Monday Message

The Monday Message offers a chance to further reflect on the Sunday sermon.  This email based devotional is designed to help us continue to wrestle with God’s Word during the week. If you are not receiving this message you can sign up here.

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Real Hope

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Luke 1:18-20
Zechariah is a pretty normal figure in Luke’s telling of the Christmas story. He is a good guy. Luke will even tell us that he and his wife, Elizabeth, are righteous. They are good church-going people. They are faithful but not extraordinary. They do their duty. They are older and never had children. They bear the burden of this barrenness with little comment, with faithful resignation.
These ordinary lives are exploded by Christmas hope. In order to prepare the way for Mary and for Jesus, God gives this ordinary, unassuming couple a baby. Elizabeth will support Mary and their child will support Jesus. Better, barrenness will be made fruitful! Their home will be blessed with the gift of a child’s laughter! In this invasion of Christmas, the angel Gabriel comes to tell Zechariah the good news.
I love Zechariah’s response. First, he is in awe of the angel and all that the angel has to say. Then, he pushes back… just a little. “Are you sure? We are getting a bit old for this.” He and Elizabeth had resigned themselves to the way life is quite some time ago.
In my opinion, Gabriel over-reacts just a bit. “Really? You are going to question me on this? I just came here from the presence of God! Yes, this is happening. And if you can’t be a bit more thankful and hopeful in response, then I don’t want you saying anything.” And Zechariah is struck dumb so that his doubts are restrained, and he is free to contemplate the hope that is overcoming his faithful resignation.
I see myself readily in Zechariah. He is not doubting God. He is doubting himself… his life. Would God really lavish such blessing upon Elizabeth and him? Does God really bring real hope to us on Christmas?
We get used to our lives of faithful resignation. We know the ways that life is tough. We have learned to accommodate the pain, the difficulty, to try our best to carve out lives of faith. We limit our fight and our passion to the things we can do. We work hard. We sweep our own front porch.
But Christmas hope comes to explode our ordinary lives. It sweeps us up into good news that lavishes from the very presence of God. Do we hear it? Will we push back? Or will we spend some time this Christmas contemplating the hope that will overcome all of our faithful resignation?
Jesus, thank you for the hope of Christmas. Thank you for the ways that you do not leave us alone in our ordinarily faithful lives. Help us to see and welcome the lavish gift of Jesus stepping into our world. In Jesus’ name, amen. 


Christmas Hope

 …if you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.
Isaiah 7:9
Christmas is one of the most beautiful times of year. It is a time where we put tinsel and colored lights on everything, making sure nothing is drab or lacking in joy. It is a time of excess when we buy people stuff that they don’t need and eat stuff that we don’t need. It is a time of connection when cards come from old friends and family comes for a visit.
But above all of these things, Christmas is a season of hope. And frankly, hope is something we need more than tinsel or lights, more than gifts or holiday food, more than cards or visits from the in-laws. We could really use hope.
In Hebrews 11, the apostle Paul tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is living from hope. It is living from more than circumstances.
Our passage in Isaiah was spoken at a time when hope was hard to come by. It was spoken to the King of Judah just before Judah was about to be invaded. The invasion was going to come. Isaiah the prophet told the King that the only way to withstand the circumstances was with faith. If you have nothing to hope for, there is no way you can stand up in difficult times.
The thing about tinsel and decorations and holiday food and presents is that they do nothing to provide hope.
The thing about Christmas is that it is a season of hope.
A few verses after his statement about standing firm in faith, Isaiah told King Ahaz that God would give hope. A young woman would bear a son and his name will be Immanuel. A young woman having a baby sounds like normal circumstances. Perhaps, if the young woman is young and not ready, it is part of the difficult circumstances. There is little notable in this. But in the midst of these normal circumstances was Christmas. The child would be Immanuel, God among us.
Christmas reminds us that our circumstances are not without hope. Instead, they are pregnant with the presence of God. God is here. God is among us. This is something we can cling to and stand firm.
While we are standing firm, it is a pretty good idea to rejoice and celebrate with a little bit of tinsel and decorations, some gift giving and eating, and whole lot of sharing our hope with each other on Christmas.
Lord Jesus, you give us hope. Help us to know your presence this Christmas. Help us to know the hope that gives us the strength to stand firm. Help us to celebrate in this faith during this Christmas season.


Our Great King Of Feasting

21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
Luke 15:21-24
What does it mean to be a child of God? We sometimes approach the definition as a label of saintliness, a summary of evidenced character, or an earned quality of personhood. We can forget the indelible truth that this is a permanent identity substantiated by our mere existence as human beings. Every person is a child of God and nothing can ever change that fact. But do we claim that identity and act like his children? Do we live into that deepest truth about ourselves and understand and receive the privilege that comes with it? When we forget to see ourselves as permanently beloved children we forget the truth of our relationship with a God who accepts us always through Jesus and we also forget to see other people the way God does. Satan would tell us that God would no longer have us, that we are irredeemable, unwelcome to his presence, that we need to be better in order to live up to how God has forever seen each of us.
We need to be reminded that even the most difficult, abrasive, and seemingly hopeless individuals we know and see bear the mark of our Lord’s craftsmanship, the image bearers of God by their mere existence. They are his children no matter how lost or rebellious and the Lord’s desire will always be to have his children come be with him and live a life that is rooted in and acknowledges this relationship. That God delights over this, celebrates when his children seek him, especially at their very worst moments. God as creator and father desires to freely and abundantly provide for his children. He desires to celebrate and feast with us and be present with him in the blessings that he provides us daily.
We ground ourselves in this identity by being in the Word of God as often as we are able, being in prayer and communion with our creator as often as we are able, and communing with his people, the church. This holiday season let us try to reflect the joy and embracing heart of our heavenly Father who welcomes the lost to his house and table always and eternally because of our King Jesus Christ – the ultimate provision, the ultimate cause for celebration.
Lord God you are our mighty Father in heaven who delights in being with your people. Help me to remember and rejoice in the truth that I am welcome to your banquet table always, that the sacrifice of Jesus invites every person to the celebration of your established Kingdom here upon the earth. Give me your eyes and your heart towards those who go their own way, those who don’t see who they are or how strongly you desire them to call upon you as Father, Lord, Creator. Let me be quick in remembering I am your loved child, and bold to remind those you seek to tell in this celebratory season. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Giants in the Land: Lulled to Sleep

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you…. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God….
Deuteronomy 8:10, 12
Sometimes I think that God needs a good publicist. There is so much that should be attributed to God that isn’t. Our text tells us that we get proud in our hearts and tend to attribute the things we should be thankful about to ourselves. Later in the passage, the writer puts words in our mouth: “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” (Deut. 8:17) If you speak those words aloud, you will find that they fit more easily into your mouth than you would like to believe. It is easy to begin to believe it and forget God.
The prescription to this amnesia is laid out for us in verse 10. When we have eaten and are satisfied, we should praise the LORD our God. This takes discipline. Once the tryptophan starts to kick in, all we want to do is lean back, watch some football, and take a well-deserved nap. Instead, the text tells us, we should praise God for the good that he has given us.
Thanksgiving reconnects us to God. It is God’s publicist forcing us to reconsider, to correctly attribute, and to discover God in our blessings. As we listen, we find that our hearts are moved to worship. Our blessings take on the greater meaning of being the proof of God’s provision, God’s concern, and God’s connection to us. When that happens, we find ourselves thanking God all over again.
Jesus, thank you that I am more than me. Thank you that the blessings in my life have your fingerprints on them and not just the residue of my effort. Thank you for the ways you have upheld me even in the storm, sustained me even when I was wobbly, and gave second wind even when I had given up hope. Thank you for the testimony of my present blessings. Through them I am reminded that I will forever be in your hands. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Giants in the Land: Deathly Afraid 

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
Philippians 1:21
I recently spoke with a friend who had lost a relative who had been slowly declining for years. As we talked about both the practical and the soulful aspects of this death, I asked if my friend’s relative had left plans for a funeral. My friend smiled sardonically and said, “Dying wasn’t in his plans.”
This is true for so many of us. We don’t like to think about or even consider death. But we all do… or will die. Perhaps we avoid death because there seems to be only grief and mystery in death. Perhaps we avoid death because the only emotions we find there are fear and sadness. But when we avoid death completely, we miss the most powerful promises that are given to us in Christ Jesus. Thus, we make decisions and live life with a pall of fear and denial where God offers us hope and promise.
The apostle Paul was able to clearly look at death in this passage from his letter to the Philippians. He did not do so with any sense of depression or fear. Nor did he approach the passage because of resignation in the gift of his life. Instead, he looked at death in the light of the hope that was given to him in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul lived his life in the hope of Jesus’ presence. Thus, it is not surprising that death promised more of the same.
What is important for us to see is how this affected how Paul lived. He was facing a trial for his faith that could lead to his death. In that situation, it would be understandable for Paul to do anything necessary to preserve his life. But because death was colored by hope instead of fear, Paul was resolute in his faith. Come what may, he chose to partner with the glory of God.
Dying might not be in your plans, but the promises of God provide the freedom to live without the fear of death. In fact, in Christ, dying need not be part of your plans because God’s promise is that “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54)
Do not be afraid of death. Ask God for the hope that is yours in Christ Jesus. Thus, live every moment of life you are given fully and free of the fear of death.
Dear Jesus, thank you for your promise of life… life now and life without end. We ask for faith to believe what we cannot see in regard to life and death. We ask that you step into our fear of the mystery and the sadness, the pain and the loss, and give us hope. Thus, free us to live in hope now and die in hope when it is time. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.