 22:19
One of the greatest events in scripture occurs at table. In this moment, Jesus is poised between two great things.
On one side is God's wonderful provision -- bread! On the other side is an eternal meal of blessing, presence, and forgiveness -- Holy Communion. In the center is a holy moment. What will Jesus do to connect God's continual provision with a new and eternal blessing?
He pauses to give thanks.
On one side, God has given you much. On the other side, he wants to give you eternally more. Pausing in the middle -- and a little more frequently -- is a key to true blessing.
Let us pause today to give thanks.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who will take bread
... and another piece of bread
... and some extra turkey
... and a second piece of pie ...
which means
I really need to pause many times today
and give thanks for daily bread ...
the freedom and wealth to eat of my choosing
... a good family ... a good church ...
and so much more!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 24 - Philippians 1:3-4

Every time I think of you
I thank my God,
constantly praying with joy
in every one of my prayers for all of you
Philippians 1:3-4
One of my favorite New Testament glimpse of Thanksgiving comes is at the beginning of the Epistle to the Church in Philippi. A pastor who is traveling at a great distance (Paul) tells his congregation that he is always thankful for them and always praying for them.
This Thanksgiving, please know that I am thankful for you.
And I pray ... that you will blessed this holiday season ... that your journeys will be safe ... that homecomings will be blessed ... that time will be spent meaningfully.
Some of you will be separated from those you love -- some because of great distance, some because of grief and loss, some because of tensions and pain. If family is separated because of broken relationships, be the one to reach out gentle. If the family is separated because of a death, watch for quiet ways that God may be reaching out to you. Indeed, if lonliness and pain define your days, please let us know. 
And if you have the privilege of counting a few blessings, adopt a of little Philippians 1 into routines this holidays and "constantly pray" for neighbors who may find Thanksgiving a little more challenging this year.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who is continually thankful
to be serving God with you
at Spirit of Joy 
(Paul wrote my sentiments)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November 23 - 2 Chronicles 33:16

He also restored the altar of the Lord and 
offered on it sacrifices of well-being and of thanksgiving;
and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord the God of Israel.
2 Chronicles 33:16
Most of the kings of Judah and Israel were not so good. Manasseh, in fact, "33:2 did what was evil in the sight of the Lord."
So ... after "10 they ignored all God's warnings" -- "the Lord ... 11 sent the commanders of the Assyrian armies, and they took Manasseh prisoner. They put a ring through his nose, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon.
"12 But ... Manasseh ... sincerely humbled himself before God ... 13 And when he prayed, the Lord ... was moved by his request [and] brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem." Now here's the best line:
13 Then Manasseh finally realized that the Lord alone is God!
What has it ever taken for you to be humbled and rebuild the altar in your home, your life, your heart?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who doesn't ever
want a ring in his nose
(I'd rather humble myself)

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22 - 1 Chronicles 25:3

Jeduthun had six sons --
Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah --
who worked under his direction.
They proclaimed God's messages and prophesied 
to the accompaniment of the harp,
offering thanksgiving and praise to the Lord.
1 Chronicles 25:3
Yesterday, as I signed my devotion, I almost wrote: "a guy who needs to send notes of thanks." And then I almost changed it, nearly writing instead, "a guy who needs to SING notes of thanks." (Get it? Play on the word "note".)
Well, it's rather ironic that God -- not me -- invented that play on words. Because the second time thanksgiving is mentioned in my NRSV is with people singing (or at least playing) notes of thanksgiving and praise.
Have you ever been moved by melody and lyrics? Sometimes thanks and praise comes out of our heart and mouth. These guys also used their harp to prophesy and proclaim!
Why not let the note of your life today sing in thanksgiving of God's wonder and praise.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who hopes it rains today
... so I can sing in it
(I love that old movie!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November 21 - Leviticus 7:13

With your thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being
you shall bring your offering with cakes of leavened bread.
Leviticus 7:13
Did your mom ever make you write thank you notes?
Did laboring over those notes ever feel like a huge sacrifice and a burdensome chore?
The first time "thanksgiving" is mentioned in the Bible -- at least in my trusty NRSV -- is in Leviticus. In chapter 7, God tells us that "thanksgiving" required a "sacrifice" and brought "well-being."
I don't know about you, but I'm glad that mom was wise and made me labor over those notes. Those letters of "thanksgiving" might have seemed like a "sacrifice," but without it, our heart will also lurch toward selfishness, entitlement, and pride -- instead of "well-being."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs some new stationary
-- I need to be saying thanks more often

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 27 - November 20 - Psalm 40:11

Your Name is ZEALOUS
Lord, you are absolutely passionate about my life.
Lead me out into your day.
Do you really believe that God is passionate about your life? Trust him to lead you today!
God ... don't hold back your passion.
Your love and truth are all that keeps me together.
Psalm 40:11
"Zealous" means ... spirited ... eager ... forceful ... intense ... devoted ... enthusiastic ... and passionate. Therefore I looked for a verse today that reflected God's passion.
I love the Message paraphrase of this verse. I imagine a person clinging desperately to the edge of a cliff. All that's keep them attached to life and hope and sanity -- all that's holding them together -- is God's passion (His love) and His truth.
Do you believe that God's love for you is passionate?
Do you believe that He cares about every moment of your lives?
Do you let him lead you out? Do you let him hold you together?
We've been on a nearly month long journey. I'd like to have imagined us on our knees in our prayer closet. But that's not where I hope you are now. I hope that now you are charging forward in faith and hope. Prayer is a nice retreat, a nice respite. But life is designed to be an adventure.
One of my favorite phrases is from Joshua 1:11 -- "go [and] take possession of the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess."
In Christ's Love,
a zealous, passionate adventurer
who wants to claim God's future
for me, my family, and our church

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 26 - November 19 - Psalm 89:26

Your Name is YOU
You are Lord of lords and King of kings. You are the great "I AM who I AM."
You are You! Fill more moments of this day with reverance and awe.
Look for God more fully today.
You are
my Father, my God,
the Rock my Savior
Psalm 89:26
We began this journey 26 days ago on our knees. As we wrap up, it's appropriate that we crawl down on our knees again.
When Moses asked God for his name, the Lord said, "I am who I am." The question is, "Who is God to you?"
Below is a list of "God is" statements -- actually "you are." Pick one or two that grab your heart and meditate on them today ... and on your knees when possible.
    3:03   You are a shield around me
    5:04   You are a God who takes no pleasure in evil
  10:14   You are the helper of the fatherless
  20:05   You are victorious
  23:04   You are with me
  25:05   You are my Savior
  31:03   You are my rock and my fortress
  31:04   You are my refuge
  32:07   You are my hiding place
  40:17   You are my help and my deliverer
  43:02   You are my stronghold
  44:04   You are my King
  68:35   You are awesome
  76:04   You are resplendent with light
  76:04   You are more majestic than mountains rich with game
  77:14   You are the God who performs miracles
  86:05   You are forgiving and good
  86:10   You are great and do marvelous deeds
  89:08   You are mighty and your faithfulness surrounds you
  89:26   You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior
  93:02   You are from all eternity
  97:09   You are exalted far above all gods
104:01   You are clothed with splendor and majesty
119:68   You are good, and what you do is good
119:151 You are near
139:03   You are familiar with all my ways
May God be with you as you sing in awe with the Psalmist: 90:2 Before the mountains were born ... You are!
In Christ's Love
a guy who needs to remember
that his name is "Am not
... but can be with His grace"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 25 - November 18 - Luke 7:37-38

Your Name is X-TRAVAGANT
Lord, you are the alabaster jar of fragrant oil.
Pour your love, joy, and peace — like a river — over me today.
How has God’s goodness flowed generously over you? Lately? Ever?
When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town
learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house,
she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 
and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping,
she began to wet his feet with her tears.
Then she wiped them with her hair,
kissed them and poured perfume on them.
Luke 7:37-38
The other Gospels -- Mark 14, John 12, and Matthew 26 -- fill in a few more details:
  • Since "very expensive perfume" filled the jar, this woman's actions were extravagant.
  • Her extravagance caused "indigna[tion]" and was called "waste." (Mt 26:8)  
  • "The disciples" argued for noble-sounding (but wrong-headed) alternatives: "the money [could have been] given to the poor" (Mt 26:8, Jn 12:5)
  • Judas, we are told, "did not [make] this [noble-sounding argument] because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. ... [So t]hen Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them." (Jn 12:6 then Mk 14:10)
Holy extravagance is often misunderstood!
Jesus' whole goal -- and the key point he made to his indignant disciples -- was, "[What really matters is] HAV[ING] ME"! Jesus put it this way: "you will always have the poor among you, but you will not always HAVE ME" (John 12:8).
Did you catch that? They -- and we -- tend to focus on "having worldly things," but Jesus constantly focused on us "having him."
What does "having him" mean? It means having a relationship with him. It means knowing him, loving him, trusting him, walking with him. 
And we can have this because of Jesus. He poured everything out for us. Think about it: The shedding of his blood was even more expensive and extravagant than the woman's fragrant offering. And why did he do it? For the same reason that this woman poured out everything she had: So we could have him ... and he could have us.
How has God’s goodness flowed generously over you? Lately? Ever?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's absolutely drenched
(if I stop to think about it,
I've got more anointing on my head
than a Super Bowl-winning coach
has Gatorade on his head)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 24 - November 17 - Proverbs 1:7

Your Name is WISDOM
Lord, you are the vine, I am the branch.
Remind me to look to you — instead of myself — for guidance today.
What things do you know that you contradict God on? Choose his way today.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7
At a conference not too long ago, an old friend of Billy Graham's said that all around the Graham household are Bibles. They are always open, he said, to the book of Proverbs, and whenever Billy walks by, he regularly stops and read a verse.
He calls it a snack.
Proverbs is full of hundreds of little snacks. Hundreds of bite size morsels that according to Proverbs itself are ...
  • 1:2 for learning about wisdom and instruction,
  • 1:2 for understanding words of insight,
  • 1:3 for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity;
  • 1:4 to teach shrewdness to the simple,
  • 1:4 [to impart] knowledge and prudence to the young
  • 1:5 to help ... the wise ... gain in learning
  • 1:5 to help ... the discerning acquire skill [in] understand[ing] proverb[s], figure[s of speech], the words of the wise and their riddles.
Wisdom is good. It points along the well lit paths ... and keeps us out of a lot of trouble.
But Proverbs' greatest reminder is our verse for today (and 9:10 which reads like this): The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.
With fear meaning, of course, honor and respect (rather than quaking in our boots), scripture tells us that human wisdom might sound helpful, but it won't ever lead us past the starting line unless we're following God. Indeed, read Ecclesiastes (also by Solomon) if you want to see what wisdom without faith eventually looks like -- lots of success but zero hope as life draws to its close.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who likes to snack on food,
maybe I'd weigh less if I snack on the word  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 23 - November 16 - John 10:10

I did another V for VICTORY.
So let's call this different ... which is completely different than yesterday's ... a bonus ...
NOV 16
Your Name is VICTORY
Lord, you are resurrection and life. Resurrect whatever is dying within me
and give me victory over whatever I need to escape from today.
What do you need to escape from? What victory do you crave? Pray for it!
I have come that they may have life,
and have it more abundantly.
John 10:10
Do you recognize this verse?!
Indeed, do you hunger for a life that is more and more abundant?
Absolutely. And Jesus wants to give this to you. In fact, he wants to call this gift, "Victory!"
But the first step to victory is remembering the first part of this verse. Few of us remember that John 10:10 begins: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly."
Victory always comes in only one way: By defeating something.
Jesus' point is clear. There is an enemy. He is prowling. Evil is as ravenous as a lion and hungry as a wolf. Maybe darkness -- from outside or within -- is what you need to overcome.
Maybe your trials and temptations are different.
For example, busyness always has its hooks in me. Escaping that trap is always freeing. But its fingers are long and clutches are strong.
Jesus wants to bless you. And he wants to call it victory. The first step is naming what you must defeat. The second step is developing a plan to march forward. The third step is to pray, knowing that you need an ally who will march beside you.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants a trophy for his mantle
because I've won a big victory  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 22 - November 15 - 1 Corinthians 15:55

Your Name is VICTORY
Lord, you are resurrection and life. Resurrect whatever is dying within me
and give me victory over whatever I need to escape from today.
What do you need to escape from? What victory do you crave? Pray for it!
"O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?"
1 Corinthians 15:55
A week or so ago we commemorate All Saints Day -- the day in the church year when we remember all the faithful departed and celebrate the promise of heaven.
In the midst of a couple thousand words of sermon, I was struck by the number of people who grabbed hold of five of them:
We grieve because we love.
It even made it, I am told, onto a few Facebook accounts as their status for the day.
Sometimes Christians are told -- directly or indirectly -- "If you really believed in heaven, you wouldn't grieve." I generally tell people, "We're not sad for the person who's died. They're in heaven. Rather we grieve for us. We now have a hole in our hearts." In other words, we grieve because we love.
But I pray that we also say ... 
We hope because we trust.
The resurrection changes things. Death no longer has the final word. Here's a little more of 1 Corinthians 15:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised ... 17 your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.
51 Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 55 "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who
grieves because he loves,
hopes because he trusts,
and eats because he's hungry

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day 21 - November 14 - Acts 1:8, 2:2-4

Lord, you are Spirit, wind, and fire.
Blow through my life — unstoppable — today.
How real is the Spirit to you? Pray for him to have a bigger effect on your life.
Jesus said to his disciples,
"You will receive power when
the Holy Spirit has come upon you" ...
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound
like the rush of a violent wind ... 
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,
and a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
Acts 1:8 and 2:2-4
Years ago I attended a retreat. Reflecting on the spiritual power of Pentecost (see our lesson for today), the theme song for the weekend was "Rushin' Wind."
Again and again we sang, "Rushin' wind flow through me." "Rushin' wind flow through me." "Rushin' wind ..."Rushin' wind ..."
Halfway through the retreat, one of our more patriotic participants asked in all seriousness, "Why do we keep singing about a RUSSIAN wind? That's not what I want flowing through me!"
The Holy Spirit is not Russian. But he is active, alive, and moving. And he wants to bring a literal power to your life:
  1. The Spirit wants to draw you closer to Jesus and his love (John 15:26)
  2. The Spirit wants to bring us more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more self-control, and still more and more (Gal 5:22-23)
  3. The Spirit wants to help us pray by interceding for us (Rom 8:27) 
  4. Furthermore, the Spirit wants to bring new life, fresh energy, and more tangible results to your prayers (Eph 6:18, Acts 16:25-34)
  5. The Spirit wants to comfort us in our sorrows (John 14:16)
  6. The Spirit wants to guide us into all truth (John 16:13)
  7. The Spirit wants to empower kingdom living by drawing us away from sin (John 16:8)
  8. The Spirit wants to help us turn away from the hurts of our past and be born again (John 3:3-5)
Our question for today is: How real is the Spirit to you? Pray for him to have a bigger effect on your life. Indeed, ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit in a new way.
In Christ's Love,
a Russian pastor
(who trying to rush less
and abide with God more)