Sunday, December 30, 2018

why have you treated us like this?

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I am tempted to allow my circumstances to determine how I see and interact with the world, please stop me.  Help me to never view my life and my relationship with you through the lenses of demandingness and entitlement, but help me, instead, to see all of life through the lenses of grace and gratitude.  I can do this only through you.  Lord, help me.  Amen.

Scripture: Luke 2:41-50

Journal: What does the question, “Why have you treated us this way?” do within you right now?  How have you asked Jesus that question lately?

Reflection: We are not so different, it seems, from Mary and Joseph.  For when we can’t seem to find Jesus—when he is not where we think he ought to be—we also tend to ask the questions: “Where are you?  Why have you treated us this way?”  As if our idea of where Jesus should be and what he should do were somehow more accurate than his own.

     But luckily Jesus doesn’t cater to us.  He doesn’t always behave quite the way we want him to.  He operates on a whole different wavelength.  He sees things from a larger, more eternal perspective, and he acts accordingly.  Therefore, he doesn’t always give us what we want, or what we think we need.  But he is always present; just maybe not in the ways we are demanding and expecting at the moment.  He is always right where he is supposed to be.  “Why were you looking all over for me?” he says.  “I’m right where I’m supposed to be, in my Father’s house.  I am also in my word and in my creation and even in your heart, as well as the hearts of those you are in community with.  So don’t run around anxiously looking for me, you know right where to find me.  I am, and always will be, Emmanuel, God with us.

     So when we find ourselves asking Jesus, as Mary and Joseph did, “Why have you treated us this way?” we need to ask ourselves what is behind that question.  For there are two different ways of looking at it.  One way is through the lenses of demand and entitlement, as if saying, “Jesus, why are you not where I think you should be and why are you not doing what I think you should do?”  But the other way of seeing this question is much different, and much more life-giving.  It is looking at it through the lenses of grace and gratitude.  It is when we come to Jesus, not demanding that he show up in some preconceived way, but grateful that he has made us his own when he did not have to, and when we did not deserve it.  It is coming to him with a spirit that says, “God, I do not deserve you.  I do not deserve your grace and I do not deserve your blessings.  But even still, you, because of your great love, have made me your own.  You have blessed me with life and salvation and family and community that I do not deserve.  Thank you!”  The question is, what lenses will I choose to look through today?  How will I ask that question?  Because how I ask that question makes all the difference.

Pray

Closing Prayer: Why, Lord Jesus, would you choose to pour out your grace upon me?  Why in the world would you choose me and make me your own?  Allow your grace and your mercy to overwhelm me this day, and to fill me with a deep sense of joy and gratitude.  Thank you, Lord Jesus.  Thank you.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

my soul in silence waits

Opening Prayer: For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2, ESV)

Scripture: Psalm 62:1-8

Journal: How are you waiting on God these days?  What does that look like?  What is it doing within you?  How might God be waiting on you?

Reflection: He works in tranquility and tranquility seldom goes in partnership with speed.  God breaks few records but he always arrives in the end.  One of the best things we can do for our souls is to wait and one of the worst things is to force the issue.  God lets the plant grow at its own pace. (The Fruits of the Spirit by Evelyn Underhill)

Prayer

Closing Prayer: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:5-8, ESV)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

simeon

Opening Prayer: “Lord, now you are letting your servant[e] depart in peace, according to your word;  for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Scripture: Luke 2:22-35

Journal: What does the life of Simeon have to teach you today?  How is God calling you to be like him?

Reflection: We do not know exactly how old Simeon was, or how long it had been since the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ, but suffice it to say that it had probably been a while.  His “shift” standing on the wall, keeping watch more than a watchman waits for the morning, had most likely been a long one.  He was old and tired and eager for the day when the sun would finally come up again and he would see the coming of the King, so that he could finally leave his role as watchman of Israel and depart in peace and enter the eternal rest offer to all God’s people.  
     And on this particular day, his dreams finally came true.  You can hear it in his voice as Joseph and Mary bring the newborn King into the temple to present him to the Lord. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”  
     Finally, O Lord, my work is done.  My long shift as watchman has come to an end.  For with my own eyes I have seen the Savior.  The One who has come to redeem his people.  For with the Lord is unfailing love, and with him is full redemption.  He will redeem Israel from all their sins.  Thanks be to God!  
     How easy it would have been not to notice.  I mean, hundreds, if not thousands, of babies had come through the temple during his time.  What made this one different?  How did this one stand out from the rest?  Or was it the subtle nudging of the Spirit that let him know, the quiet whisper of the voice of God?  It would surely have taken a keen eye and an attentive soul to spot the One who finally came to free the world from its slavery to sin and death.  And this was him.  This was the One they had all been waiting for.  So call out from the top of the wall, “He is here!  The King has arrived to save his people!  Everyone take note!  This is the One we have all been waiting for!”  After all, isn’t that what a watchman is supposed to do?

Prayer

Closing Prayer: God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

christmas day 2018

Opening Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ,
     Thou Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, be born into our world.  Wherever there is war in this world, wherever there is pain, wherever there is loneliness, wherever there is no hope, come, thou long-expected one, with healing in thy wings.
     Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the kings and the dumb beasts adored, be born again.  Wherever there is boredom, wherever there is fear of failure, wherever there is temptation too strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come, thou blessed one, with healing in thy wings.
     Saviour, be born in each of us who raises his face to thy face, not knowing fully who he is or who thou art, knowing only that thy love is beyond his knowing and that no other has the power to make him whole.  Come, Lord Jesus, to each who longs for thee even though he has forgotten thy name.  Come quickly.  Amen. —The Hungering Dark by Frederick Buechner

Scripture: Luke 2:1-14

Journal: What is being born in you during this season?  This day?  Are you making room for God to be born in you?

Reflection:

            make room

So she wrapped him in cloths 
and placed him in a manger, 
because there was no room 
for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

If you do not make room,
I will just have to come somewhere else.
My coming is not dependent on the room you make,
but your ability to witness and partake in that coming is.
So if you make no room for me,
I will find a manger somewhere.
And those watching and waiting,
those paying attention, will see my glory.
They will be immersed in angel-songs
so beautiful that they are simply beyond description.
They will be awestruck in wonder
and will be seized by the power of my great affection.
So please, make room for me to be born in you today.
The celebration just wouldn't be complete without you.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, who came to us long ago in the birth of Jesus Christ, be born in us anew today by the power of your Holy Spirit.  We offer our lives as home to you and ask for grace and strength to live as your faithful, joyful children always.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants)

Sunday, December 23, 2018

new

Opening Prayer: New every morning is your love, great God of Light, and all day long you are working for good in your world.  Stir up in us the desire to serve you and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior, Jesus.  We praise you with joy, loving God, because your grace is better than life itself.  Once again you have sustained us through the darkness and blessed us with light in this new day.  Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.  In your tender compassion the morning sun has once again risen upon us, to shine on us in our darkness and to guide our feet into the paths of peace.  For this, and all of your mercies, we give you thanks.  Amen.
,
Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9

Journal: Do you have any sense that something is being born anew within you these days?  Spend a little time in silence today asking God to announce it to you.  What do you sense he is saying?  How does this passage from Isaiah apply to your life right now?

Reflection: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” (Isaiah 42:9)  Yes, the new will come; just you wait.  And when it does, it will be glorious.  So wait for it patiently and expectantly, it will not me much longer.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: The new is coming, O God, for you have promised that it is so.  Give us the grace and the courage and the patience to wait for it joyfully and expectantly.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Friday, December 21, 2018

joseph

Opening Prayer: Lord God, thank you that some of the best heroes from the Scriptures are also some of the most hidden.  We have so much to learn from these saints.  Help us to hear clearly what you are calling us to as a result of their lives.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-24

Journal: What does the life of Joseph teach you?  How is God calling you to be like him?

Reflection:

joseph

i often find myself wondering 
whenever i hear the Story 
if you somehow felt shortchanged 
through it all

yet that does not seem to fit 
your personality
it does not seem to
represent who you are 
so quiet and so hidden 
through it all
and yet so vital 
to it’s unfolding 

mary made space for God 
in an extraordinarily beautiful way 
but so did you 
hers was a making of space 
for God to grow in her womb 
and yours was a making of space 
in a completely different way 

you made space by
not occupying it all yourself 
you made space 
by stepping aside
by fading into the background
so that God 
could occupy center stage
for you fully realized
that the Story
was not about you

oh how i need
to learn to be
more like you

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Help me to realize, O God, that this life—this Story—is not about me, but about you.  Help me to always make it about you.  Amen.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

prepare the way

Opening Prayer: Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free.
He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, Just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, What he swore to our father Abraham—a clean rescue from the enemy camp, So we can worship him without a care in the world, made holy before him as long as we live. (Luke 1:67-75, The Message)

Scripture: Luke 1:67-80

Journal: How are you being asked to prepare the way for the Lord?  How is that going?

Reflection: What beautiful words Zechariah prays over his long-awaited son, John the Baptist.  They are words of mission and purpose and calling that tell him, far in advance, of the incredible privilege he has of preparing the way for the Lord.  It is a vital role in the coming of the King into his kingdom.  
     And they are words we should take to heart as well.  For our role is the same.  We too all are called to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord into the lives and hearts of those we come in contact with.  That is not at all meant to belittle the role John the Baptist played in the course of salvation history, but to remind us of the significance of our own.  Because since that day God has always been coming, and will come again.  We cannot control the how or the when of that, but we are given the privilege and responsibility, as was John, to prepare the way for that coming, in whatever way we can.  How will we do that today?

Prayer

Closing Prayer: And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,” will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, Present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79, The Message)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

rejoice exceedingly

Opening Prayer: Thanks you, O God, that during this season you bring us good news of great joy!  Come, Lord Jesus!

Scripture: Matthew 2:10

Journal: How is this season offering you joy these days?  How could it?

Reflection:  When they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy." (Matthew 2:10, ESV)  When the band of wise men saw the star they knew exactly what it meant, for they had been waiting and watching and yearning and hoping for its appearance.  Once the saw the star in the night sky, they knew it would lead them directly to the King.  They weren't just hoping it would lead them to the King, they knew it would.  As a matter of fact, they were so sure of it that once the star appeared they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  Even before they had laid eyes on the child!  They were so excited about seeing the star that it took four different words for Matthew to describe their excitement level.  That is a lot of joy.  Just imagine what it was like when they finally reached the manger!!!
     Christmas is still a little over a week away, but the star has already risen in our night sky.  We, like the wise men, know what the wonder of Christmas is all about, and the Second Advent that it points us forward to.  So we do not have to wait for the 25th, we can be swept up in the joy and revelry right now.  
     May this season be filled with exceedingly great joy.  May the knowledge of the surety of the promise alone fill you to overflowing with joy unspeakable.  Knowing that the King WILL arrive among his people.  The light WILL come into our dark and broken world.  It is not a question of if, but of when.  Therefore, we can be like the Magi and rejoice exceedingly with great joy right now. And then again on Christmas day.  Thanks be to God!

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to rejoice exceedingly with great joy at your arrival.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 17, 2018

open hands

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to always see that only open hands are empty enough to receive what you long to give.  Help me to empty myself and to let go of the things my fists are tightly clenched around.  Then help me to wait patiently on you to give me your good and perfect gifts.  Amen.

Scripture: Mark 10:12-22

Journal: Where in your life are you living with clenched fists?  And what would it look like to let go of those things and open your hands?  Will you?

Reflection:

open hands

clenched fists 
or open hands
which will it be

will i continually
try to control
and force
and dictate

or simply let go 
and open 
my hands

will i finally 
agree to release 
my desperate grip
on that which
was not mine 
to control
in the first place
and open my hands

for only open hands
are able to receive
and all of life is a gift
to be received
not a possession
to be defended

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Dear God, I am so afraid to open my clenched fists! Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands? Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me. And what you want to give me is love—unconditional, everlasting love. Amen. (With Open Hands by Henri Nouwen)

Friday, December 14, 2018

weakness

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I think I am strong, I am only fooling myself and hindering your work.  Help me to know the truth, that only by your power and might can anything good come into being.  Help my weaknesses, this day, be an avenue for your power to enter this dark and broken world.  In your name I pray.  Amen.

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Journal: What does it look like for you to embrace your weaknesses in order that Christ’ power might be revealed in and through you?  How will you do that today?

Reflection: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more in my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Cor. 12:9)
     So Jesus tells us that the best way to experience his power is through our weaknesses rather than our strengths. Hmmm.  Power through weakness. How counterintuitive is that?
     It seems like I spend most of my days doing the exact opposite.  I typically try to cover, or compensate for, or hide my weaknesses, so no one ever sees them.  But apparently, when I do this, I am limiting God's power to work in and through me in some mysterious way.  Because Jesus tells me that the way to power lies in weakness not in strength.
     I don't know about you, but I expend a lot of effort and energy every day wrestling with my weaknesses, when it sounds like the way to life and power comes through embracing them.  Somehow embracing my weaknesses makes good space for God to work and to act.  And putting it all on God's shoulders rather than my own sounds so much easier, doesn't it?
     I have experienced the beauty of this a time or two in my fifty-eight years.  There have been times when I finally got so tired and worn out from trying to do it on my own that I collapsed in a heap and allowed Jesus to come in and take over.  I wish it didn't have to come to that.  And maybe as I grow older and wiser it won't have to.  Who knows?  A man can dream, right?

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to embrace my weaknesses, that you might show yourself strong.  Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

mercy

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Scripture: Psalm 130:1-8

Journal: Where and how are you crying out to God for mercy in your life?  What is that producing in you?

Reflection: Most often, the cry for mercy comes out of a deep sense of desperation and powerlessness.  It comes when we finally realize that we are unable to control and manage things on our own.  There are, of course, times when we have the illusion of control, and thus a lesser sense of our own inability to arrange life for ourselves, but it is just a mirage.  Before long the truth is revealed, chaos once again rears its head, and we are reminded of our deep need for mercy.  So we, like the psalmist, cry out to God, and wait for him to come and intervene.  It is incredibly humbling.
     There is nothing quite like waiting in the life of the Spirit.  It accomplishes so many good things within us.  And one of the main things it accomplishes, is teaching us humility.  There is a lot of humility in waiting.  Waiting requires a deep acknowledgement that I am not in control, but am ultimately powerless and dependent upon God.  Therefore, Advent, the season of waiting, is the perfect opportunity to embrace this humility, and to exercise it.
     Maybe crying out for mercy is a great place to start.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cries for mercy.  If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.  He will redeem Israel from all their sins. (Psalm 130:1-8, NIV)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

stilling

Opening Prayer: Be still, O my soul, and know that he is God.

Scripture: Psalm 46:10

Journal: How still is your soul these days?  How will you try to still it?

Reflection: Contrary to popular opinion, being still and knowing that he is God does not happen overnight; it takes time and space, effort and intention.  It takes the effort to not exert effort.  It takes trying not to try.  It takes actively being inactive.  For without this kind of effort, stillness is unlikely to ever become a reality.  
     You don’t fly up to a stop sign at one hundred miles an hour and expect to be able to stop on a dime.  The momentum of your life will make that an impossibility.  You must begin to slow down well in advance of the sign to make stillness a possibility—or give yourself the freedom to go well past the sign before the stopping truly occurs.  Either way, it takes time to come to a stop.
     It is the same way with being still and knowing that he is God.  It is a process, not a moment.  It is possible, but only if we make the necessary time and space to allow it to happen.  And the beauty of it is that once it does finally happen, it will not be quite so difficult for it to happen again and again.  We become more and more practiced in the art of stilling.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Be still and know that I am God.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

ready

Opening Prayer: Keep us ready, O God, for your coming.  Help us not to fall asleep, or get so distracted and carried away with our own lives, that we forget to watch and wait for you.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Scripture: Luke 12:35-40

Journal: What does it look like for you to stay ready spiritually?  How will you do that during Advent?

Reflection: Advent is the season of watching and waiting and longing for the coming of the Christ into this dark and broken world.  It is the time of year where we embrace the here and now, long for what is not yet, and hope for what is to come.
     In the here and now, we embrace the fact that God is always present (Ps. 139:7-12), always at work (John 5:17), even when we cannot yet see what that work may be.  He has not abandoned us.  He is with us in ways we cannot imagine or conceive.  And not only is he with us, but he is working in us.  He knows how fruitful the practice of waiting can be when it comes to the life of the Spirit.  Advent calls us to embrace this waiting.  It calls us to be fully present in the here and now as we wait, even if we cannot yet tell exactly what God is up to.
     And not only does Advent call us to embrace the here and now, but it also calls us to long for the not yet.  This one is not hard.  Each of us has a deep desire for all things to be as they were created to be.  In the midst of the pain and brokenness around us, and within us, we are invited to long (even groan) for all things to be as they were intended.  Wholeness was the creation intent, and to wholeness will all things return.  Yet, in the meantime, in the not yet, all we can do is long for the day and the time when it will be a reality.
     And finally, there is what is to come: the new heavens and the new earth.  The time of no more tears or sorrow or pain.  The time when God will be our God and we will be his people . . .fully.  It will happen.  It is not a question of if but a question of when.  And it is this hope that gives us the life and the energy, and the urgency, to live the way God wants us to live.  It helps us to be strong and courageous; to be faithful and never lose heart.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: O God, make me ready.  Make me ready to watch and wait and hope.  Help me to embrace the here and now, to long for the not yet, and to hope for that which is to come.  Amen.


Monday, December 3, 2018

prepare

Opening Prayer: Prepare me, O God, during this season, for your coming; whatever that may look like.  Help me to be ready and attentive when you finally arrive.  Amen. 

Scripture: Isaiah 40:3-5

Journal: How will you prepare your heart and soul for Christmas this year?  What will this look like (specifically)?

Reflection: A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God." (Isaiah 40:3)

You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. . . (Psalm 23:5)

The season of Advent is a season of preparation.  It is the time and the season where we prepare for Christmas--the arrival of the Christ into this dark and broken world.  This preparation is not just a one way street; there is a duality to it.  It is God preparing us for something and God preparing something for us.  Or in the words of Psalm 23, God is preparing a table for us, and God is preparing us for a table.  When the meal is ready, and we are ready for the meal, the feast can begin.  But until then, all we can really do is smell the goodness of what he's cooking up and wait for it with eager anticipation.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord, give me the courage and the discipline to prepare my heart and soul for your arrival, lest when we get to Christmas Day, I realize that I have missed you once again.  Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Get ready for Advent

Watch and Wait: A Guide for Advent and Christmas

Just wanted to remind you that if you (or any of your friends, family, or coworkers) are looking for a companion to journey with you through the seasons of Advent and Christmas, you might want to try Watch and Wait.  It is available on Amazon.