Saturday, December 23, 2017

December 24: Advent Blog, Christmas Eve!

It’s Christmas Eve, fearless reader! At long last we have come to the end of our beloved (perhaps?) 2017 Burning Bush Communities Advent Blog. While I have enjoyed writing these blogs, I personally am ready for a little break… and my guess is you are too!

We’ve covered a lot of material over the last three weeks on this blog. More than anything, my goal has been to demonstrate that the general hopes of God’s people have not changed since the beginning, and that God continues to work with us to fulfill these hopes. We saw that Christmas was and is such a big deal because it moved these hopes dramatically forward, and even expanded them, after a period of great hardship (the exile and foreign domination). And we learned that the Christmas narratives can actually serve as guidelines for how we can wait in hope and also participate in God’s hope-fulfilling works… Which is very helpful, because ultimately we discovered that our job is (right now!) to live into these same hopes as signs (individually and communally) of what God is doing in our world and will one day bring to completion. And because our goal is to take hold of that hope in the present, it seems fitting to end this series by discussing one way that we can pursue that calling this very day…

“He became what we are that we might become what he is.”
-  Athanasius, On Incarnation

Christmas, our celebration of God’s incarnation in Jesus, is not just about God getting us out of our sin and back to “neutral.” God had far greater intentions for us than that. God’s incarnation, as Athanasius (a very significant church father) saw, was ultimately about God making a way for humanity to move into union with God. Jesus became the “God-Man” so that we might become “God-men” and “God-women.” The work that began with the incarnation has a goal of all of us becoming as Jesus was; people who are full of God’s presence and glory. If that statement seems too bold, I challenge you to consider a few verses from the New Testament:

John 17:22-23a
The glory that you (God) have given me (Jesus) I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me…

2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 4:5-7
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

2 Peter 1:3-4
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.

Many blog posts ago, when we discussed Gabriel’s visitation of Mary and his announcement that she would give birth to Jesus (Luke 1:26-38), I suggested that Mary was the paradigm for faithfulness and a perfect example of what God wants to do in each of us. Just as Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit and Jesus was formed in her (literally), we too are to be filled with the Holy Spirit that Christ might be formed in us. While Christ will not be formed in us as a fetus, he is to be formed in our spirits, our minds, our character, and our lifestyles. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are to be molded into people who reflect Jesus in all things, with the  exception of physical appearance.

Now here’s the thing: Jesus is God incarnate… So if we are to be made Christ-like, then we are to be made God-like. We are supposed to be like God! Which means for starters that God’s character is evident in all that we do.  But our hope doesn’t stop there: we are to long for the completion of this process, when we will also be filled with the presence and glory of God.  Scripture tells us that this will happen at the resurrection we will be entirely liberated from sin and death and filled with the life of God (this is union with God), as the risen Christ was (1 John 3:2).

While this presence and glory and power of God will not be fully revealed until then, the birth of Christ in our spirits, that is, our transformation into God-like people, is to begin in the present moment. Our lives as followers of Jesus are to be a lives of radical transformation in our hearts, minds, spirits, character and lifestyle. We are not just to be people who believe something about God or Jesus, and who worship God in form, and who try to live decent lives (though those aren’t bad things in themselves). We are to be people who begin to look like God! Today I will not go into the process of that transformation. (It’s long, complex and messy, be assured!) I just want to ask you, faithful reader, one question:

Will you live into the hope of a life filled with God’s presence by allowing Christ to be formed in you this Christmas and beyond?

So this is the final Advent challenge for us: let’s meditate on this question, and then as we celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow let’s decide whether or not we are ready to live into this hope. My prayer is that all of us, whatever our station in life or background or situation is will answer as Mary did, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

If we follow in her footsteps on this question it would truly make for a Christmas to celebrate!

Well . . . Merry Christmas, fearless reader! Thank you again for taking this journey with me! If our little studies have raised any questions, please feel free to write me at, and may you run with joy into the hopes that God has given us together.

December 23: Advent, Day Twenty One

Well fearless readers, we have just about made it: three weeks are in the books today! And Lord knows we’ve done a lot already. We have explored:

- Israel’s hopes through exile and up to Christ,
- how those hopes play out in the Christmas narratives,
- how God calls different people to play a role in fulfilling those hopes with him,
- what hopes are awaiting fulfillment today,
- and what those hopes should mean for us.

On top of all of that, I think I’ve given you some reasonably tough questions to think over. So today we’re all going to take a deep breath and relax just a bit. We’re going to turn to the Gospel of John (no, I didn’t forget it!) and one of the most beautiful poems in scripture . . .

John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.


Many of you reading this post today are probably pretty tired. You might have been crunched to meet end of year deadlines, you’ve had a crazy schedule, you are traveling, you are preparing to deal with relatives . . . and the list goes on. For some of you tiredness is only the tip of the iceberg. You are hurting, grieving, and moving through the suffering we discussed yesterday. And you might be thinking, “John just goes on… and on… and on about this hope stuff, but I am just barely making it day to day.” So today is for you.

Today we remember that the hope that we cling to when all else falls away is a God who comes to his people in their pain. The God who created the universe, who ordered nature, and in fact holds up all existence by his very being is also a God who lived, and who still lives, among his people in the midst of their struggle. His light which shines in the darkness and his life which overcomes death are not held away from us. They are offered each moment to us, even as we see nothing but darkness around us. And as Jesus took on flesh to walk with God’s people then in the darkness, so he will dwell with us now.

The promise of Christmas is not that darkness and death will immediately leave our lives if we allow Jesus to dwell with us. The promise is that his light and life will outlast them, and ultimately overcome them. Our hope then is not to win the victory ourselves, but to keep holding on to him. As children trust in the hopes their parents give them, though they cannot conceive of how these hopes will be realized, so we are called to trust and hold to him.

Hold on to Jesus today however you can; in prayer, in community, in scripture, in song, in meditation, in service, in silence, in tears, or in lament. And remember that while his presence appeared so small and insignificant in the face of the darkness on that first Christmas, it is a presence which gives life and life to all, and a presence that will overcome all.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

December 22: Advent, Day Twenty

Congratulations, fearless reader, we have made it to the homestretch of the 2017 Advent blog!

Therefore, it’s time to tie up some loose ends. Over the last week we’ve been looking at how the hopes of God’s people were partially fulfilled, expanded upon, and then still unfulfilled by the first Christmas and through the life of Jesus. We ended this however by stating that we hope for:

Jesus’ return as king and the defeat of all other powers and authorities;
Jesus freeing God’s people to serve God alone,
God’s coming to earth and renewing all of creation and humanity to live in union with him.

Our discussion, however, still left us with plenty of questions. Today we will discuss three which are of great practical significance:

As individuals and a communities, how do we put these hopes into practice?
What are the greatest threats to our hope?
How do we sustain our hopes?

We’ll take these issues in order . . .

#1: Living as a sign of what’s to come.
Our hopes are meant to be lived. Faith is living as if our hopes were assured (Hebrews 11:1). So, how might we translate our three big hopes into our lives today? Well, in short, we are to live as a sign of what is to come. Since Jesus will be established in power, we go ahead and live as if he was. Since we will be freed entirely, we live without without fear or compromise. Since the world will be renewed, we behave in ways consistent with that renewal. In other words, we worship God, make peace, we forgive, we share, we struggle for justice, we seek to live in union and alignment with God, we care as well as possible for the parts of creation in our care, and we do all of this to point others at what is to come. NT Wright has suggested that we are to be “prototypes” of the new creation God is establishing. It’s not here yet, but we embrace it and show the world what it is today, of course with an invitation for them to join in. Again, this is our task as individuals and as communities of disciples.

#2: Suffering and Satisfaction: Two Big Threats

The most obvious threat to our ability to live in hope over the long-haul is suffering. Suffering, in the form of disease, failure, death, persecution and loss awaits all of us. It is simply part of life on this earth. Although we all know this our knowledge is rarely helpful when we are in distress or afraid or mourning. It is inevitable that when we move into suffering we will have moments when our hopes seem unimaginably distant, or even lost. We wonder where God is, why he would allow this to happen, and how we can trust in him after going through such pain. Clearly, these are times when our hopes our tested. However, suffering also purifies hopes. Superficial hopes cannot hold up under suffering; only hopes that our deeply rooted can survive. And if those roots survive the test of suffering, then they are nearly indestructible.

However, I believe that the threat of satisfaction is far more dangerous to hope than suffering is. Satisfaction says that you don’t need hope; you can satisfy your desires in the present. Satisfaction is an exchange of future hope for present comfort. It is a temptation to forget what really needs fixing (i.e. the suffering in the world) and be content with moments of sensory happiness. Theologian Walter Brueggemann puts it well when he talks about satisfaction as the offer to “be so well off that pain is not noticed and we can eat our way around it.” In other words, satisfaction does not actually meet a need, but numbs us to the pain that the need causes. Our lives and our world are broken and in desperate need of God, but rather than hold on to hope (which is hard and doesn’t solve the present pain) we choose to be entertained, stimulated or numbed to survive. And here is unfortunately a dark irony to Christmas: what is supposed to be a celebration of the hope that God’s coming gave (and gives) to us is, for many in our culture, an exercise in “satisfaction.” That is, we strive to be happy for a few days with new toys, lots of food and drink, and entertainment. None of those things are bad in themselves, yet if they are not checked then they can quickly displace our real hopes. (And it should be pointed out that our economic system is built upon people choosing satisfaction in the present over long term hope . . . but that’s a long post!)

#3: Storytelling Community
So how do we keep our hopes alive in a world full of suffering and amidst the ever-present offers of satisfaction? In short, we must be part of a “storytelling community.” First, and perhaps most obviously, we cannot make this journey of hope alone. I’ve already made this point in previous blogs so I won’t belabor it. I’ll simply say this: when we are suffering we need others to support us as we cling to hope. And when we’re offered satisfaction daily (as we are!) then we need others to hold us accountable.

However, it’s not enough just to have “community.” The community cannot remind us of our hopes and hold us accountable if it does not have a better story to offer us. Our community therefore must know and repeat the stories of others who have walked the way of hope, and of God’s faithfulness to them, in order to show us why we persevere in suffering and reject satisfaction. Furthermore, it must know the promises of how the story ends (what we’ve been discussing) and work to live into those promises today, so that we can get a taste of where God is leading us and recognize that it is far better than what the world offers.

Today I have but one hard question for us to meditate on: how in our lives do we seek satisfaction instead of holding on to hope? I take it for granted that the vast majority of us (certainly including myself!) are making this exchange, and the first step to dealing with the problem is to name it. So… may you name these things with courage and in hope for something greater!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December 21: Advent, Day Nineteen

Today we tackle the final, and perhaps most significant, of the hopes of God’s people: to be united with God in such a way that the fullness of his blessing comes to us and all of creation. I have argued that this was God’s intention in creation in the first place and that seed of this hope was given to Abraham (and from him to Israel) by God in Genesis 12:1-3 (“you will be blessed… all nations will be blessed through you”). Today I will argue that this hope was expanded by the coming of Jesus to include the fullness of God’s blessing for all creation.

Unfortunately, much of the content of this hope has been lost by modern, western Christians. We are far more likely to believe that God plans on destroying the world and taking the faithful to a celestial heaven than we are to believe he will redeem the earth and resurrect his people. This is a problem! So today I am going to tackle three passages that interact with this hope for the redemption of creation, and argue that they are misunderstood or underused.

Romans 8:18-21
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

2 Peter 3:9-13
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Revelation 21:1-5, 22-25

 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples,and God himself will be with them;4  he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,for the first things have passed away.” 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.


#1: God is not going to blow up creation.

As Paul makes clear in Romans 8, creation is longing “to be set free from its bondage to decay.” That does not mean creation is longing to be blown up by God, but to be redeemed. Paul here is echoing Jesus, who discussed the “renewal of all things” (Matthew 19:28), and who in turn was echoing Israel’s prophets (Isaiah 25:6-10). Also, we spent the last two days talking about the promise of Jesus returning, establishing his rule, and freeing/resurrecting his people. Why would that happen if God was going to blow up the world?

#2: Apocalyptic language is tricky!
 So what do we do with verses like 2 Peter 3:10-12, with the elements “dissolving” and earth and heaven “set ablaze?” Both 2 Peter, Revelation, and other passages like this in scripture are known as “apocalyptic literature.” They all share some common traits, including the use of figural language (they also use a lot of symbolism, of heavenly messengers, visions, etc.). The point of these passages is not give a “newspaper” account (i.e. an accurate historical account) of what is coming, but rather to illustrate how dramatic and life-altering it will be. The prophets of Israel commonly used this sort of language to discuss the destruction of Israel and the exile (see Amos 8:9, Daniel 8:10, Zephaniah 1:18, for example). And we see within the passages themselves why they cannot be read literally. How could a world which is “dissolved” then have “everything done on it” be “disclosed” (1 Peter 3:10)? If it’s dissolved, then it’s all gone. The point is that God’s judgment is coming to earth and that evil will be destroyed (Rev. 21:1, the old earth “passing away”)… a new age is coming, and creation is renewed by it.

#3: All of creation will be brought into union with God.
This is the final hope; this is what Revelation 21 is all about. God’s ultimate promise is to bring heaven to earth (note how the new Jerusalem comes from heaven to earth, not the other way around!) and to dwell in union with his people (personally and corporately). This is the dream of God’s people. We are not told to dream of escaping from creation or of the destruction of everything material in favor of an immaterial heaven. We are told that God will finish the work he began in creation by coming to it with the fullness of his blessing. It means an end to suffering, loneliness, death, disease, hate, violence and all other evils. And it means that every person in the new world would walk in perfect alignment with God in a bond of love and joy and peace, and serve as his loving and just stewards of his creation.

God’s renewal of humanity and creation is the hope that Jesus came to preach and fight for and establish through his life, death and resurrection. He expanded the hopes of Israel, taking their hopes for an Israel redeemed to hopes for a world redeemed. And that hope-expanding mission began in earnest on the first Christmas. On that day the hope of creation was just a vulnerable child who shared in the sufferings of all of God’s creatures. Yet that same hope persevered and drove him to the cross, to the tomb, and into the resurrection itself. If we are to be his people then let us hold to this same hope. Though we experience times still that seem as dark as that first Christmas, full of “Herods,” full of poverty, alienation, suffering and grief, we are called to trust in what is to come. Our hope is not just surviving the day (though that’s important too!) or having a good holiday season, or having our material wants met, but in God’s ultimate renewal of creation.

Now, that of course raises big questions, like, “How does one live into that hope? How should that hope shape us?” But we’ll leave those for tomorrow! For today, let’s just take that hope to heart and name it as what we’re putting our faith in this Advent season. 

December 20: Advent, Day Eighteen

Today we are continuing our exploration of how our hopes in the present day, long after the first Christmas, are in fact a continuation of the hopes of the ancient Israelites. And just as we saw yesterday, we’ll see how God’s work through the Christmas miracle have also expanded these hopes. The specific hope we’ll be investigating today is the hope that God would liberate his people so they can serve him alone. We have three scriptures today to explore with regard to this question. One of these scriptures is 1 Corinthians 15, which we looked at yesterday. I have included more of it today, because it is such a clear picture of the Apostle Paul’s hope. Enjoy!

John 12:31
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

Hebrews 2:14-15
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 42-43, 47-57
 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. . .

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. … 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

So what are our hopes this side of Christmas with regard to liberation?

#1: Liberation from human authority.
As we said yesterday, when Jesus comes in power and the Kingdom of God is established it will cover the earth and all other powers will be destroyed (a foundation hope of the Israelites). Moreover, human authorities can no longer strike fear into disciples of Christ because Jesus has overcome death, the weapon they use to undergird their power. Obviously, we are waiting for the fulfillment of this hope.

#2: Liberation from the powers of darkness.
Jesus made it clear in his ministry that he came to liberate God’s people, and all who would receive him, from satan and the powers of darkness. This is an expansion from the Israelites’ pre-Christmas hopes for freedom from earthly rulers. Jesus in fact aimed to dethrone the powers behind the human rulers. Furthermore, we see the passage from Hebrews shows us how the incarnation of Jesus at Christmas is what allowed him to defeat death, and satan, on behalf of humanity. We see this hope made real today by the power of the Holy Spirit to break demonic behaviors in those who give their allegiance to Jesus, and in the capacity of Spirit filled people to endure temptation and persecution.

#3: Liberation from Sin and Death
This is the big one, right? A nearly measureless amount has been written on this topic, and Paul says it far more eloquently than I could in our passage from 1 Cor. 15. I will simply add a few thoughts. First, freedom from sin does not only mean forgiveness for previous sins (though it does mean that), it also means the power to resist temptation (see Romans 6). Second, freedom from sin means freedom from the ultimate consequence of sin, which is death. (We will still die of course- the body is mortal- but the resurrection will overturn this consequence.) Finally, note that Paul says that the body will put on “imperishability” (15:52-54); but, it will still be a human body! Paul does not believe that people will be disembodied spirits, living in another realm, but that the human body will be raised as Jesus was raised. And this is right in line with the way Jesus discussed resurrection.The big point here: sin and death are named by the New Testament as the ultimate oppressors; they were the target of the mission that Jesus began on the first Christmas. Their defeat means we can hope for a new, imperishable body.

#4: Liberation to Fulfill our Vocation
God’s end-game with all this work of liberation is for humans to finally fulfill the vocation he gave them: to serve as “images of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). Paul writes that “just as we have borne the “image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (15:49). To bear the image of the “man of heaven” is to bear the image of Jesus. And to bear the image of Jesus is to bear the image of God! So God never gave up on this original intention, and Christmas paved the way for it to be fulfilled. And even now, if we are willing to become disciples of Jesus, this hope begins to be fulfilled in us (personally and communally). As we receive his love and strive to obey him we find that he begins to work on our heart and develop his character in us. And ultimately the hope of being an “image of God” is exactly this, to have a heart that looks just like Jesus’. As this occurs we can also then begin to function as a people who reveal God to the world, which was at the heart of God’s calling upon Israel (“a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”). And this process is to continue until the resurrection, when that work of shaping us into God’s image will be completed, and we will then be able to carry out our task of ruling over creation in union with God . . . but more on that tomorrow!

Monday, December 18, 2017

December 19: Advent, Day Seventeen

Today is an exciting day, fearless readers! Today we get begin our exploration of what scripture says we can hope for, both for ourselves and for our world. Of course, there are many different passages to choose from, and we do not have nearly enough time to consider them all. So I’ve chosen a handful of the most significant and frequently quoted (and misquoted!) passages for us to investigate over the next three days. And, each day we’ll consider one of the passage in light of the three hopes of Israel: a true king, being free to serve God, and being a people of blessing. Today we’ll be looking at pictures of the coming king from 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Corinthians 15:21-25

 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.


#1: All future hope begins with the return of the King.

In 1 Thess. 4:12-13 Paul is exhorting the Thessalonian believers to hope in the resurrection of the dead (see 4:16, “the dead in Christ will rise first”). However, this hope rests upon the hope of Christ’s return; the resurrection is linked with Christ coming to establish his Kingdom in power. The return of the king in power is the foundational hope offered here, as there is no resurrection until the King comes (see 1 Cor. 15:23 also).

#2: The King intends to rule.

The return of Jesus is not portrayed here as a momentary occurrence before a rapture or the end of the earth. Paul gives us a vision of a royal entry, and makes it clear that Jesus is coming to deal with his enemies and rescue his people. Jesus, according to Paul, is going to destory “every ruler and every authority and every power.” This is a vision of a king establishing peace, and dealing with all threats to that peace. It fulfills those original hopes of Israel, to live in peace under a just king, and in fact extends those hopes across the globe. All unrighteous and unjust and oppressive rule will be done away with by Jesus.

#3: There is no rapture!

This passage from 1 Thessalonians is often used as the source for belief in “the rapture.” But this is a misinterpretation. It was a tremendous honor to host the Roman Emperor or a royal personage in the ancient world (when Paul is writing!). To demonstrate this honor, the citizens of a city would exit the city gates to meet the emperor before he arrived, and they would then process together (think of a parade here) to a place of power and honor in the city where the emperor would be celebrated. This is what Paul has in mind here. He is using this image to describe the return of Jesus. The idea is that the dead in Christ are not forgotten, but actually lead the way in meeting Jesus as he arrives, and then the living believers behind them. Paul says that the believers “meet the Lord in the air” (a figurative description of their joyous reception of him), but they don’t stay in the air forever or fly away! They then would descend to their earth where Christ will rule, and where they will “be with the Lord forever.” Remember, the goal is for the king to establish his rule on earth, for his people; that is the original hope! Not to come and fly them away to a different place.

#4: Political tensions

Both of these passages speak to political hopes; they are about rule and about power. And because of these political hopes all disciples of Jesus are called to live in a state of political tension. We are obedient to our current governments insofar as they do not ask us to violate the “law of Christ”, but we also understand that they will ultimately be done away with and are certainly not worthy of adoration or uncritical loyalty. Therefore, we should not invest ourselves in glorifying our nation, or any political body, and we should avoid claiming that they are aligned with God (God doesn’t destroy things that are aligned with him!). These passages suggest that they are tolerated as a necessity of human life, for a time, but that they are all facing God’s judgment and will be done away with. This does not mean that we cannot serve our nation or a political entity, because that is often a critical piece of loving our neighbors well. But it does mean that all of our political/national service should be understood as a subset of loving our neighbors for God, and not as simply serving the ends of human political bodies. All of these issues boil down to allegiance. Our allegiance must be given to Jesus, God’s chosen King, and all other calls for loyalty, service or obedience must be judged on the basis of our first allegiance.

#5: Christmas means expanded hopes

Today’s scriptures show us that we are called to share Israel’s hope for a just, peacemaking king. And of course Christmas, the first coming of the King, was the beginning of the fulfillment of this hope. But our hopes have also expanded, because of the miracle of God’s coming in the flesh to rule himself. Now our hopes must encompass the whole world.  This entire earth will one day be ruled in justice and righteousness, and will have peace. And because we have these expanded hopes, we can begin now to live into the future that we believe is coming, by working to be a global church that lives together in peace. We can’t fix the world or bring peace ourselves, but we disciples of Christ can give witness to what is coming in the future by caring for each other, living at peace with each other and working for justice without regard for current political alignments or powers. In fact, we get to show our allegiance to the coming king, Jesus, by living in solidarity with one another in a world that wants us to give our allegiance to its current rulers and powers.

I’m not going to give any “to-do’s” over the next few days- we’ll get there when we recap our hopes. For now, stick with your Advent disciplines- are you being watchful? Are you listening? Are you ready to show hospitality, and to withhold judgment? Are you remembering your hopes? I think those are plenty for now!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

December 18: Advent, Day 16

Today we are arriving at a crossroads in our Advent blog, as we turn our attention to the scriptures concerning God’s future work in our world. Our goal here has three key parts:

We need to identify what hopes still await fulfillment;
What the scriptures say regarding those hopes;
How we should hope based on previous experiences (like Christmas).

Let's begin by remembering the hopes that Israel held onto prior to the first Christmas. Their was to be a people who received God’s blessing, and blessed others, because of their special relationship with God (this is the covenant with Abraham). Their second hope was to be a people liberated to serve God with righteousness and justice, and point the nations of the world back to God (this is the covenant with Moses). Finally, they hoped to have a king, anointed by God, to reign over them and safeguard their justice and peace (this was the covenant with David). All of these hopes were brought together in the visions of the prophets that we saw, where the whole world was set right and at peace with each other and God, due to God’s restoration of his people.

Now, I have argued repeatedly on this blog that Christmas (the incarnation) was God’s first dramatic work to fulfill these hopes. God did not forget these hopes or change the plan! He began to answer these hopes definitively that first Christmas. But obviously, not everything was fulfilled. The world of Jesus’ day was full of evil, violence and injustice, and of course we know he wound up being crucified, which hardly appeared to be a fulfilling of hopes at the time. And our world doesn’t look too much different than his. So then, here’s our question: what hopes have been fulfilled, and what hopes are we still waiting on? Let’s take them in reverse order:

Hope #3: A King to Shepherd God’s People
This hope was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus, who was the Messiah of Israel. Moreover, this hope was made eternally secure with the resurrection of Jesus. However, Jesus’ reign on earth is still contested (hence the state of the world today). So while the King is named and enthroned in heaven, his rule is not yet established in power on earth. We are still waiting for the King to usher in justice and peace and righteousness over all the earth.

Hope #2: Liberated to Serve God
This hope was fulfilled in part by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In that process our ultimate oppressors, sin and death and satan, were defeated. If we give allegiance to Jesus then we can serve God free from their dominion, and we are gathered into a people called out to serve God together. Yet, the forces of darkness still hold power in the earth, and the consequences of their rule and our time under them means we still struggle against their pull. And, of course, we will also die. Our liberation to serve God to our full capacity, as we were intended to, awaits fulfillment at the resurrection.

Hope #1: A People and World Filled with Blessing
By now you should know where this is going! Through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have been brought into a new relationship with God. His grace has brought us into his family and we have received the blessing of his presence with us. BUT, of course, we still see plenty of places in ourselves and in our world where this blessing has not taken hold. These are places where God seems absent, and where loss, alienation and unrest are familiar places. Our lives and our world await the fulness of the blessing that God intends.

Now that we’ve identified what hopes have been fulfilled and which still remains we can move to our next tasks: exploring what scripture says about the final fulfillment of these hopes, and what faithfulness to these hopes looks like in light of what we’ve learned from the Christmas story… And we’ll start that adventure tomorrow!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

December 17: Advent, Day 15

Today is the third Sunday of Advent and a good day for summing up a few things that we’ve explored thus far. But before we do that, let’s remember where we started: Israel was called by God as an answer to the problem of humanity’s brokenness. Israel was to be a people set aside by their relationship with God for blessing (for themselves and the world) and for freedom to serve God as a model to the nations. They were to enjoy this under the protection of a just a righteous king, anointed by God. However, they ultimately rejected God’s way for them and so were conquered and exiled in 722 and 587BC. While Israel was able to return to their land, they were ruled by a succession of foreign empires up through the time of Jesus and did not experience the full restoration and relationship with God that they longed for.

Here’s the point… we began looking at the Christmas story with Israel having lived in hope for around 700 years (which is probably longer than most of us have experience with). So, what have we learned on this long journey? What do these stories teach us about how to hope and wait well for God, and what do they say we can expect when God acts?

The Big Lessons (drumroll, please!):

#1: God is faithful.

The most significant lesson is the most basic; God comes through on his promises. Though it is a long time in the coming, God, beginning with the Christmas story, acts dramatically to restore his people and answer their hopes. And it’s important to say that God was not absent to Israel between the exile and the birth of Jesus; but Israel had to be content with God’s small provisions and small presence until he came in the flesh. It would have been very easy for the Israelites to throw in the towel on their hopes over all those years (and many did). The ones who didn’t were able to endure in hope because they ultimately trusted in God’s character instead of their circumstances. Therefore, our hope must begin with God’s character if we are to run our course faithfully. And if our hope is to bear fruit, we must frequently revisit it, and keep looking for it (watchfulness) so that we’ll be ready to respond when the time is right.

#2. Hope requires dissatisfaction, community and sacrifice.
Almost all of the key characters in our stories, including the prophets we first read, maintained a dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in their world. Their feelings were indicated by their words of vindication or by actions that revealed their willingness to break with the status quo for something hoped for. If we are to be people of hope we must not accept the things that the world offers to soothe and forget our dissatisfaction, but we must cling to what is greater than those momentary comforts. (We’ll discuss this at length next week.)

You’ll also notice that nearly all the characters in these stories have a community to support them as they hope . . . Zechariah is part of a division of priests, Elizabeth and Mary have each other, the shepherds and Magi come and go as a groups, and Joseph and Mary probably stay with family when Jesus is born. The reality of our world is that it is nearly impossible to hold on to hope if we are isolated; there’s just too much that works against us. Who makes up the community that helps you hold on to your hope in God?

Finally, almost all of these characters would have had an easier time if they had exchanged their hope for fleeting comforts. Mary and Joseph could have had a normal marriage, the Magi could be safe and secure at home, the shepherds could have gotten a decent night’s sleep, and Zechariah and Elizabeth could have accepted their lot and moved on to other things. All of these characters found great joy ultimately in their hope, but none of them received it without sacrifice in the process. For this reason, the choice to hope is an intentional choice.

#3: God answers his people’s hopes in surprising ways . . .
Again, the obvious one! They want a king and savior and restoration, and he sends a baby! A poor, crying, very human baby. Yes, this baby will go on to some pretty spectacular things (like resurrection), but up front this sure didn’t seem like a perfect plan. Waiting in hope well requires our willingness to set aside our expectations for how God will act to fulfill his plans. If we put God in the box there is a good chance we’ll miss what we’re looking for!

#4: … and invites unqualified people to partner with him in the process!
Throughout the Christmas narrative God invites (in some cases, quite strongly!) people to work alongside of him to bring about the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes. He invites them to share the story, to bear the children, to follow the star, to provide the hospitality, to obey the dream and to take the risk of partnering with him. God gets the ball rolling, and works providentially behind the scenes, but allows his people to carry the action forward. Guess what? The same is true for us today! And while we may try to wriggle our way out of God’s invitations by claiming we’re unqualified, these stories prove us wrong. Everyone in these story’s is unqualified! Zechariah has lost hope, Elizabeth is too old, Mary is a virgin (Joseph is out on that count too), the Magi are pagan sorcerers, the shepherds are poor and lowly… these are not people qualified at all to do what God asks. But it turns out that if God is working with you your qualifications don’t really matter!

#5: Partnering with God is risky and uncomfortable and full of joy.
We’ve been down this road already, but it’s worth saying it again. Elizabeth and Mary could have died in childbirth, it was very common in their day. Joseph could have lost social status and potentially his family’s honor. The Magi could have lost their lives traveling or to Herod if he caught them escaping. Zechariah is struck mute. The shepherds could have been laughed at and run off. Yet all of these characters find joy in the midst of their trials and danger. Christmas is not about being safe and cozy and content, though we all love those things and there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. Christmas is about taking a risk to be part of something greater than us. It’s about giving up control and security and self-will to participate in God’s work to roll back the darkness in our world and establish his kingdom of blessing, freedom, justice and peace. And being part of that work, difficult and dangerous as it is, is a joy worth far more than any of the comforts and entertainments that the world offers to satisfy us.

Friday, December 15, 2017

December 16: Advent, Day 14

Advent Day Fourteen

Today we pick up where we left off yesterday in the story of the Magi. You’ll recall that the Magi followed the star to Jerusalem, where they met Herod and the chief priests, who directed them to Bethlehem where they found Jesus. Herod had instructed the Magi to return to him when they found the child who they believed to be the true king, but the Magi were warned against this and left “by a different way.” Essentially then we are looking at the fallout from their visit today.

Matthew 2:13-18
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”


#1: Christmas Exodus

Matthew is telling us this story in a way that cannot help but evoke the Exodus story. Herod is taking the place of Pharaoh, killing Israelite children in an attempt to ensure his rule (Ex. 1:15-22), Jesus (in place of Moses) is saved by his faithful family, and ultimately the family escapes to a new country where they are safe. Of course, the irony here is that they escape Israel and flee to Egypt, as opposed to the original Exodus. There is a point to this story . . . the rulers of Israel at Jesus’ birth are the same as Pharaoh was many years before! The enemies are within the gates, we might say. So, any renewal of God’s people is going to require more than throwing out the foreign empires; it’s going to require a new leadership for Israel . . . which will bring us to many confrontations down the road. Herod as Pharaoh is also a reminder that times and places change have changed but rule of the wicked has not. Pharaoh, Herod, Augustus . . . ultimately they are interchangeable parts in this story.

(Note also that Herod kills all the children two years or under, which gives some reference for how old Jesus was when the Magi showed up . . . clearly he was not an infant, or Herod probably would not have had two year old children killed.)

#2: Know your enemy.

It’s rare to hear a Christmas sermon about the massacre of the children in Bethlehem. But it’s an important part of this story. It’s a reminder of what Jesus’ world was like, and what exactly was the problem that Jesus came to fix. Christmas sermons are frequently just about two things: Jesus coming to love on people, and Jesus coming to die so people can go to heaven. Both of these have some elements of truth, but they miss the mark. Jesus did come to share God’s love, and Jesus did come to reconcile people to God (although we’ll explore where exactly that leads in an upcoming blog post) but he came first and foremost to fulfill the hopes that the Israelites received from God. Remember those? They hoped for a righteous king to establish peace and justice, being liberated so they could reveal God to the world, and a new relationship with God that allowed his blessings to permeate the his people and ultimately his world.

Fulfilling those hopes meant fixing the problems of evil: the problem of wicked rulers and empires, humanity’s enslavement to sin, death and fear, and the depravity of humanity at large. In short, Jesus came to deal with the kingdom of darkness in all its human and subhuman and spiritual elements. The massacre of the infants is a picture of the reign of the kingdom of darkness. It was a threat to Jesus his whole life, and Jesus was a threat to it (and still is!). Christmas is the beginning of that conflict.

This raises a question for us: does our celebration of Christmas reflect our engagement with this same conflict between Jesus and the kingdom of darkness? If not, how might it? My suggestion based on this story would be to consider the people in your life or community or world who are vulnerable (like Jesus is in this story, take note), and figure out how you can serve them. It could be giving money or resources, it could be taking time to build relationships, it could be advocating for their rights… think and pray about it, and make it happen this Christmas!

#3: Unfinished work
Obviously, Jesus’ birth did not immediately bring about all the things that the Israelites had hoped for, as this story makes painfully clear. God came in the flesh to his people, but he came as a vulnerable infant! As far as human wisdom goes, that’s hardly the way to take on evil and set the world straight. And at the same time we saw that because God did not act unilaterally and immediately in this work of fulfilling hopes he could invite people to work with him in the process. In light of this, we’ll take the next two posts to consider:

What are the big lessons we learn from these stories about hoping in and waiting on God?
How did God invite people to participate in his work, and what does it mean for us?
How did God answer (or not answer) the hopes of his people at Christmas, and how should we hope today in light of this information?

This is our last Christmas narrative post (the Advent series will continue though!). It is imperative to note that what began at Christmas is still unfinished, but it is seen by God. Matthew ends the heartbreaking story of Herod’s massacre by quoting Jeremiah’s prophecy about Israel’s exile. However, that prophecy does not end with the death of the children; it ends with their restoration. Likewise, while this Christmas story ends with darkness, the darkness is not the final word. Check it out where Jeremiah’s prophecy goes . . .

Jeremiah 31:15-17
Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
    lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
    she refuses to be comforted for her children,
    because they are no more.
16 Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
    and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
    they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
17 there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
    your children shall come back to their own country.

December 15: Advent, Day Thirteen

Today we jump back into the Gospel of Matthew to look at his most famous Christmas story: the coming of the Wise Men/Kings/Magi. We’ll take on the first section of this story today (up to their arrival in Bethlehem) and try to unravel the mystery of their identity. And as usual, we’ll consider the implications of the story with regard to both the hopes of ancient Israel and for our participation in God’s work today.

Daily Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


#1: The “Wise Men” are bad guys.

There’s all sorts of confusion about who these visitors from the East are. Are they “wise men”, “kings” or “magi”? In short, they were astrologers, diviners or sorcerers (the Greek here is magos, like mage in English) who served the kingdoms and empires who oppressed Israel. Therefore, magi is the most helpful translation, as these are not just guys who gave good advice and certainly not kings themselves. These are pagan magicians, and if you were a devout Jew who lived anytime from the fall of Jerusalem until the coming of Jesus you would have known that the “magi” were the bad guys. They were akin to the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses (Exodus 7:11) in the exodus story, and in more recent history they were the guys who did all they could to get Daniel killed when he was living in exile in Babylon (see Daniel chapters 3 and 6). And they served the kings of Babylon, who destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the Israelites. So . . . what on earth are they doing coming and bowing down to Jesus?! We’ll come back to this in a bit!

#2: Nativity time-warp.
This is a small point, but I have to make it: the Magi are not at Jesus’ birth. They do look cool in the nativity scenes, but they didn’t quite make it in time. Also, there is no reason to believe there were only three of them . . . people just think that because there were three gifts named by Matthew.

#3: Watching and Hoping?
It is striking that three pagan sorcerers/astrologers were watching for Jesus’ birth, yet his own people missed it. Note this point: the priests and scribes were aware of the prophecies, they are the ones who tell the Magi, but they didn’t see the star which pointed to their fulfillment. Perhaps they weren’t looking for fulfillment of the prophecies! This reminds me of Zechariah, in that they were still faithfully holding their posts but they didn’t actually expect God to act, and so they were unprepared to respond when he did. They were doing their duties perhaps, but had lost their hope. Again, God is faithful to his promises, and the characters are given the chance to respond. Whether they respond well or not appears to depend on whether they retained their hope in God.

#4: Mission Accomplished.
The Magi are a model, or a preview, of what God will accomplish through Jesus and the Apostles. They are people who would be considered well beyond the boundaries of God’s people, whose eyes were opened by the sign they saw (the star). They responded in faith to this sign, and were ultimately led to Jesus. When they arrived they recognized Jesus as king, and bowed down before him. This led to them being sent home by a different route, which is perhaps a symbol of a new life for them and definitely a rejection of the false king Herod. (Note the social and political nature of their repentance; they run a risk by spurning Herod!). In this brief story we see God’s work through Jesus in a nutshell. Note also that this story hints that Israel will be reconciled to its foreign opponents not by defeating them, but by their being called to join into God’s work!

#5: God’s work defies expectations!
We’ve been down this road before! If we step back for a second, and set aside our familiarity with this story it should surprise us. The Magi, who are enemies of the people of Israel, violators of the Mosaic law (the whole sorcery thing), pagan worshipers and astrologers, are the first people in the Gospel of Matthew who recognize Jesus as king and faithfully offer their service to him! That’s crazy! And theoretically they traveled a heck of a long way to get there, which was again, expensive and dangerous. And please note that they don’t repent of being Magi before they get to Jesus; they arrive still very much outside the boundaries of respectability!

This story should really give us pause. It should challenge any snap judgments that we make about who God can or will use, whose life God is working in, who can worship God properly, and who we ought to listen to. God is no respecter of our boundaries when it comes to who he will work in, through and with. This raises a question for us: how quick are we to determine whose life God is at work in? How do we make this judgment?

My challenge for us today is stop making these judgments altogether. This story suggests that God can be at work in anyone’s life even if it doesn’t appear to us on the surface. So, at least for the rest of this Advent season, let’s start assuming that we’re not qualified to make this determination, and instead ask God to show us how he’s at work in the lives of the people that he puts in front of us to love and serve!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December 14: Advent, Day Twelve

Welcome back, fearless readers! Today we are tackling the second half of the most famous narrative of the season, the birth of Jesus. So check out our daily reading and reflections below . . .

Luke 2:8-20

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


#1: Shepherds, not Emperors

We began our discussion of the first part of this story with Luke’s detail about Caesar Augustus. This time, we begin with shepherds. As you are probably well aware, shepherds were poor peasants, at the bottom of the social ladder. They did not have enough land to support themselves, so they cared for other people’s livestock. It would not typically be an honor or pleasure to be visited by shepherds. It is striking then that God chooses to reveal the birth of Jesus to them, rather than the people at the top (i.e. Augustus, who as self-proclaimed ruler of the world is conspicuously absent). If the angels serve as heralds, then it would be expected for them to go to the nobles and kings to announce a royal birth. Yet we see here that God chooses to work by lifting up and honoring the lowly, which we might expect if we remember Mary’s Song. Of course, this raises questions for us: do we expect for God’s transforming work to be revealed at the top, or the bottom of society? If we’re looking at the top, this story suggests we might be mistaken.

#2: Gospels, Saviors, and Lords
In the Roman world, the Greek word translated “gospel” or “good news” was typically used to describe a victory in battle or a royal birth, and was pronounced by an authorized messenger sent from a king or person of importance. The point is: it was a political term! That Jesus’ birth is called a “gospel” implies from the start that he is challenging the powers that be; his birth is claimed as the birth of the true king. Likewise, Caesar Augustus (and those who followed him) took the titles of “savior” and “lord”; they claimed to have saved the world by establishing peace through their victories (hence, lord). These titles were commonly known through statues, coins and proclamations. Luke’s description of the angels words again sets Jesus in direct competition with these claims. Jesus is the true savior and lord, and he will be the one who brings real peace. Again this puts the reader in the position of having to make a choice: whose claims do we trust? And whose peace do we hope in? Caesar’s peace through domination, or Jesus’ peace through the gift and work of God?

NOTE: This passage suggests that it is God’s will for there to be peace “on earth”, as in “the whole earth”… it is an inclusive intention for all of creation (and again, the hope of Israel!). God has favored all humans by sending Christ, yet the details above hint that there will be many, especially the rulers, who will resist this gift of peace.

#3: Who can we hear?
One of the details that I have always found interesting is that, contrary to many nativity scenes, only the shepherds see and hear from the angels. Mary and everyone at the birth scene do not. As I suggested in the last blog, the birth of Jesus was far from ideal, and Mary certainly would have had reason to question whether God was really doing the things she was told by Gabriel. It is the shepherds then who function as a sign to her; they are the ones who bring encouragement and confirm what she was told by their story about the angels and their pronouncement. So while God did not directly encourage or “show up” to Mary and her family, he does so through the words of the shepherds. Mary’s reception of God’s encouragement then was contingent upon her ability to listen to people who would generally be labeled as undesirables, and who would not be welcomed for evening visits- especially after the delivery of a child!

For those of us who are attempting to participate in God’s work, this reflection begs a question. Are we able to hear the people that God is using to speak encouragement to us? Are we open to listening to people who we would generally write-off? For each of us this will be different . . . it could be someone poor or homeless, a child, an older person, an enemy, someone with different political views, or any other distinction that makes it hard for us to hear from them. If we are to hear them, of course, first we must allow them to have proximity to us. Then we must respect them enough to stop what we’re doing and listen to them.

My challenge for you today is simple: name at least one person or one type of person who you have not been listening to. First, confess this to God and pray for strength and courage to listen better. If you need to apologize, do so. Then, prepare yourself to listen well to whoever God would send your way, and particularly to that person or group of people!

December 13: Advent, Day Eleven

Today, dear reader, we are breaking a few Advent rules and are going to go ahead and tackle the birth of Jesus. I am well aware that it is not Christmas Eve, and there is a method to this madness. I’m tackling this story now, so that we can focus our attention going forward on how it informs our hopes for the future. And, if we all put up with A Charlie Brown Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, I am confident to go ahead without fear of retribution.

We’ll be following our usual pattern today; read the scripture, and then you’ll see some points to consider below. And you’ll see that we’re actually only taking on the first part of Luke’s birth narrative, as I want us to have plenty of time to unpack the key issues. As we’ve been doing, I want you to consider how this story might inform how we think about participating in God’s work (which, as we’ll see down the road, is a key hope for us!).

Daily Reading: Luke 2:1-7
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.


#1: Remember the Empire

A few blogs ago I shared that one of the discoveries of the Israelites in their years of being conquered (by Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome) was that the empires of the world stood in opposition to God’s will. It’s striking that Luke’s telling of this story begins by naming Caesar Augustus, the governor who served him in Syria, Quirinius, and the command to register “all the world.” Luke doesn’t add this many historical background details often, and frankly, it adds little to the actual plot. I believe he names these names to remind us of the situation that Jesus was born into. Jesus was born into a world where the unjust ruled and forced those with less power (like God's people) to jump at their commands. These people laid claim to “all the world” (of course, another character in this story might compete with that claim…) and sought to squeeze all they could out of it for their use. The purpose of a “registration” was two-fold: for taxation and military conscription. It was a way to benefit the Empire at the expense of those whom they conquered. These details remind us of Israel’s unfulfilled hopes of serving God alone (not rendering tribute to or fighting for a tyrant) and being led by a righteous king. And of course, this will not be the last time Roman rulers stand against God’s people or king . . .

#2: It was a house, not an inn.
Bethlehem was not a large enough city to have an “inn” or lodge for travelers.  The same Greek word is also used 22:11 to mean “guest room”, and that is a more appropriate translation. Peasants at that time and place kept their animals in the home with them; the people slept on an upper floor with the animals below. So Mary and Joseph are most likely staying with family, but they have no room on their top floor, so they are sleeping on the ground floor with the animals.

#3: Christmas hospitality saves the day.
Before we shake our heads at the people who made Mary and Joseph give birth and sleep on the ground floor, we should note that most of us would not particularly enjoy to have someone give birth in our home. We have no idea what the relationship was between Mary and Joseph and whoever put them up, but that person did make room for them when they were in dire need. Would we do the same?

#4: Christmas was dangerous and messy.
One of the often overlooked aspects of Jesus’ birth was the reality that Mary could easily have lost her life in the birthing process. I said previously that Joseph took a big risk in staying with Mary, but of course Mary’s risk was much greater: it was life threatening. It’s striking to consider that the hope of the world was delivered by a teenage girl who was willing to put her life on the line. Along with the danger, of course, was the usual birthing mess: blood, fluids and more. The point is, there was nothing glamorous or glorious (at least not at the time) about this birth. This is an obvious point then for us: participating in God’s work is often dangerous and messy. Just because we are following God’s will doesn’t mean that we’ll be comfortable, safe and happy. In fact, if we are comfortable, safe and happy this story might challenge us to consider the extent to which we are serving God faithfully.

#5: Beware of expectations.
I think it’s fair to sum up this blog post by saying that the first Christmas was probably not what its participants were hoping for. Being forced to trek across the countryside to appease a tyrant (while being extremely pregnant), having someone give birth in your already packed house, giving birth in a strange place with animals around . . . not a pretty picture. It’s a picture of oppression, poverty, struggle and risk. It certainly does not easily align with Mary’s Song of victory and blessedness from Luke 1:46-55, as it appears the powerful are still on their thrones and the lowly are still at the bottom.

So then here’s the question: How, or why, did Mary continue to respond faithfully in this story, when the birth of Jesus hardly appeared to be full of God’s presence and glory? I believe the answer is that  Mary had deep, long-term hope. Mary did not pin her hopes on short-term circumstances, successes or failures. Her hopes rested upon God’s faithfulness and ability to bring life and glory out of death and despair in the long-run. And if we are to follow Mary’s footsteps in any degree then we must do the same. We cannot put our hopes in short-term circumstances or successes; our hopes must be focused on the long-term; on the finish line.

I close today by challenging you: do you know what your “finish line” hopes are? Can you articulate them? Do you think of them often? Take time today to name them, and make it a practices to consider them each day. AND, stick with me a few more days, as we will soon turn our attention to the pictures of long-term hope offered in the New Testament!

Monday, December 11, 2017

December 12: Advent, Day 10

Congratulations fearless reader! You have made it to Day Ten! Taking the time to focus on anything for ten days requires discipline, and again I am humbled that you are taking this journey with me.

Today we are back to hanging out in the Gospel of Luke, and we are looking at the forgotten story of the Christmas narrative: Zechariah’s song. If you recall, we began this story in Luke with Zechariah in the Temple receiving the message from Gabriel that his wife Elizabeth was pregnant with John (the Baptist). Zechariah of course did not believe this, so Gabriel struck him mute. In our passage today we see the birth of John, and we’ll see what Zechariah says as soon as he has the power to speak again.

We’ve been looking at the Christmas narrative for the past few days through the lens of: what does participating in God’s work entail, and what does it require? We’ll stick with that today, but I also want our reading today to serve as a sort of interlude for us. You’ll see in Zechariah’s words an abundance of references back to the hopes of Israel, which was where we started. Therefore, this is a great moment to note that THE HOPES HAVE NOT CHANGED. More on that below, but first go ahead and read over our scripture. 

Luke 1:57-79
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”


#1: Notice those same old hopes being fulfilled!

Zechariah believes that the birth of John points to God’s work of fulfilling his promises and the hopes of his people. We see here the restoration of the true king (1:69) who will protect God’s people and lead them justly. We see Israel freed from enemies so that they can serve God in righteousness, thus fulfilling their vocation from the time of Moses (1:74-75). And we see the promise to Abraham recognized (1:73), which means a restored relationship with God that will lead to blessing (1:76-77) and to peace (1:78).

(Note: here we can see, and I think it’s pretty cool, that God ties all three of the covenants/promises together backwards . . . The story was first Abraham to Moses to David, and God redeems it in reverse order: the King (promise to David) comes who restores and frees the people (Moses) so that they can be the blessing (Abraham) that they were meant to be. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, just disregard this note!)

#2: Participating in God’s work means celebration and second chances.
We don’t always have tons of clarity when we’re participating in God’s work. Often, we’re going on faith and hope, and trying to be faithful with what little we know. But there are moments when we get to see God’s work clearly. When those moments arrive they are to be celebrated! Zechariah’s song is an expression of his joy at what he clearly sees God doing in his life and his world. And, it’s his last part in this story; he will not appear in Luke again. I think it’s pretty cool that he gets to end his part in this story with celebration… wouldn’t we all like our stories to end in that manner? It’s even cooler still because Zechariah failed to celebrate God’s work the first time (the Gabriel striking him mute thing). Just because he failed once doesn’t mean God cut him out of the story! Zechariah gets another chance to celebrate, and this time he steps up big-time.

You can probably guess where I’m going with this, with regard to a challenge for us today. How are you doing with celebrating God’s work in your life or in your world? In the places where you have clarity (meaning, places you know God is working or is present or is blessing you) are you taking the time to thank him and celebrate this good news with others? If not, don’t you think Christmas might be a great time to do that? And of course, if you have missed some opportunities, remember Zechariah: step up next time and make it happen! Let’s begin growing our ability to celebrate so that our stories can end like Zechariah’s.

#3: Warning (Spoiler Alert!)
I just want you to take a moment and consider how good things have sounded in this Christmas story up until this point. Gabriel’s news, Mary’s song, Zechariah’s song . . . it all sounds so clear-cut and resolved. Of course, we know this will not be the case in the end. But for today, just consider the expectations of the characters (according to their words), and whether you think their expectations will match the reality to come. When the actual moment arrives, will it be glorious and triumphant? Do these characters know what they’re getting into? We’ll talk more about this next time.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

December 11: Advent, Day Nine

Today, dear readers, we are going to mix it up just a bit and take a peek at the beginning of Matthew’s Christmas story. Matthew comes at this from a very different angle than Luke, but we’ll see plenty of common ground. Again, our key question as we read these Christmas stories is: what do they teach us about participation in God’s work?

Matthew 1:18-24
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…

What can we see in this story about participating in God’s work?

#1: It’s risky.
We’re not told how quickly Joseph marries Mary after his “visitation”, but he runs a risk by marrying a woman already pregnant. If this were discovered prior to their marriage, Joseph would look either irreligious or foolish. If people thought it was his, then he would lose social status because of impiety. If people thought it was someone else’s, then he would be thought a fool for marrying an unfaithful woman. And remember, Joseph was obligated to marry well for his family; failure to do so could have lead to his being cut off from his family . . . and family in the first century was about all the safety net an average person had. Joseph is faced with a choice in this passage. He can be safe, and opt out of God’s work, or take the risk and participate in it. The same choice faces us today! (Note: I am aware that Mary’s risk was far greater . . . we’ll deal with that in a blog to come, I promise!)

#2: The story began before our involvement.
Joseph enters our story here when the action is well underway. First off, Mary is already pregnant with Jesus by the time he is faced with his decision. And Matthew points us further back still by quoting the prophet Isaiah in 1:22 (“Look, the virgin shall conceive). Matthew is quoting Isaiah 7, which was a prophecy of hope given to King Ahaz of Israel (who reigned in about 700BC) when it looked like Israel was about to be overrun by their enemies. In this prophecy God was assuring the king that he was with him and would bring about victory. Matthew is quoting Isaiah to demonstrate that God is working in the same manner and to the same end in this particular story (the Christmas story) to bring about his ultimate victory, and to ‘fulfill’ Isaiah’s words in a definitive manner. Matthew then doesn’t just quote Isaiah to point out a small correspondence, but rather to say to, “Remember that Israel story? Remember all those hopes? God’s is fulfilling them now!”

The point for Joseph then is that God was working on bringing this about long before he ever stepped on the scene (at least about 700 years, since when Ahaz was king). Likewise, we always come into God’s story as participants when the action is underway. We don’t get to arrive on the scene as the conquering heroes who will save the day by ushering in God’s work; we come into the game as players off the bench. Therefore we must indeed trust (hope!) that God is with us, and that the God who moved the action along up to this point won’t drop the ball now.


I have just one today . . . what is one risk that you are currently taking, or considering, for God? What scares you about that risk? Does considering the story that led up to this point give you more confidence or faith?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

December 10: Advent, Day Eight

Welcome back friends! And guess what? It’s already Day Eight . . . week one of Advent is in the books!

Today we are looking at “Mary’s Song”, also known as the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-56. Yesterday we read and discussed Gabriel’s coming to Mary and telling her she was going to give birth to Jesus. Then we saw Mary’s faithful reaction of accepting and believing his words, to the extent that she risked a journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth (again, a hard and costly trip that she couldn’t take alone). Today’s reading is Mary’s response to seeing Elizabeth pregnant and having Elizabeth confirm Gabriel’s words. So, go ahead and read below and then I’ll have just a few points for you to consider.

Daily Reading: Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Participating in God’s work requires humility.

We have been exploring the Christmas narrative thus far through the lens of how we can participate in God’s work in the world around us (and in fact, in us as well). We should immediately notice in Mary’s Song her humility. There is no entitlement; she does not presume that God would choose her or that she deserves it. She takes upon herself the mantle of a servant. If we are to partner with God this Advent and beyond in his works of redemption around us, we must begin by understanding that God calling upon us to work with him is a gift and honor to be celebrated. And remember that Mary’s means of partnering with God (childbirth!), was a difficult one at any time and place, but also a dangerous one in her day. Yet, she receives this task joyfully as a gift from God.

Mary’s hopes become her faith(fulness).
Mary believes that God’s promise to her concerning Jesus will fulfill her hopes for Israel. She believes this so much that she treats God’s future work (1:51-54) as having already been done. This is a perfect of illustration for how hope should inform faith; Mary is living in the present as if she has received the promises she hopes for. She is like the child who is joyful on Christmas Eve because she has total faith that her parents will come through for Christmas. This is the model that we are to strive for! How might we begin to live this Advent if we believed God’s promises were certain?

Mary’s hopes and faith fit with Israel’s hopes.

You should recognize in this “song” that Mary is hoping for those things that we spend last week talking about: God’s justice being done on the earth, God’s people liberated from kings, and God’s people blessed by their relationships with God in every way. Mary is not celebrating her hope that people will go to heaven someday because of Jesus. She expects God to be working in the world around her to bring about his righteous rule.  We did not discuss Gabriel’s words about Jesus taking “David’s throne” and “reign(ing) over the House of David forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But these words clearly inform Mary’s song. She believes God is acting on those ancient promises to not only restore Israel but deal with evil in the world.

Mary is BOLD.
Mary is poor, unmarried, pregnant, young, a member of a conquered people, and someone who lives in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. She has no socio-economic or political power. She is a nobody in her world’s eyes. Yet, Mary stands up and delivers a word against the powers who misrule the earth and oppress her people. Mary would most likely be ridiculed, laughed at, shunned, or worse by some for these words. Yet she does not give thought to how she will be perceived or thought of and simply sings her song faithfully. We would all do well to consider if our faith makes us bold to speak against the powers who misrule our world, or if we, due to a loss of hope in God's work, have accommodated our faith to those powers (and perhaps even justify them).

Friday, December 8, 2017

December 9: Advent, Day Seven

Well friends, one week is in the books! Today we get to explore one of the most celebrated parts of the Christmas story: Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus!  My challenge to you today is to try and engage with fresh eyes a story that is probably pretty familiar. And,  thanks again for hanging with me and taking the time to think hard about how these stories inform (or should inform) our hope and our lives.

So, first things first, read Luke 1:25-46 below.

Then, check out this video: DAY SEVEN VIDEO

Luke 1:26-45
n the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Thursday, December 7, 2017

December 8: Advent, Day Six

Welcome to day six friends! And guess what . . . we are done with history lessons! Now we can turn our attention to the narratives of Jesus' birth and their implications for us today. (And yes, finally, talk about all that Christmasy stuff like baby Jesus, mangers, shepherds, etc!)

The first thing I want you to do today is read the daily reading below.

Then, I want you to click on this link to check out the video discussion of it: DAY SIX VIDEO

Daily Reading:  Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  

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.”

21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting...