Advent Devotional Day 16: “Mercies in Disguise”

December 16, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: Luke 1:42, 45, 48

The first chapter of Luke tells us in many ways that Mary is “blessed” by God. But what a strange kind of blessing it was! Blessed to be pregnant out of wedlock—with all the scandalous gossip and innuendo that came with it! Blessed to have an incredibly difficult conversation with her fiancé, who doesn’t at first believe her when she tells him she didn’t cheat on him. Blessed to have to flee for her life to a foreign land with Joseph and Jesus in order to escape the murderous clutches of King Herod. Blessed with the heartache of losing her son for three days while he was in the Temple in Jerusalem. Blessed to watch her son grow up and face opposition and hostility—even from the people he grew up with.[1] Blessed to stand at the foot of the cross and watch him die! Blessed for those three days between his death and resurrection.

To say the least, God’s idea of “blessing” is often different from our own. To be blessed by God doesn’t mean to be free from trouble or pain.

Singer-songwriter Laura Story captures this truth in her song “Blessings.” It includes these words:

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things
‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

When we experience trouble and pain in this life, it’s often because God loves us too much to let us settle for the “lesser things” that we want.

Do you trust that God knows what we need more than we do? Can you name an experience in which your trials were God’s “mercies in disguise”? Do you agree with this statement by C.S. Lewis? “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” Why or why not?

1. Matthew 13:55-57

Advent Devotional Day 15: “Giving and Gratitude”

December 16, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: Matthew 2:10-11

The Bible teaches us that every good thing that we have is ultimately a gift from God (James 1:17). By contrast, we Americans have been taught all our lives that we need to be “self-made” men and women, to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and to earn everything we have! 

Clearly, these two ideas are in conflict with one another.

But think about it: Our heavenly Father has given us the gift of life and breath; of time and health; of an amazing world which supports our lives; of this great nation; of our mothers, fathers, and family; of teachers and coaches, doctors and nurses—people who’ve cared for us, set an example for us, and sacrificed for us in order to shape us into the people we are today. 

God has given us the gift of our talents and skills, which enable us to do meaningful work and create beautiful things. Yes, we must do something, but what we do is infinitesimally small compared to what God has done for us! 

When the people of Israel were about to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses warned them, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…”[1]

The point is, our Father gives and gives and gives. And he asks us, in return, to also give. In the Old Testament, God’s law said that God’s people, Israel, had to give a tithe, which means to give ten percent of their income. That’s a biblical standard of giving. Is that a law for us Christians? No, we’re no longer under the law; Christ has fulfilled the law for us—it’s as if Christ has given a tithe on our behalf. 

But that hardly means the law is bad or wrong: it just means that we now follow God’s law for a different reason. And it’s the same reason for which the magi give their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus: out of love and gratitude, not compulsion. 

Besides, the evidence from the New Testament is that the tithe may not be enough for many of us! Remember the widow’s mite. Her two copper coins were all she had—they were more than a tithe.[2] Remember the Rich Young Ruler? Jesus asked him to give everything he had—more than a tithe.[3] Remember Zacchaeus? He gave half of his money and possessions—more than a tithe.[4] Remember Acts chapter 4? Luke tells us that in the early church, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need”—more than a tithe.[5] 

I’m not saying that we’re supposed to do the exact same thing; only that there are many examples of New Testament Christians who are extraordinarily generous with their money—in ways that far exceed ten percent!

Do you tithe? Why or why not? When you give your gifts to Jesus, do you do so grudgingly, because you’re “supposed” to? Or do you give out of gratitude and love? Pray that the Lord will make you more faithful in your financial giving.

1. Deuteronomy 8:17-18 ESV

2. Luke 21:1-4

3. Mark 10:17-27

4. Luke 19:1-10

5. Acts 4:34 ESV

Advent Devotional Day 14: “God Has Bigger Dreams for Us”

December 14, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: Matthew 2:13-23

If you’ve seen the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, you know that George Bailey, the film’s hero, never made his dream trip to Europe. He was on his way out of town when his father, the owner of the Building and Loan, had a stroke and died. So George decides to stay behind and tie up loose ends at his father’s business. As he’s about to leave town again, this time to pursue his dream of college, his father’s business rival, Mr. Potter, tries to persuade the board of directors to shut down the Building and Loan.

Potter, you may recall, owns the only bank in town, and he’s a slumlord: Unlike George, he has an interest in keeping townspeople poor and dependent on him. He doesn’t like the Building and Loan giving his tenants opportunities to own their own homes. 

So once again, George gives up on a dream and stays in town to run his late father’s business. Can you imagine his disappointment?

I’ll bet Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, could imagine the disappointment. Think about it: Joseph’s fiancée, Mary, tells Joseph that she’s pregnant—and Joseph knows that he’s not the father. Joseph knows the facts of life; he knows that women don’t get pregnant without a human father. Never mind what Mary told him about the Holy Spirit. Joseph thinks that Mary cheated on him. Can you imagine his disappointment?

Joseph soon learns the truth, and he learns that God has a new and different plan for his life—to be the adoptive father to the Son of God. Like George Bailey, God’s new plan for Joseph would require suffering and sacrifice. Not long after Jesus was born, for example, an angel warns Joseph in a dream that Herod is out to kill his son, and he needs to escape to Egypt. So, in the middle of the night, in fear for his son’s safety, he uproots his family in Bethlehem and moves to a place that is not his home. Can you imagine his disappointment?

Some time later, when Herod dies, the angel tells him to return to the land of Israel. Even then, however, because another dangerous Herod was on the throne, he can’t return to his hometown in the south; he has to settle in the north, in Nazareth. Can you imagine his disappointment?

The truth is that like Joseph and like George Bailey, taking up our cross and following Jesus often means changing our own plans and giving up on our own dreams. And it might be something we don’t want to do, at least at first. Can we trust that the Lord knows what’s best for us?

In the Old Testament, God tells Jeremiah the prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”[1] This kind of foreknowledge doesn’t just apply to people who are called to be prophets, but to you and me.

The psalmist declares that when he was in the womb “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”[2] God has a plan for each one of us. And it’s a good plan, if only we’ll trust him.

When have you experienced disappointment because your dreams didn’t come true? Can you trust that God has a better dream for your life? 

1. Jeremiah 1:5 ESV

2. Psalm 139:16 NIV

Advent Devotional Day 13: “Praying Boldly”

December 13, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: Luke 18:9-14

On Christmas Eve, after his absent-minded Uncle Billy misplaces a deposit that today would amount to over $80,000, George Bailey faces possible prison  time, because the police will think George embezzled the money. After George considers the value of his life insurance policy, he decides that he’s worth more  dead than alive.

In a rage, he leaves his family on Christmas Eve night and goes to a bar and prays a desperate prayer that God would rescue him. He later contemplates ending his life by jumping off a bridge into an icy river.

Now consider the parable that Jesus tells in today’s scripture.

George tells God, “I’m not a praying man.” Like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, he knows he isn’t worthy of God doing anything for him, but he’s desperate.

Don’t we often do our best praying when we’re desperate? Parents, especially parents at Christmastime, know all too well that their children have no trouble asking for exactly what they want—and asking repeatedly. They have no shame. If only we acted more like God’s children and boldly asked God our Father, directly and simply and repeatedly, for what we wanted!

Osteen: “Quit losing sleep over something that God ordained”

December 13, 2018

A couple of days ago, in the Twitterverse, Joel Osteen posted the following:

So my question to you, dear readers, is this: Is he wrong?

Many years ago, I would have said yes, he is wrong… emphatically.

In fact, my Christian faith was badly shaken on the morning of October 18, 1989. This was the morning after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the Bay area of California, minutes before Game 3 of the World Series was set to start. The Oakland A’s were playing the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

That morning, I was driving to work in Atlanta (I was a co-op student at Georgia Tech at the time), listening to a Christian radio station. After a news break describing the earthquake, the radio host said the following: “I have friends out on the West Coast in the Bay Area. I talked to them last night. They’re doing O.K. I just want to thank God for their safety.”

Something within me recoiled: “No!” I thought. “You don’t get to thank God for saving the lives of your friends unless, at the same time, you blame God for not saving the lives of the earthquake’s many victims.” (Wikipedia tells me that 63 people died and 3,757 were injured.)

Even to this day, while my interpretation of the event has changed, the logic is sound. Isn’t it?

If God possesses the power to keep our friends safe during an earthquake—and who could deny that he does and still be within the realm of orthodox Christianity?—then surely, by that same power, he could keep everyone safe. Indeed, every time we pray for the safety of friends and family who are traveling home for Christmas, for examples, or who are facing surgery, or who are dodging IEDs in war zones, we believe that God has the power to intervene in the world to keep our loved ones safe. If God has the power to do so for relatively “small” events, as we perceive them, then he has the power to do so for big events.

If “thanking God” for loved ones’ safety isn’t hot air, and we really mean it, then we must conclude that in cases in which people die, God has reasons for allowing their deaths. In other words, getting back to Osteen’s tweet, “nothing can happen without his permission.” He “ordains” it.

There is far too much scripture to back this up. Read, for instance, Psalm 139, with its high view of God’s sovereignty: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me… [I]n your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Or how about Job 1? Recall that God gives Satan permission (explicitly!) to harm Job—first his family and livestock, later his own health. Again, this affirms Osteen’s tweet: “He [God] may not have sent it,” but God permits Satan to work this evil. Jesus himself acknowledges the constrained but very real power that Satan has over this world when he calls him the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31) and the “prince of this world” (John 14:30).

Indeed, when Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness with the gift of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matthew 4:8), Jesus doesn’t respond by saying, “You and I both know you don’t possess that power, Satan,” in which case Satan’s offer wouldn’t be tempting at all. No, Jesus is really tempted because he understands that Satan does possess the power to give him these kingdoms… because God has allowed him some degree of power to influence our physical world. And we see Satan exert this influence in Job 1-2.

Another way of putting it—if it helps—is like this: Just as God allows free but fallen human beings to work great evil in the world, so he also allows free but fallen angelic beings to work great evil in the world. Indeed, it’s not clear where one stops and the other starts, if Paul is right when he says that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12).

Nevertheless, after Satan kills Job’s children, Job responds with these difficult words, which were even used as part of a popular praise-and-worship song 20 years ago (“Blessed Be the Name of the Lord”): “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Even though Satan is the direct agent of harm, God is ultimately responsible for it.

I can anticipate an objection: Yes, but this is Job speaking, not God. What if Job is mistaken?

But even if he were mistaken, we still have to deal with the next verse (emphasis mine): “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” At the very least, in attributing the deaths of Job’s children to God (whether Job is right or wrong to make the attribution), the premise holds: God, the author of a life that none of us deserves and to which none of us is entitled, is permitted to take that life when he pleases (“it is appointed unto men once to die,” Hebrews 9:27—appointed by whom?). Otherwise, Job would be “charging God with wrong” in saying so.

But even in the face of this tragedy, Job can still say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” Why? Because he knows the truth of what Paul would later say: that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

If you’re still not convinced, let’s take a New Testament example, which I’ve discussed before: Paul and his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Notice the divine passive in v. 7: “a thorn was given me.” In other words, the thorn was, in one sense, a gift from God, which he gave him, Paul says, “to keep me from becoming conceited.” This is an example of what C.S. Lewis calls a “severe mercy”: God has done something for Paul that is in his best interests, even though it causes great pain.

But notice that God is not the direct cause of the thorn: Satan is. This “gift from God” is at the same time a “messenger from Satan” sent to “harass” Paul. How can it be both? In this way: What Satan intends for evil, God intends for good. (See Genesis 50:20.) In other words, while Satan wanted to hurt Paul and hamper his ministry with this “thorn” (a symbol for violent persecution, perhaps, or a physical ailment), and God had granted Satan the freedom to do so, God transformed it into something that would be in Paul’s best interests.

Indeed, if Romans 8:28 is true, God does this all the time. And when God permits something far worse than a “thorn”—something that actually kills us, like earthquakes—we can still say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord”—because, at the very least, we get heaven and Jesus: “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Anyway, while I understand why you might object to the Bible’s high view of God’s sovereignty—as I did myself when I entered into a long season of spiritual drought during my sophomore year in college—I hope you’ll agree that I’ve represented the Bible’s teaching accurately.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I am deeply comforted by the idea—cliché though it be—that “everything happens for a [God-ordained] reason.” Even at our worst, if we are in Christ we can be sure that our lives are not spiraling out of control. On the contrary, God is working in our best interests.

After all, how many of us cite Jeremiah 29:11 as a favorite verse? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Does God have plans for us or doesn’t he? Or does something like an earthquake, devastating though it be, have the power to derail God’s plans for us?

Heaven forbid!

Otherwise God does not have the power to intervene in the world, and our Lord would be lying when he teaches us to petition our Father with urgency and persistence.

Prayer makes a difference in the world because we believe that God has the power to make a difference in the world. Contemporary Christians, not least of which contemporary Methodists, can be very earthbound and human-centered in our worldview: we can overemphasize what we humans can accomplish at the expense of what God accomplishes for his glory.

I urge us to be more supernatural in our outlook. This starts, I believe, with a robust view of God’s sovereignty and providence.

It starts, well… by believing what Joel Osteen says… because his words reflect the truth of God’s Word.

In fact, my only small quibble with Osteen’s tweet is that he says, “Don’t try to figure it out.” I would nuance it a bit: “Don’t worry about it if you can’t figure it out.” Besides, as one pastor has said, “There may be a thousand reasons God allows something to happen, and you may only see one or two.” Or none, at least on this side of eternity. And that’s O.K. We’re not God.

We’re not God… I like that! The 19-year-old version of myself would have benefited from that helpful reminder.

Advent Devotional Day 12: “Christmas Faith Is Never Easy”

December 13, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: Luke 1:38

We admire Mary’s astonishing commitment when she responds to Gabriel’s announcement: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” In Mary we have no shadow of doubt, no wrestling with angels, no dark night of the soul. God calls, she answers, and she lived happily ever after, right? Yeah, right!

In fact, I only noticed recently that there’s this second part of v. 38 that no one ever talks about: “Then the angel departed from her.” This is the last time that Mary would ever see an angel. The shepherds see angels on Christmas night, and they tell Mary and Joseph about it. But Mary will have no more miraculous experiences—at least until Jesus turns water into wine in John 2.

Instead, when the angel departs, Mary is left alone with her thoughts; left alone to contemplate what will at times be the difficult and dark journey ahead of her—a journey that, unfortunately, she will mostly have to take alone. Mary was destined to experience a lot of pain as part of her journey of faith.

And the pain was going to start right away—for instance, when she had to have that difficult conversation with her fiancé: “I’m pregnant, Joseph. But let me explain!” And when Joseph was deciding to break up with her (Matthew 1:19), there were no angels around to comfort her, to reassure her, to remind her that she’s playing an important role in God’s saving plan. No… She must have felt very alone.

Do you think that was easy? Not at all. But a Christmas kind of faith is never easy.

We often think that Christian faith should make our life easier. Does the Christmas story change that perception? How can Mary’s faith encourage you when you’re in the midst of a crisis or trial?

Advent Devotional Day 11: “How Will This Be?”

December 11, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: Luke 1:34

Mary, alongside other ancient people, knows the facts of life as well as any modern person: women don’t get pregnant without men—even if she lacked the more detailed scientific information that we now possess. 

English Bible scholar Tom Wright puts it like this: “The ancient world didn’t know about X chromosomes and Y chromosomes, but they knew as well as we do that babies were the result of sexual intercourse—and that people who claimed to be pregnant by other means might well be covering up a moral and social offense.”[1] 

What would people think if Mary, who was engaged but not yet married, said she was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, that she was still a virgin, and there was no human father? 

They would think that she’s lying to save herself from embarrassment or shame. This is, in fact, what Joseph thinks when Mary breaks the news to him in Matthew 1:18-19.

And this is one reason that we can be confident that the virgin birth is true: because Matthew and Luke, who each include Christmas stories in their gospels, know that it’s difficult to believe. They know that, like Joseph himself, readers might imagine that Mary’s story is a cover-up for something embarrassing. 

Would Matthew and Luke risk including a potentially embarrassing and hard-to-believe story like the virgin birth if it weren’t based on solid evidence? Of course not. They include the story of the virgin birth because they also happen to believe it’s true.

Do you ever struggle to believe God’s Word? If so, you’re in good company! Pray that, as with Mary and Joseph, God will help you overcome your doubt.

1. N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2004), 9-10.

“Why is this granted to me that the mother of of my Lord should come to me?”

December 10, 2018

In the picture above, I’m standing on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in February 2011. While the temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, many experts believe that this stone pavilion marks the spot of the Most Holy Place—that part of the temple separated by a thick curtain, in which God’s presence—his Holy Spirit—dwelt in all its fullness. The high priest could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and only after making careful preparations. (See Leviticus 16.)

Except for one lone representative once a year, God’s people Israel had no access to the Most Holy Place.

Why? As the Bible shows us time and again, to be in God’s direct presence was a life-threatening danger. See, for example, Isaiah’s fear in Isaiah 6:5: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Now recall that when Jesus was crucified, the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51 and parallels), signifying that Christ’s once-for-all atoning sacrifice for the sin was accomplished for everyone who believes in him. As a result, our sin no longer separates us from God. Indeed, we can approach the “throne of grace” with confidence (Hebrews 4:16) because we have been made holy through Christ. As the author of Hebrews also says,

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. (Hebrews 10:19-20 NLT)

As if this weren’t amazing enough, we not only have access to God because of Christ’s sacrifice, our bodies themselves are now the temple in which the Holy Spirit resides: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) While Paul is referring to the local church overall (the you is plural), he refers to individual Christian men later in the letter, when he warns them not to have sex with prostitutes: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

My point is, the Holy Spirit dwells within us individual believers. What a privilege!

I thought of the picture above, our direct access to the throne room of God, and the Holy Spirit residing within us while reflecting on Elizabeth’s words to Mary in Luke 1:43: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

But couldn’t each one of us Christians rightly ask, “Why is this granted to me that the Lord himself should come to me?” After all, we who live on this side of the cross should have an even greater sense of astonishment than Elizabeth! For she was merely in close physical proximity to God, whereas we have God living within us! It’s as if we have the Most Holy Place within our heart!

Let this truth sink in for a moment.

In his book Hidden Christmas, Tim Keller describes the astonishment that we ought to feel as Christians. (Do we?)

I would go so far as to say that this perennial note of surprise is a mark of anyone who understands the essence of the Gospel. What is Christianity? If you think Christianity is mainly going to church, believing a certain creed, and living a certain kind of life, then there will be no note of wonder and surprise about the fact that you are a believer. If someone asks you, “Are you a Christian? you will say, “Of course I am! It’s hard work but I’m doing it. Why do you ask?” Christianity is, in this view something done by you—and so there’s no astonishment about being a Christian. However, if Christianity is something done for you, and to you, and in you, then there is a constant note of surprise and wonder…

So if someone asks you if you are a Christian, you should not say, “Of course!” There should be no “of course-ness” about it. It would be more appropriate to say, “Yes, I am, and that’s a miracle. Me! A Christian! Who would have ever thought it? Yet he did it, and I’m his.”[1]

1.Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas (New York: Viking, 2016), 89-90.

Advent Devotional Day 10: “Adopted by God”

December 10, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: John 1:11-13; Matthew 12:49-50; Romans 8:15

I was adopted. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that I was adopted. My adoptive parents assured me from the beginning that I was extra special because “they chose me.” Except for a fistfight I got into with some classmates who teased me about it in fourth grade, being adopted never seemed like a big deal to me.

But in the back of my mind I often wondered: Where am I from? Who are my biological parents? Whom am I related to? 

Now that I’m older, these questions don’t matter as much as they used to. In part because I’m a parent myself. I know from experience that neither childbirth nor the events leading up to it—as important as they are—can begin to compare to everything that comes afterwards. Parenting, after all, is the most rewarding, heartbreaking, amazing, and frustrating endeavor in which human beings can be involved!

My point is this: Even if I don’t know my genealogy, I know who my mom and dad are. They couldn’t have loved me more if they had given birth to me. I’m as much a part of their family as someone who was born into it.

Now consider Paul’s words in Romans 8:15: Through faith in Christ, we have been adopted into God’s family. God is Abba, our Father. We have the same status before God as Jesus himself. Like him, we are God’s children. 

As a result, while I may not know where I’m from, I know where I’m going. While I may not know my earthly father, I know my heavenly Father. That matters more than anything.

If you’re a parent, spend time reflecting on how much you love your own children. Now tell yourself: God loves me like that—but infinitely more. And unlike any human parent, he loves me perfectly.

Advent Devotional Day 9: “They Went with Haste”

December 9, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: Luke 2:15-20; 9:51-56

In Luke 9:51-56, when Jesus and the disciples were passing through a Samaritan village on their way to Jerusalem, the Samaritans reject them. This gives James and John a brilliant idea: “Lord, do you want to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Their suggestion is not without precedent. In 2 Kings 1, an evil king named Ahaziah sends soldiers to arrest the prophet Elijah. Elijah is sitting on a hill when the commanding officer says, “O man of God, the king says to come down.” Elijah says, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your men.” And that’s exactly what happens. Twice. James and John know that Jesus is much greater than Elijah. So why shouldn’t the fire of God’s judgment fall on these Samaritans who’ve likewise rejected this man of God? 

We hear this story and feel morally superior to James and John. After all, we would never want the fire of God’s judgment to come down and consume people who reject Jesus Christ. Right?

Before you answer, consider this: At this moment, there are tens of thousands of people within a few miles of our church who are currently rejecting Jesus Christ. What do we believe will happen to them if they persist in their unbelief? Unless we make sharing the gospel with them our highest priority, aren’t we saying—either out of fear, indifference, or benign neglect—that we’re O.K. with the fire of God’s judgment falling on them?

By contrast, consider the response of the shepherds when they receive the “good news of great joy” of the gospel: They go “with haste” not only to see the baby Jesus but to share what they had experienced with Mary and Joseph. 

If you, like the shepherds, have experienced the good news of Jesus Christ, are you sharing this good news “with haste”? Do you make witnessing a top priority in your life? Why or why not?