Advent 2022: Day 4

Psalm 34 – I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.


Basil the Great: He who has despised present things, and has given himself to the word of God and is using his mind for thoughts that are above and are more divine, he would be the one who has a contrite heart and has made it a sacrifice that is not despised by the Lord. For “a contrite and humbled heart, O God, you will not despise.” … He who has no vanity and is not proud of anything human, he is the one who is contrite in heart and humble of spirit.

Augustine: These are the great mysteries, brothers and sisters. God is above all things; if you lift yourself up, you do not touch him, but if you humble yourself, he comes down to you.


Devotional Prayer based on today’s readings

Almighty and merciful God, I pray for a heart that extols you in all seasons and all times. During times of plenty and times of need. When my circumstances appear hopeless and when my cup overflows. I humbly ask you to let praise and adoration always be upon my lips and in my soul. Let this praise and adoration animate my life – my thoughts, words, deeds, and desires.

Father, in every instance that I have sought you, I have found you. In fact, I have discovered that you never left my side. Never have you left nor abandoned me. More than that, it was only by your strength that I was able to call out for you, to search for you, and to “find” you, though in reality, you found me.

Please fill me with a reverential awe of who you are, of all you have done, and all you have promised to do. With the saints who have come before, let the deepest longing of my heart also be to know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly. Remind me daily that in you I lack nothing. Indeed Lord, I have tasted and know with all my heart that you are good, and your goodness is plentiful.

Let my life reflect yours. Help me to be holy as you are holy. I want to love as you love. Lead me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. I desire to keep you ever before me and to pursue you all my days. I praise you that you are not a distant, faraway deity, but a loving Father who is close to the brokenhearted, and when I cry out, you are there. When I seek, you reveal yourself. When I knock, you answer. When I’m in need, you provide. O gracious God, you are too wonderful for words to express. So please receive this meager effort to adore and thank you. Amen.

Ten Commandments, Lesson 7: You Shall Not Murder

From my new book, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about the way of the Lord.


The sixth commandment forbids: taking our own or anyone else’s life, except the pursuit of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; neglecting or withholding the necessary means for the preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, or desire for revenge; all excessive emotions and distracting anxieties; intemperate eating, drinking, working, or playing, speaking in a provocative way, oppressing, quarreling with, hitting, or wounding others, or anything else conducive to the destruction of anyone’s life. (The Westminster Larger Catechism)

I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor – not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds – and I am not to be a part to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge. I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.

By forbidding murder, God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness. In God’s sight all such are murder. (The Heidelberg Catechism)

All life belongs to God. Human life is especially sacred because we are created in God’s image, and because Jesus came to give us new and abundant life in him. Christians, therefore should act with reverence toward all living things, and with special regard for the sanctity of human life.

As a witness of the Gospel and a follower of Christ, I can also keep this commandment by forgiving those who wrong me, patiently refraining from ungodly anger and hateful words; defending the unborn, vulnerable, and oppressed; rescuing those who harm themselves; and seeking the well-being of all. (To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism)


Introduction

The following observation may perhaps be an overgeneralization, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. If you asked a group of people to name the Ten Commandments, most could name commandments 6-9,  prohibitions against murder, adultery, stealing, and lying. I’m not sure the other ones would come to mind as easily.

But even with these commandments we find that there is a misunderstanding, or an “incompleteness” to their understanding of what all these commandments are meant to convey. This comprehensive view was evident in the old covenant but became much clearer (and convicting) in the new. For example, Jesus said to his audience in the Sermon on the Mount that they had heard it said they should not murder. “Good,” he said, “you shouldn’t.” “But I tell you, if you have unrighteous anger or hatred in your heart for someone, you have committed murder in your heart against them” (Dale Tedder paraphrase). And the same was true with adultery (lust), stealing (coveting), and lying.

In each case, far more than the mere outward behavior was involved. Jesus cared about the attitude and motive of one’s heart, which Jesus, and the other New Testament authors, assured us was the birthplace for evil and sinful deeds. Therefore, Jesus was very concerned about the condition of one’s heart. Do we love what God loves? Do we desire what God desires? Are we pursuing the right things, for the right reasons, in the right ways? These questions and more are involved when we talk about Christian ethics – about faithfully living the Christian life.

The commandment this lesson focuses upon, the sixth commandment, used to be understood as, “Thou shalt not kill.” But more accurate translations came along and it became clear that what was in mind was murder. And even as our laws represent today, so too the Old Testament had rules about those who murdered others with malice of forethought, those who did so accidentally, and those who did so in self-defense. And, then, of course, this topic of murder opens up into greater societal issues such as capital punishment, abortion, and other politically charged issues of the day.

But what we can all agree on, with regard to this commandment, is that there is a high premium placed on the value and respect for life. Why? Each life is sacred because it has been created in the image of God and has an inherent significance and dignity. Sin has crept in, and our fallen nature has made a mess of things, yet that does not remove God’s image inherent in each person. Therefore, even while we seek to be obedient to God and better understand his will for the issues related to life, we must always treat others with dignity and respect. My hope is that the following questions will guide you in wrestling with these topics, giving you both a better understanding of what the commandment does and does not mean, as well as appreciation for your neighbor, those you know and those you don’t, for they each have a sacredness to them as human beings created in God’s image.


Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)

Advent 2022: Day 3

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 – You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.


St. Augustine: Therefore, our good Master has taught us by his apostle not to live right and to do right in order to be praised by men, that is, not to make the praise of men our motive for doing right, yet for the sake of men we are to seek what is worthy of praise. Even when good men are praised, the benefit falls more on those who praise than on those who are praised. For, as far as the latter are concerned, it is enough for them that they are good. But the former, whose advantage it is to imitate the good, are to praise the good because they give evidence that those whom they praise sincerely are pleasing to them. Thus the apostle says in a certain passage: “If I pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” In another passage he says: “Please all men in all things as I also in all things please all men,” but he gives the reason: “not seeking that which is profitable to myself but to many that they may be saved.”


Devotional Prayer based on today’s readings

Merciful Father, you know my weakness. You know how alluring the praise of the crowd is. The desire to be liked and well thought of is strong. But I am not strong; I am feeble. And so today I ask you to fill me with your Spirit and to give me an assurance that pleasing you is enough. More than enough.

Let my prayer be in secret. Let my fasting be in secret. Let my giving be in secret. Let my service to others be in secret. Remind me that you see all, and you are my audience. You are the One I seek to please and glorify. And yet, O Lord, let the result of my prayer, fasting, giving, service, and other good works that may be seen by others be for your praise in heaven.

Please give me such a love for you and others that it will not even occur to me to desire the praise and approval of others. Give me a growing self-forgetfulness and selflessness that focuses continually upon you and others. Let my goal not be “that which is profitable to myself but to many that they may be saved.”

As the Apostle Paul’s was to the Thessalonians, help my character and conduct be “holy, righteous, and blameless” as well as “encouraging, comforting and urging [others] to live lives worthy of God, who calls [them] into his kingdom and glory.” What a calling! What a humble calling you have given to me and to all who have been touched by your grace, filled by your Spirit, and called by your still small voice into your service. For this, O God, I give you praise. Amen.

Advent 2022: Day 2

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Chrysostom: For to give thanks to God for them is the act of one testifying to how they have advanced in the faith. Not only are the Thessalonians praised by Paul, but Paul thanks God for them, as though God himself had accomplished everything. Paul also teaches them to be moderate in their self-estimation, all but saying that all their growth is from the power of God.

Devotional Prayer based on today’s readings

Good Shepherd, thank you for those who have shepherded me throughout my life and faith. For those who have led, fed, protected, healed, cared for, and loved me, I offer you my deepest gratitude. These are the very men and women who have modeled faith and godliness for me. I have been impacted in rich ways I will never be fully aware of, but also in many ways in which I am. Thank you for sending these people into my life O Lord, because I know every good gift is from you, including these shepherds and models of faith.

God, I pray that you will continually fill me with power from your Spirit, as you did the Thessalonians, for I cannot persevere without your gracious strength and stamina. Your Spirit animates my faith and life, from first to last, and I am lost without his presence living in and through me.

I humbly pray that my efforts of feebly attempting to imitate the godliness of those who have come before me will serve others on their journeys of faith as well. Like the Thessalonians, I pray that your truth will ring out by the example of my life, so that others might see and hear it and give you glory and praise and come to know you savingly.

I praise you for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and for rescuing me from the coming wrath. Please enable my “Christian ringing” to be an attractive echoing of grace, truth, and love, even in its urgency, instead of a clanging gong that drives others away from you. Let my message be your message and help me to trust you in all of it. Remind me that you will bring forth the fruit, not me. You call me to be faithful to you, regardless of how the world hears me. Give me faithfulness each day dear Lord. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

O Worship the King

O worship the King, all glorious above
O gratefully sing HIs wonderful love
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace
Whose robe is the light and canopy space
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm

O measureless might, ineffable love
While angels delight to worship above
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend

You alone are the matchless King
To You alone be all majesty
Your glories and wonders, what tongue can recite?
You breathe in the air, You shine in the light

Advent 2022: Day 1

2 Peter 3:1-10 – Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.


Bede the Venerable – “All those who love our Lord’s return must have a balanced approach to the whole question. We must not think that it is so near that it will come before time, but neither must we think that it will not come until much later. Rather we must be careful to make sure that, whether Christ comes sooner or later, he will find us ready and waiting for him when he appears.”


Devotional Prayer based on today’s readings

Gracious God, we give you thanks, on this first day of Advent, for the coming of our Lord, Savior, and King, Jesus Christ. You remind us in the gospels that he would be named Jesus for he would save his people from their sins. He is Lord and King of all and Savior of all who call upon him. That you love us and are mindful of even us, we give you our thanks this day.

Father, in a day when “scoffers” will come and deny and/or reject the proclamation and truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we pray for your protection and edification. Strengthen us to stand firm. Yet we pray for loving and tender hearts that help us to not turn our backs on such scoffers, but to patiently reach out to them with the good, life-giving, and life-transforming news of the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Remind us of that time, when things looked bleakest during those three days our Lord was in the tomb, that it was also your plan to raise him from the dead. Remind us again that there will be those who cry out, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” Remind us through your Spirit and inspired Word, that life and history are moving according to your providential plan, and thus, we needn’t worry or turn away from the path you have set before us.

As the venerable Bede put it, “Rather we must be careful to make sure that, whether Christ comes sooner or later, he will find us ready and waiting for him when he appears.” Furthermore, we are able to wait because we know that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” Father, you are caught off guard by nothing; our universe, and all within it, move according to your gracious and sovereign will. Moreover, you are “patient with [us], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Therefore, in one sense, let us rejoice for every “extra” day our Lord does not return. Let us think of each day as a day of grace, a day for disciples of Jesus Christ to boldly and lovingly declare to scoffers and seekers alike that today can be the day of their salvation. Let us encourage them to put their trust today in the babe of Bethlehem, the Lord Jesus Christ. How good our God is to exercise such patience with us and “delay” his return so that “everyone” may turn to him in repentant faith.

Father, one day it will be too late for us to turn to you in repentance and faith. We pray for each and every person who has not yet done so. We pray that today would be the day of their salvation. Move them through your Spirit. Give them eyes to see and ears to hear. Speak through us and others whom you have redeemed and reconciled to yourself. Our lives are different now because of who you are and what you have done in our lives through Christ the Lord. Let our words and lives awaken others to that possibility in their lives. For it is your desire.

We ask this in the name of the One whose first Advent we begin celebrating today and who will one day come again in glory. Amen.

Praying for God’s Will

The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 49

124. Question: What is the third petition?

Answer: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. That is: Grant that we and all men may deny our own will, and without any murmuring obey Thy will, for it alone is good.[1] Grant also that everyone may carry out the duties of his office and calling[2] as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.[3]

[1] Matt. 7:21; 16:24-26; Luke 22:42; Rom. 12:1, 2; Tit. 2:11, 12. [2] I Cor. 7:17-24; Eph. 6:5-9. [3] Ps. 103:20, 21.