Advent 2022: Day 6

Luke 20:41 – 21:4

41 Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
43 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” ’
44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

21:1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”


Leo the Great: Although the spite of some people does not grow gentle with any kindness, nevertheless the works of mercy are not fruitless, and kindness never loses what is offered to the ungrateful. May no one, dearly beloved, make themselves strangers to good works. Let no one claim that his poverty scarcely sufficed for himself and could not help another. What is offered from a little is great, and in the scale of divine justice, the quantity of gifts is not measured but the steadfastness of souls. The “widow” in the Gospel put two coins into the “treasury,” and this surpassed the gifts of all the rich. No mercy is worthless before God. No compassion is fruitless. He has given different resources to human beings, but he does not ask different affections.


Devotional Thought based on today’s readings

Today I offer a very brief thought rather than a prayer. I am tempted to let Leo the Great’s words suffice for they are beautifully and poignantly expressed. This morning I was reading A Christmas Carol by Dickens. The two men collecting money for the poor introduced themselves and their errand to Scrooge, at which time they were immediately and ungraciously rebuffed with his contempt and disdain for others. Here was a man who could have financially helped everyone within his sphere yet closed his heart to them. (Of course, we know the rest of the story and what can happen to a person whose heart is reborn and reopened by grace.)

Yet the people Jesus describes in today’s Scripture are those who can give much and do so. It’s not that they were wrong to give. But they were giving out of their abundance and thus their offering was not sacrificial. The poor widow, who probably should have been the recipient of the temple treasury’s provision for the poor, gave out of her impoverished condition. Hers, according to Jesus, was the sacrificial gift that is dear to our Father’s heart.

Whether we are giving money or our time and talent, God calls us to be living sacrifices, which is our acceptable service to the Lord (Romans 12:1). It shows our commitment to God to be sure. But it also reveals a deep dependence upon him as well. For if we give what we will not miss, or do that which costs us nothing, we are not living sacrificial lives.

Let me hasten to add that we don’t live this sort of life in order to be saved. If we are Christians, then we have already been saved by God’s grace alone, received by faith in Christ alone. This is no meritorious system. This is fruit. What else would a life redeemed and reconciled by a gracious God do?

The other word for us here is not to compare how much we give to any other person. As the old saying goes, comparison is death to contentment. The widow gave numerically less than the others yet gave more because it was all she had. That’s how God’s Kingdom economy works. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, the person who increased the two talents he was given to four, received the same praise as the one who doubled his five talents to ten. Each was given a particular number of talents. Each was faithful with what he was given. Each received the same praise from his master.

Whether you are rich or poor, gifted with many talents or few, you are called to give out of what the Lord has provided you. If you have more, give more. If you have little, give what you can from that. Leo was surely correct when he said, “What is offered from a little is great, and in the scale of divine justice, the quantity of gifts is not measured but the steadfastness of souls.” Let the steadfastness of your soul be enlarged, like the widow’s in our Scripture, or like the soul of Ebeneezer Scrooge himself. Not because you have to, as our senior pastor likes to put it, but because you get to. Yet let this paraphrased divine caveat be inserted here: “to the person who has been given much, much is expected (Luke 12:48). Let the recipients of such gifts rejoice at the opportunities that await.

Thanks be to God.

Advent 2022: Day 5

Isaiah 2:12-22

12 The Lord Almighty has a day in store
for all the proud and lofty,
for all that is exalted
(and they will be humbled),
13 for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty,
and all the oaks of Bashan,
14 for all the towering mountains
and all the high hills,
15 for every lofty tower
and every fortified wall,
16 for every trading ship 
and every stately vessel.
17 The arrogance of man will be brought low
and human pride humbled;
the Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
18     and the idols will totally disappear.

19 People will flee to caves in the rocks
and to holes in the ground
from the fearful presence of the Lord
and the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to shake the earth.
20 In that day people will throw away
to the moles and bats
their idols of silver and idols of gold,
which they made to worship.
21 They will flee to caverns in the rocks
and to the overhanging crags
from the fearful presence of the Lord
and the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to shake the earth.

22 Stop trusting in mere humans,
who have but a breath in their nostrils.
Why hold them in esteem?


Origen: Not only do human beings “make gods for themselves” from statues, but you will also find them “making gods for themselves” from their imaginations. For such people can imagine another god and creator of the world in a system different from the divine plan of the world recorded by the Spirit, other than the true world. These all have “made gods for themselves,” and they have “worshiped the works of their hands.” So, too, I believe is the case either among the Greeks who generate opinions, so to speak, of this philosophy or that, or among the heretics, the first who generate opinions. These have “made idols for themselves” and figments of the soul, and by turning to them “they worship the works of their hands,” since they accept as truth their own fabrications.


Devotional Prayer based on today’s readings

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are the one true God and there is no other. You care deeply that we know this… that we believe this… that we live according to this truth. You built it into the fabric of your people when you taught us that you alone are God and therefore, we must have no other gods in your presence. And yet, O Lord, we are idol factories.

Whether we are cutting down trees and carving idols for our altars with leftover wood, forming and shaping precious metals into images, or bowing before a mirror, our innate need to worship has gone wrong.

In some instances of our idolatry, we turn the good into the enemy of the best. We take your good gifts, such as our health, families, jobs, homes, and other good gifts you have provided, and made them the focus and grand pursuits of our lives. And, at other times, we create fabrications of who you are based on our personal preferences. We turn from your clear commands and go on our own ways because we know better and are more enlightened than the ancient words written by ancient people. For this, Almighty and Only Wise God, we ask for your forgiveness and for the desire and power to repent and seek you only.

The season of Advent reminds us that as you visited us in the flesh the first time, you will once again return. But you will not return as a babe in a manger but as the judging King of kings and Lord of lords. And as our Scripture for today reveals, there will be no place to hide from you. The idols of our hearts will be laid bare before you. Those lesser things in which we placed our adoration and devotion will be exposed. That will not be the time to repent. That opportunity will have passed us by.

O God, today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to meet with you in faith and repentance. Today is the day to humble ourselves before you and recognize you for who you are. Today is the day to bow before you and cry out, “my Lord and my God.” Today is the day to throw our idols into the fire and rejoice in our freedom from them… and to celebrate our true liberation found only in Christ. You alone are God and there is no other. In Christ’s holy name we pray. 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

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.