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Advent Devotional Day 8: “Expectation Is a Planned Resentment”

December 8, 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, 22-23; Romans 8:28

Alcoholics Anonymous has a popular saying: “Expectation is a planned resentment.” One Christian thinker puts it like this:

We expect to get the promotion at work, and when we don’t, we are resentful. We expect our fellow motorists to follow traffic laws (and common sense), and when they cut us off, we are resentful. We expect our spouse to meet all our needs, and when they don’t, we are resentful. We expect the church to be a functional, loving institution, and when it isn’t, we are resentful. Yet resentment is useless, like a weapon aimed at a target that always, somehow, boomerangs back at the shooter. And over time, resentment can turn into bitterness, or worse, hate.[1]

Think of how this plays out in in the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Mr. Potter, George Bailey’s business rival and archenemy, offers him a well-paying job with many perks, including frequent trips to Europe.

George, you’ll recall, always wanted to see the world. But “seeing the world” was one of many dreams that George sacrificed when his father died, and he inherited his father’s Savings and Loan. He also sacrificed his dream of going to college, becoming an architect, and “building things.” Instead, he watched his classmates and his brother achieve the fame and glory that, he believed, should have been his. 

So when Potter offers George the job, Potter’s underlying message to George is, “You deserve better than what you’ve received. It’s time to get what’s yours.”

To his credit, George decides not to make a deal with the devil. But the devil in this case wasn’t wrong: George is filled with resentment because, time and again, his life hasn’t lived up to his expectations. Remember: Expectation is a planned resentment.

Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, could have easily shared George’s resentment: He never expected his fiancée to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He never expected that King Herod would plot to kill this child. He never expected to flee with his family to Egypt and live as a refugee. He never expected to be unable to return to his hometown.

To say the least, Joseph’s life, like George’s, did not meet his expectations. 

But was Joseph filled with resentment? No. Because he understood that the only expectation to which he was entitled was the following: that God loved him, that God had a plan for his life, and that God was working through all circumstances for his own good and the good of the world.

Can you relate to the saying, “Expectation is a planned resentment”? How has this been true for you? In the Lord’s Prayer, when you pray, “thy will be done”—as opposed to my will be done—do you mean it? How would your life be different if you could be more like Joseph?

1. David Zahl, “November 22” in The Mockingbird Devotional (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2013), 388.

Advent Devotional Day 7: “Unbridled Joy”

December 7, 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 2:8-15

When I was a kid, my father had two jobs related to trimming the Christmas tree. First, he hauled it into the garage, sawed the bottom of the trunk off, and fit it into the tree stand. Next, he untangled the Christmas tree lights and tested the light bulbs. These were the days when lights were wired in “series,” which meant that if just one bulb was out, the entire strand didn’t work. So Dad had to go bulb by bulb, testing each one: untangling and testing, untangling and testing, untangling and testing.

A frustrating job! And let’s just say that Dad used some colorful language to describe his feelings about it! But Dad’s short temper and salty language didn’t bother me or my sisters in the least. In fact, we knew that Christmas was coming soon when Dad was cursing about Christmas tree lights!

As much as I love Christmas as an adult, I miss that feeling of pure, unbridled joy that I couldn’t contain when I was a kid at Christmastime. How about you?

I think this is the kind of joy that the angels have in today’s scripture.

After one angel makes the announcement to the shepherds abiding in the field, he’s joined by what Luke calls a “great assembly of the heavenly forces,” who are shouting, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” I don’t think these angels rehearsed this song in some kind of heavenly choir practice before joining in this heavenly song. I think it was a spontaneous outburst, as if these angels were so happy they couldn’t contain their joy! They had to appear out of heaven to sing God’s praises for sending his Son!

When was the last time you were so happy you just couldn’t hold it in? What if our own worship was like that? What prevents our worship from being like that? Think of something that God has done for you recently and praise him for it.

The foundation of fearlessness

December 6, 2018

Classic Christian theology teaches the following: At this very moment, God sustains the universe and everything in it into existence. This means that everyone and everything in the universe depends on God for their ongoing existence. Nothing currently exists apart from the active role that God is playing right now in giving it existence. To say the least, every heartbeat that we presently enjoy, we enjoy because God is giving it to us. Every breath we take, we take because God is permitting us to do so. If God refused to sustain our lives, we wouldn’t merely die; we would disintegrate. The atoms that compose our bodies would vanish.

Even the physical laws of the universe—which appear to us as a given state of affairs—cannot govern time, space, and matter apart from God’s enabling them to do so at every moment. Ultimately, physical objects in the universe do not operate according to laws, but to the very hand of God.

If anything, Jesus speaks with great modesty when he offers us these reassuring words about God’s sovereignty from Matthew 10:29-31:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Paul and the author of Hebrews paint a fuller picture of Christ’s sustaining role (emphasis mine):

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3a).

The only proper response to these words about God’s sustaining power is awe. But pastor Tim Keller brings them down to earth for us. In his book Hidden Christmas, he describes the level of faith that God asked of Mary when she spoke those astonishing words of surrender, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

The woman who spoke [at the conference] said, “If the distance between the Earth and the sun—ninety-three million miles—was no more than the thickness of a sheet of paper, then the distance from the Earth to the nearest star would be a stack of papers seventy feet high; the diameter of the Milky Way would be a stack of paper over three hundred miles high. Keep in mind that there are more galaxies in the universe than we can number. There are more, it seems, than dust specks in the air or grains of sand on the seashores. Now, if Jesus Christ holds all this together with just a word of his power (Hebrews 1:3)—is he the kind person you ask into your life to be your assistant?” That simple logic shattered my resistance to doing what Mary did. Yes, if he really is like that, how can I treat him as a consultant rather than as Supreme Lord?[1]

Indeed.

This morning I meditated on the following words from Psalm 3, which David wrote, we’re told, when he and his royal entourage were fleeing Jerusalem, after his son Absalom led an insurrection to overthrow his kingdom:

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around (Psalm 3:5-6).

There’s that word again: sustained. And it is on the basis of God’s sustaining power over our lives that we can be fearless. Why? Because God is giving us the life that we currently enjoy for a purpose—or purposes. And until those purposes are fulfilled (as pastor John Piper said in a different context), we are literally immortal. We are unkillable. Even if “many thousands” of men or devils are plotting against us, literally no one or nothing has the power to harm us.

Our Lord Jesus, who at this moment is holding your life together—along with the rest of universe(!)—will protect you until the moment that he has decided to bring you safely into his presence through death—an enemy that he’s already disarmed for us who belong to him.

1. Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas (New York: Viking, 2016), 91-2.

Advent Devotional Day 6: “Graced by God”

December 6, 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 1:26-38

Gabriel tells Mary, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you.” The Greek word for “favored one” literally means graced one: “one who is filled with grace.” This reminds us that the only way that Mary can be successful in carrying out God’s plan for her life is through God’s grace.

So… If God gives us the grace we need to answer God’s call for our lives, does that mean that life will be easy? Not at all!

While it’s safe to say that Mary was graced by God as much or more than anyone else who ever lived, notice how profoundly difficult and costly this grace was: Among other things, it meant setting aside lifelong dreams and plans. It meant facing false rumors about conceiving a child out of wedlock. It meant risking execution for adultery—because adultery was a capital crime. It meant risking her own life simply by giving birth—which in this age before modern medicine was dangerous. It meant leaving home and fleeing with her family to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous jealousy. It meant watching her own son suffer and die on a cross.

Truer words were never spoken than when the prophet Simeon tells Mary, shortly after Jesus’ birth, that “a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

God may never ask us to set aside all of our hopes and dreams and plans for his sake. God may never ask us to leave the comfort and security of home for his sake. God may never ask us to risk our lives for his sake. But in many ways, God is asking of us the same thing he asked of Mary: to offer ourselves completely to God, to go where he says to go, to do what he says to do.

What is God asking of you? What is God calling you to do? Pray that when God calls, you will respond the way Mary did: “Here am I, servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your Word.”

It’s O.K. to pursue personal happiness in God. In fact it’s required

December 5, 2018

I know I’m late to the party, but I am persuaded that John Piper is right about so-called “Christian hedonism”: that God is most glorified in us (n.b. we exist to glorify God) when we are most satisfied in him.”

Only Piper, perhaps, had the audacity to give this biblical truth a name—an intentionally provocative one at that—but it’s not like I haven’t read or heard about the concept in the work of others. For instance, on PZ’s Podcast, whenever my hero Paul Zahl compares God’s love to the songs by Journey (“the greatest rock band”), he’s really talking about Christian hedonism. We ought to find our greatest joy in Jesus Christ. 

Did you hear that, Brent? You ought to find the greatest joy in Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is supposed to make you happy. Full stop. For as long as God gives you life in this world, he intends for you to be fully satisfied in him. And then get heaven when you die!

But, but, but… This sounds like self-interest. Yes, it does. Because it is. And that’s O.K.

We Christians are like the Prodigal Son. Why does he return home? Is it because, more than anything, he feels sorry for the emotional and financial harm he caused his father and brother and wants to make it up to them as best he can? Hardly! While his sorrow may have played a secondary role in his repentance, the primary reason he repents and returns home is that he’s starving. “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!” (Luke 15:17)

We are also like the Samaritan woman at the well. When you consider her impact on her town, she might be the most successful evangelist in history:

So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him…

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:29-30, 39-42).

What motivates her to serve Jesus in this way—if “serve” is even the right word? (Note by contrast our reluctance to speak a word of witness about our faith!) It is nothing other than joy, which results from her having found in Christ a “spring of water welling up to eternal life,” such that she will “never be thirsty again” (John 4:14).

To say the least, her joy—her happiness, her satisfaction in Christ—comes first. Before she “left her water jar and went away into town” (John 4:28), she experienced joy.

We present-day Christians often get it backwards. The message we often hear from pulpits and best-selling Christian authors is, in so many words, first, “leave your water jar and go into town” and then you’ll find your happiness. Or worse: Maybe you won’t find happiness at all, but that’s tough. Living the Christian life is about gritting your teeth and getting to work.

This is why “serving” Jesus should not be the primary metaphor for the good work we do for Jesus. Before anything else, as Piper likes to say, the gospel is not a “help wanted” sign; it’s a “help available” sign. And everyone needs that help at all times.

I often hear Christians say that they’re “blessed to be a blessing,” and I might agree with the sentiment, depending on what they mean. Do they mean, “God fills me first with such joy and satisfaction in his Son Jesus that it’s my pleasure to go out and bless others. Indeed, when I do bless others, I experience even more of Jesus, so that makes me even happier”? In which case I agree!

Or do they mean, “God has equipped me with these blessings in life—like money, health, and time—as a means to an end: in order to give myself away in service to others, such that pursuing my own personal happiness in life is misguided, sinful, and selfish.”  If that’s what they mean by “blessed to be a blessing,” I can’t agree.

Because in my experience, “being a blessing” in this way—as an end in itself—can never fill up my tank. I don’t want to do “service” in that way. Besides, when I do, I’ll only be filled with resentment. Don’t get me wrong: I can “white-knuckle” my way through service to Jesus with the best of them; I can fake people out; but Jesus, as always, sees my heart. I’m never faking him out.

Surely there’s a better way!

And there is! Whatever good work I do, I do because it makes me happy. Because Jesus makes me happy. Because drinking from his living water and eating from his “bread of life” satisfies my deepest longing. He intends for it to do so.

Jesus himself points to this truth in John 4:32 and 34, after his disciples wonder why Jesus suddenly isn’t hungry, even though it’s long past dinner time, and he hasn’t eaten yet: “But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ … My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

Let’s imagine that this “food” to which Jesus refers is food that he wants to eat. It’s steak, in other words—not broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Is Jesus not helping himself (because who doesn’t want steak when you’re hungry) as he is also, at the same time, accomplishing God’s will?

Imagine being so happy in our heavenly Father—so nourished spiritually—that you can be completely satisfied in God even with a growling stomach! Jesus reminded us earlier that “man doesn’t live by bread alone”; here he lives it out.

Please don’t misunderstand: Notice I said above that being a blessing “as an end in itself” is a problem for me. Like the Samaritan woman, it isn’t a desire to “serve” or “be a blessing” that motivated her to witness to her fellow townspeople. It was the satisfaction of her soul’s deepest longing that she finds in Christ. Apart from this—if my experience as a failed evangelist is any guide—it’s unlikely that she’d find the courage or energy to do what she does. (After all, I can safely say that for the vast majority of us Christians, whatever currently motivates us to “witness using words” isn’t working. Right? Imagine doing it, first, because it makes us happy.)

This morning I was reading Zechariah, who prophesied in the time of the exiles’ return from Babylon, when the temple in Jerusalem was being rebuilt. In this passage of hope, the prophet writes the following:

But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong (Zechariah 8:11-13).

“You shall be a blessing,” he writes, by which he’s referring to the blessing of salvation for the world that God promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. God’s people Israel, he says, will now resume their role in the mission for which God created this nation in the first place: to bear witness to God and point to the forgiveness of sin that’s available through Israel’s Messiah Jesus. We are continuing this mission as the church—the Great Commission—although we do so now with the full revelation of God’s Son and his gospel.

But before we get to the mission… The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.” As I wrote in my journaling Bible this morning:

However these blessings from God manifest themselves in our lives today—as God’s people today—they are the wellspring from which mission flows. This was certainly true of the Samaritan woman at the well; surely it’s true for us! Our “blessing” of others—our mission to others—springs from a heart that finds its ultimate satisfaction in Jesus. We are blessed… then we bless others. The blessing comes first. If we try to reverse the order, we will find that living a Christian life is exhausting.

Advent Devotional Day 5: “Loving the Unlovable”

December 5, 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 15:1-7

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown is assigned the task of purchasing a Christmas tree for the Christmas pageant. In a Christmas tree lot of big, shiny, brightly-colored, indestructible aluminum trees—any one of which would have satisfied Charlie Brown’s friends and enemies back home—Charlie Brown  instead falls in love with the smallest, the ugliest, the weakest, the most despised little tree. “This little green tree needs a home,” he said. “I think it will be perfect. I think it needs me.”

I’m reminded of a story that Jesus told about a shepherd. The shepherd has a hundred sheep, and he loses one. Just one little sheep! Who could miss such an insignificant thing?

Well, the shepherd in the parable missed it, and he searches high and low for it. And when he finds it, Jesus says, the shepherd is overjoyed. He carries it on his shoulders and brings it home where it belongs. “Celebrate with me,” he tells his friends and family and neighbors, “because I’ve found my lost sheep.”

Charlie Brown is excited to rescue that little tree, bring it into the auditorium, and place it on Schroeder’s toy piano. His friends and enemies, however, are not excited. They don’t love the little tree the way Charlie Brown does. In fact, they transfer their hatred and scorn for the tree to Charlie Brown himself—and Charlie Brown bears the brunt of their hatred. He’s rejected, scorned, ridiculed, abandoned.

Do you hear the gospel in this?

Christmas means that God himself, through his Son Jesus, came into this world because God loves us and wants to save us. It was as if God said, “These lost human beings need a home. They’ve made a mess of their lives and this good world through sin, but I can fix it. I think they’ll be perfect. They need me to save them, to rescue them, to carry them home.” God loves the smallest, the ugliest, the weakest, and the most despised. Which means God loves sinners like you and me! And God rescues us so that we can be at home with God where we belong.

Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd has come to rescue you, too. Will you agree to be rescued? Will you let him carry you home. If you haven’t already, will you accept for yourself God’s gift of salvation?

 

Advent Devotional Day 4: “Least Likely to Succeed”

December 4, 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 1:26-33; John 1:45-46

Back in the first century, Mary and Joseph’s hometown of Nazareth was small and insignificant: About 200 or so poor or working-class people lived there. Remember in John Chapter 1, a disciple named Philip told his friend Nathanael, “Come and see the Messiah. He’s from Nazareth.” And Nathanael said,  “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?” Nazareth is hardly an obvious place for the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Savior, to call his hometown.

But isn’t that just like God to choose this unlikely girl from this unlikely town to bring God’s Son into the world? Isn’t God always doing this sort of thing? For example, when God first put his saving plan for the world into action, he made a covenant with the least likely person: A 75 year old man named Abraham. God chose this man to start a family that would become God’s covenant people, whose descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Never mind that Abraham and his wife were unable to have children. Never mind that they were way too old to be starting a family. Never mind that another 15 years would pass before Abraham and Sarah have their promised son. Gabriel’s words to Mary surely applied to him: “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Later, God chose Abraham’s descendants, who were slaves in Egypt, to be God’s people. “Nothing is impossible with God.” And he chose as their spokesman a man named Moses, who likely had a speech impediment or who stuttered, to confront the most powerful man in the world. “Nothing is impossible with God.” Still later, God called the youngest and least impressive of Jesse’s seven sons, David, to become his greatest king. “Nothing is impossible with God.”

As Paul told the believers at Corinth, “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”[1]

Remember the “senior superlatives” in your high school yearbook? “Most popular,” “Most congenial,” “Most likely to succeed”? If people were voting for the woman “most likely to be the mother of God’s Son,” they wouldn’t have voted for Mary. Fortunately, God knows what he’s doing!

Isn’t there a lesson there for us? Maybe you were never voted “most likely,” “most popular,” “prettiest,” “best looking.” “funniest…” But look out! You may be just the person God is looking for! You are a unique and wondrous creation of God. No one in the world—no one in all of human history, no one who has ever lived—possesses your unique set of gifts, your unique talents, your unique personality. No one is as good at being you as you are. God made you for a purpose and has a plan for your life. Don’t think for a minute that you can’t be used by God, or you’re not good enough to be used by God, or that you have to get all the problems of your life sorted out before you can start living for God.

Living a Christian life—which means being a faithful follower of Jesus—is not for the few, the proud, the super-saintly among us… It’s for the “normal,” the imperfect, the “least likely” people… like you and me.

Do you believe that God has a plan and purpose for your life? Can you think of ways that God has used you to bless others? List some ways. Pray that you can be a blessing to someone today.

1. 1 Corinthians 1:28 ESV

An unusual image for God’s love: the jealous lover

December 3, 2018

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In The Problem of Pain, a masterpiece of Christian theology, C.S. Lewis argues that suffering is necessary for God’s children if God is the loving God revealed in scripture:

When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of the terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artists’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring.[1]

I thought of this passage when I read Zechariah 8:2: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath.”

As the Lewis passage implies, the Bible portrays the loving relationship between God and his image-bearing creatures in many ways: for example, father and son, friend (John 15:15), king and subject or vicegerent, master and steward, artist and his artwork. But one important if overlooked image for God’s love is erotic: the love of husband and wife. This kind of love is portrayed positively (Song of Solomon; Jesus’ parables of wedding banquets in the synoptic gospels; Ephesians 5:25-33; Revelation 19:6-10) and negatively (many Old Testament prophets, including the entire Book of Hosea and the verse from Zechariah above).

In this post I want to focus on the negative: What does it mean that the Bible portrays God, at times, as nothing less than a jealous lover?

First, if you’ve been in love you know what Zechariah means when he says the Lord is jealous for his beloved “with great wrath”: Erotic love is the kind of love that guards, protects, and fights for his beloved—fearlessly. I’m reminded of a song by the Modern Lovers, Jonathan Richman’s band from the early-’70s, when he sings, “There’s a certain kind of girl that you care about so much/ You say, ‘I don’t care what you guys do to me, but her, don’t touch!'”

Surely you can relate to this feeling, right?

But I haven’t said enough. After all, parental love inspires parents to fight to the death, if necessary, for the sake of their loved ones. But erotic love adds a darker element. I describe it in my journaling Bible as follows:

Consider, too, how the jealous lover regards potential rivals: with pure hatred. This love isn’t merely the kind of love described above: it’s the kind of love that will kill, or at least wants to, when necessary. What does this mean for God and his relationship with us? It means he wants to destroy his rivals in our lives, which seek to woo us away from him and his love.

Given that scripture says he loves us in this way, doesn’t this make further sense of our suffering? Sometimes when we suffer, it isn’t so much that God is punishing us as God is killing within us those affections for people and things—whatever we idolize—that he himself deserves. We should expect this to be painful: If the only way that we will become more faithful members of the “Bride of Christ” is through suffering—whether caused directly by God or, more often, experienced as a necessary consequence of our unfaithfulness to him—then it would be UNTHINKABLE that our righteous Lover would spare us from it! He will not leave us alone until we are completely his—heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27).

We see this kind of love literally play out in Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:20-40.

Indeed, as Lewis writes, “You asked for a loving God: you have one.”

1. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1940; 1966), 39-40.

Advent Devotional Day 3: “Christ’s Family Tree”

December 3, 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 1:1-6; John 20:17

I know it’s difficult to read genealogies without having your eyes glaze over, but concentrate on these names. Do you notice anything strange? 

Why are these mothers mentioned: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and “the wife of Uriah”? Look at the rest of the genealogy. There are no other mothers mentioned, at least until Mary in verse 16. Why these women?

To say the least, they have interesting backstories. Tamar committed incest with her father-in-law, Judah. Rahab was a prostitute and a Gentile, an outsider to God’s people Israel. Ruth was a Gentile from a nation considered an enemy of Israel. And the wife of Uriah happens to be Bathsheba, the woman with whom King David had an adulterous affair, and whose husband, Uriah, David arranged to kill in order to protect their secret. For that matter, by calling Bathsheba the “wife of Uriah,” Matthew is reminding us of David’s great sin.

What is God up to in his Word?

Among other things, God wants to remind us that all these sinners, outsiders, and former enemies belong in the same family with God’s Son Jesus. Because of what Christ did for us through his death and resurrection, we are now—as Jesus tells Mary Magdalene in John 20—his brothers and sisters. His Father is now our Father.

If there’s room for sinners, outsiders, and former enemies in Jesus’ family tree, there’s surely room for someone like me—and you!

If you’ve been made a part of God’s family through faith in Christ, spend time right now praising God for sending his “only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Advent Devotional Day 2: “Things Were Different”

December 2, 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 15:1-2, 11-24

In the holiday classic movie A Christmas Story, the nine-year-old protagonist, Ralphie, has finally had enough: he beats up a bully who has been tormenting  him and his friends for years. His mom intervenes to stop it, but it’s too late. She arrives in time to see her son pummeling the boy mercilessly and—worse, from Ralphie’s perspective—to overhear him cursing like a sailor as he does so. 

His mother, however, is filled with compassion. She takes him home, washes his face, consoles him, and puts him to bed so he can calm down.

At dinner, when his father asks about his day, Ralphie is shocked when his mother downplays the fight—and doesn’t mention the profanity.

“I slowly began to realize,” Ralphie said, in retrospect, “I was not about to be destroyed. From then on things were different between me and my mother.”

From then on, Ralphie realized that his mother was not going to destroy him. He knew that compassion, mercy, and grace were going to win out over judgment, wrath, and death. He knew that his mother was on his side. And he knew that nothing he could do would separate him from his mother’s love. 

Our heavenly Father loves us like that!

Think about today’s scripture. The younger son has squandered his father’s property, threatened his family’s financial security, and told his father, in so many words, that he wished he were dead. And now, out of desperation, the younger son is going home. He can’t predict what his father will do to him. But he knows what he deserves. The best he can hope for is that his father will at least let him live like a slave. 

But the unimaginable happens: when he returns home and experiences his father’s love, mercy, and compassion, what must he have thought?

“I slowly began to realize, I was not about to be destroyed. From then on things were different between me and my father.”

And so it is with us. Our God refused to let sin separate us from him for eternity. He refused to let us get what we deserved. He refused to let us suffer hell without intervening to save us. He loved us too much. 

And God knew before the foundation of the world the price he would pay to save us—that God himself would come into the world in Christ and die on a cross. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And now things are different between us and God. There is now no condemnation! If we’ll only receive the free gift that he’s offering us!

Have you received this free gift of God? If so, do you picture God as a compassionate father, eager to forgive you—or as Someone who’s waiting to punish you when you mess up? Which picture better corresponds with the Bible?