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Pastor Paul's Blog

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 24, 2019

Titus 3:4-7
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
 
Many of us will spend a good part of the next couple of days receiving and giving presents. I’m not sure why this has become such a HUGE part of our Christmas celebrations, but it has. From the youngest to the oldest, I think we all enjoy receiving gifts, and especially enjoy someone receiving a gift from us that they really like or need.
 
In this epistle, the writer reminds us that when the loving kindness of God appeared in the gift of his Son, we received a gift that we didn’t deserve and certainly couldn’t earn. It was God who decided out of the abundance of his love for us to give us this gift of salvation, in which we inherit the blessing of eternal life. Among all the presents you open over the next days, remember to unwrap and embrace this perfect gift that keeps on giving. God receives great joy in giving this gift over and over.  

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 23, 2019

Luke 1:11-17 (CEV)
 
11 All at once an angel from the Lord appeared to Zechariah at the right side of the altar. 12 Zechariah was confused and afraid when he saw the angel. 13 But the angel told him: Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayers. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you must name him John. 14 His birth will make you very happy, and many people will be glad. 15 Your son will be a great servant of the Lord. He must never drink wine or beer, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be with him from the time he is born.
16 John will lead many people in Israel to turn back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go ahead of the Lord with the same power and spirit that Elijah had. And because of John, parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to. That is how John will get people ready for the Lord.
 
This is a fascinating passage to me. Here we have a seasoned, veteran priest named Zechariah. He is from the priestly order, and his wife was from the line of Levites, a descendant of Aaron (Moses’s brother). They are both steeped in this heritage of serving God, interceding on behalf of the people with God, offering sacrifices and leading the people in worship. But when the angel of the Lord appeared, Zechariah was scared to death! Maybe we serve so much in these roles we are surprised and scared when God’s presence is revealed?!
 
The angel tells Zechariah he is going to have a son, an answer to his prayers, but this is no ordinary son. This will be the prophet who comes to make way for the Messiah to be born. His name will be John, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from even before his actual birth.
 
But did you catch what John’s preaching and proclamation will deliver? The proclamation is that “parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to.” What an interesting thing, as the NRSV translation states it “to turn the hearts of the parents to their children.” The reference comes from the last words of the Old Testament, from Malachi 4:6, “He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” The idea is that God will send another “Elijah” (greatest of the Old Testament prophets), before he sends the Messiah. The Elijah (John) will lead the people to repentance, envisioned to involve all generations within families, ending the division caused by sin in earlier eras that existed from generation to generation.
 
The last phrase from this translation above says it well, “And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to.” The first step in changing wrong behavior is to recognize that it is wrong, and realize there is a better way. I am hoping that through this Advent Conspiracy series we will see how wrong our observance of Christmas has become, and how important it is to change it. Are you willing to hear the prophetic word that over-spending and over-indulgence in stuff is never going to bring us the presence of God?

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 22, 2019

Isaiah 7:10-14 New American Standard Version (NASB)
 
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”
13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
 
God, through the prophet Isaiah, tells King Ahaz (verse 4) to “be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart.” Ahaz is concerned because he knows that others are “plotting his ruin” and intending to invade his country, Judah. God not only tells him “It will not take place, it will not happen” (vs. 7) but He encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign, as proof, to relieve his fears and counteract his unbelief. 
 
It’s a gracious move from a gracious God. In fact, God ups the ante and encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign so impressive, it could be “from the deepest depths or the highest heights” (vs 11). In an attempt to appear spiritual, Ahaz refuses (vs 12), one of many indicators of his proud & stubborn heart. 
 
So, God provides one anyway. In fact, God’s sign is so outrageous it has never been done before or since. 
 
What is the sign? 
 
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (vs. 14)
 
A virgin conceiving & giving birth? God predicts the gender?  He foresees the child’s name?
 
Yep, He nailed it. He called the shot 700 years before it happened. God “dropped the mic” and provided a Gift that is still giving to this day; the Person of Christ, Immanuel… God with us.   
 
As you celebrate Christ over this CHRISTmas holiday, do not lose sight of this amazing Gift and the true reason for this season.

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 21, 2019

Advent Attitudes: Daily Devotions
December 21, 2019
 
II Samuel 7:23-29 New American Standard Version (NASB)
 
22 “How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God.
 
25 “And now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established in your sight.
 
27 “Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. 28 Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 29 Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Sovereign Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.”
 
Up until the late 1500’s, it was widely believed that the earth was the center of the universe with the sun, moon and planets all revolving around it. In 1543, Nicholas Copernicus came up with the idea of “heliocentrism” meaning the sun was the center of the universe and earth was just one of the planets that revolved around it.  It was slow to adoption, even within the scientific community. 
 
One man, an Italian monk named Giordano Bruno, believed Copernicus’ theory to be true and even expanded on it. He believed just as there was no end to God, there was, likewise, no end to the universe. When he presented these ideas (and others) to the Church, he was censured, stripped of his position as a monk and eventually imprisoned on charges of heresy. At his trial, when questioned about his controversial beliefs, he simply replied:
 
“Your God is too small.”
 
In today’s passage, King David reminds us that:
·       God is great & sovereign and there is no God but Him (vs. 22)
·       God went out to redeem as a people for Himself (vs. 23)
·       God performed great and awesome wonders (vs. 23)
·       God’s “covenants are trustworthy” (vs. 28)
 
David was able to write these things about God because David’s God was not too small. When you’ve seen your God slay a giant, redeem a people and perform great and awesome wonders, you start to realize that your God is bigger than the problems you face. 
 
Ten years after Bruno’s death, a man named Galileo Galilei focused his telescope on Jupiter and discovered that it had four small bodies in orbit around it. The discovery of these moons was the beginning of the recognition that Bruno was, in fact, correct. 
 
The church’s view of God was indeed too small.
 
Is yours?  

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 20, 2019

Galatians 4:1-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2 but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
 
A few weeks ago we hosted a family meal. At that family meal was a baby, about a year old, who was being cared for by a foster Mom. The baby was being cared for by this foster Mom because of issues in the baby’s “natural” family’s lives. However, the love for the baby from the foster Mom and all of us was real. The baby was doted on, held, rocked, fed and loved, because that’s who we are. She had done nothing to earn or deserve the love we showed, nor could she do anything to keep us from loving her. The love was a blessing, a grace, neither deserved or earned, for her and for us.
 
In this passage of Paul’s from his letter to the Galatians, Paul is talking belonging. Every human has the need to belong to someone, to God, to other people, to something beyond ourselves. Paul’s statement says that God’s people used to find our belonging through the “Law,” or adherence to a set of beliefs and practices. Now, “in the fullness of time,” or at the right moment, God has now sent a Son, and our belonging to God is not based on the beliefs and practices, but in the physical embodiment of God in the person that was born of Mary, a baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. We don’t qualify for that love by being good. We don’t qualify for the love by being right in our beliefs and practices. It is who God was and is that makes it so.
 
Babies, like the one we had in our home, are great reminders of the love of God. Every child needs love, the unconditional kind, that is not based on merit, or looks, or qualifications. Because we see the love of God in Jesus Christ, we belong to the family of God, and all can cry, “Abba! Father!” because that’s who he is for us all. 

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 19, 2019

Galatians 3:23-29 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
 
When I was in seminary back in the 90’s, we had students from a broad theological spectrum. We had theologically conservative students, students in the middle ground, and some from “progressive” camps. I considered myself then, and still today, in that middle ground. One of the issues that brought much conversation then was the role of females in leadership roles in the church. Being United Methodist, I was in a tradition that had already embraced women in any and every role in church leadership, including Pastor, Bishop, etc. Others were very critical of that perspective and there were some passionate discussions that ensued.
 
Once in a class, this passage of scripture was discussed at length, and it led to another round of debate about the role of women in leadership. My more conservative brothers (and the ones who resisted were all men) argued vehemently that Paul was only discussing soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) in this passage. When Paul said, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”, the conservatives argued this only applied to one’s life in Christ as a believer, not in areas of call and vocation. I found their argument lacking in earnestness then, and still do today.
 
Jesus Christ came for the complete and total transformation of the world. He breaks down barriers of every variety. He breaks down the barriers of race. He breaks down the barrier of slave and free. He breaks down economic barriers and social barriers. And yes, he breaks the barriers of gender. Jesus empowered women and set them free to be all that God had created them to be. He entrusted the greatest news the world had ever known to a group of women on that first Easter morn and told them to “Go and Tell!” To limit the work of Christ to a single aspect is to minimize the enormity of his power in the cosmos. Jesus is the Savior of the world, and that saving is not limited to our souls but to our entire being. 
 
Some folks are still having these debates. A recent controversy stirred when a famous large church Pastor told Beth Moore, a noted female teacher/preacher, to “go home.” My belief is that Jesus is still beating down walls in us today, and his work continues unabated. 

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 18, 2019

Matthew 8:14-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
Jesus Heals Many at Peter’s House
14 When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; 15 he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.
 
Someone recently asked me what we (United Methodists) believe about healing, as described in the scriptures, for us today. Well, it’s complicated. I researched the official United Methodist website for a statement on healing and found,
 
“The gift of healing is not about transferring spiritual power to eliminate suffering and disease, but the ability to channel God’s grace and healing love to those who suffer physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. Healers are moved to be present with those who suffer. Healers pray for those who suffer, visit those who are ill, and are usually moved to extend a hand of comfort and touch to those who are afflicted. Healers give their time and energy to offering aid and comfort to others.”
 
John Wesley, the founder of this movement called Methodism, had a special interest in the healing arts. Wesley was well-versed in the modern medicine of his day, and believed strongly that God was at work in the scientific advancements that were emerging. He also believed in the power of prayer. He prayed with people for healing and followed the guiding of scripture to “anoint with oil” and, as in the letter of James 5:16, believed, “the prayers of a righteous person availeth much.” However, Wesley would not have supported those who practiced such healing for their own glory or aggrandizement. Wesley believed that healing came in various forms, and one of those was death. Death could indeed be a form of final healing.
 
I believe it is clear in scripture that there is an unmistakable connection between the body, the mind, and the spirit. We know, for example, that stress leads to many diseases. A troubled spirit can have a bodily effect. The call of the Gospel and our call today is to live in the wholeness of God’s grace, to practice all of the spiritual disciplines to maintain our spirit’s wholeness, to exercise and eat so that our body is healthy, and to trust God to “take our infirmities and bear our diseases” all for the sake of the Kingdom of God that is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 17, 2019

Jude 1:17-25 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
Warnings and Exhortations
17 But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18 for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” 19 It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. 20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some who are wavering; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.
 
Benediction
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
 
If there is a book of the Bible that is read less than Jude, I don’t know it. It sits in the canon as the next to last book of the Bible, right before the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John. It is fraught with difficulty. For one, we aren’t sure who this “Jude” is. He could be a half-brother of Jesus, he could be an early church leader, but there is no way to say for certain who he is.
 
Secondly, the book is so short! It’s only one chapter, and only 25 verses at that. It was likely a “letter” that was circulated among several early congregations of believers, written in the last part of that first century A.D. As the New Testament canon was coming together, there was some debate as to whether this was to be included. However, many church leaders included it in their canon and it became widely accepted and ultimately included in our “Bible.”
 
Maybe most importantly, though, is the difficulties with the letter itself. Jude, who could possibly be numbered among the Apostles, appeals to the tradition and teaching of the Apostles, to make a bold claim. Jude seems certain that the return of Jesus is imminent. He asserts that there are people who live among them that are causing problems, living into their own lustful desires and causing others to stray. As we see elsewhere in scripture, the issue seems to be that if grace abounds, then we can sin more! As with Paul, Jude rejects this assertion and calls upon the readers to live holy lives, to dedicate themselves to the highest ideals of the faith, through prayer, loving God, and serving each other. 
 
The controversy for me is, what to do with those who resist? The letter says, “snatch some out of the fire.” Others, “hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies!” These strong words strike me as odd with their passion and call for separation from the community.
 
How do we deal with those who won’t listen? How do we call others to holiness, when we ourselves may be experiencing that struggle to maintain holiness? The answer is in the “benediction”, the concluding paragraph: 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 16, 2019

Psalm 42 - Longing for God and His Help in Distress
 
To the leader. A Maskil of the Korahites.
1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me continually,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,[a]
    and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
    a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
    because the enemy oppresses me?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
    “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.
 
I can remember a Preacher I heard growing up who would often say, “Don’t pray for patience!” Then, he would quote a verse from Romans 5:3, “Not only that, but we also rejoice in tribulation. For we know that trouble brings patience. . .” His point was that praying for patience meant we would pray for trouble, which is the way we learn patience.
 
I never had to pray for trouble/tribulation. It found me! It finds all of us. The trouble may be health concerns, troubled relationships, economic concerns, or a whole host of other issues, but we do all face something. As the saying goes, none of us gets out of this unscathed!
 
The Psalmist of Psalm 42 knows the deep sadness and despair that one can experience in life. When “tears have become our food” we are in one of those places where we are looking for help to strengthen us amidst our cast down souls.
 
The writer comes to the realization through pouring out his heart to God in this Psalm that ultimately, it is God’s hesed, (loving-kindness) that sustains and nurtures through the struggle. None of us wants to experience the troubles of life. To find the endurance through the struggles we only need to journey to the rivers of God’s love and grace and drink deeply from the sustaining water of life only God can provide.
 
Patience is a key to dealing with the struggles of life and waiting on the Lord to bless us. 

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 15, 2019

James 5:7-11 - New American Standard Version (NASB)
 
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
 
“Be patient.” 
 
How many times have we heard that growing up? How many times have we said it to others? Why, after such a plethora of encouragement over several decades, do we still struggle to exercise this virtue with any successful level of consistency?
 
If the car in front of us does not immediately begin forward motion after the light turns green, he is immediately met with the sound of a horn. Even on such a silly level, our ability to be patient is tested. 
 
Webster defines patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”
 
It turns out, we are born with a diminished capacity. Patience is not our instinctual, natural reaction to delay, trouble or suffering.  Sure, we might be able to muster some patience for the checkout line at Walmart. Or maybe you can sit through an unbearably long graduation ceremony without complaint. But what about the patience required to deal with a difficult coworker? A handicapped child? A chronic illness? Deferred hope? Patience, in those areas, does not come naturally. So, if we are not naturally able to manufacture patience, how does one acquire it?  
 
Supernaturally.
 
The Apostle Paul reminds us of its source: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness & self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
 
Patience is the fruit of the Spirit of God, residing in a human heart that has surrendered to God’s presence in his/her life.  His patience, given to us, can help us accept or tolerate delay, trouble and suffering in a way that mere will power and practice cannot. 
 
Do you possess THAT kind of patience? It’s available to all, in and through Christ. May you experience His patience this season as you embrace His Spirit.

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 14, 2019

I Samuel 2:1-8, New American Standard Version (NASB)
 
Then Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
My horn is exalted in the Lord,
My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.
“There is no one holy like the Lord,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
“Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the Lord is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed.
“The bows of the mighty are shattered,
But the feeble gird on strength.
“Those who were full hire themselves out for bread,
But those who were hungry cease to hunger.
Even the barren gives birth to seven,
But she who has many children languishes.
“The Lord kills and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
“The Lord makes poor and rich;
He brings low, He also exalts.
“He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
And He set the world on them.
 
Reading this prayer of Hannah’s is like looking at your friends’ Facebook page. Her life is perfect and easy and blessed. Her heart is exulted (triumphant elation) and her horn (strength) is exalted in the Lord.  Chapter Two is her Instagram post. She can’t stop bragging about her new-found favor. 
 
But the only reason Chapter Two is so sweet is because Chapter One is so bitter.  In the first Chapter, we learn:
  • Hannah is married to Elkanah but has not been able to conceive because “the Lord had closed her womb.” (1:6)
  • To add insult to injury, she is mocked ruthlessly by her sister wife, Peninnah, for her barren state. This bullying lasted for years (1:7)
  • Her desire to be a Mom has been tortuously delayed causing her to be “greatly distressed and wept bitterly.” (1:7)
  • If that’s not enough, while she is sincerely praying to God about her lowly state, her very own Priest accuses her of being a drunk. (1:14)
 
So, how does she go from continual weeping, lack of appetite & a “sad heart” (1:8) to “there is no one holy like the Lord”? (2:2)
 
Verse 19 reveals the answer:
 
“The Lord remembered Hannah”.
 
And where… WHERE did Lord remember her?  
 
In Chapter One.
 
Are you living in your own chapter one? 
Are you depressed? 
Stressed? 
Mocked? 
Heartbroken? 
Does your Pastor think you’re a drunk? (just kidding)
 
God sees you. 
 
He hears you. 
 
He remembers you.  
 
And that gives us all hope for Chapter Two.

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 11, 2019

Matthew 12:33-37 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
A Tree and Its Fruit
 
33 “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
 
Continuing the theme from yesterday’s devotion, we hear Jesus talking once again about the fruit of our lives. In this passage, Jesus is in a rather heated conversation with the Pharisees (dedicated religious leaders of the day). The Pharisees are saying that the wonderful things Jesus is doing, the healing of the blind and deaf, the casting out of demons, is done by the power of “Beelzebul”, or the ruler of the demons. Jesus argues that this would be a “house divided against itself,” evil casting out evil, and says this is how the house would fall.
 
Then, in our passage for today, he continues to talk about the theme that we introduced yesterday. A tree is known by the fruit it produces. A person is known by the fruit he/she produces and that fruit is what we say and what we do. If the words we speak are kind and uplifting, that is good fruit. If the words we speak are true and honest and are spoken with humility, that is good fruit. Conversely, it is out of the evil in our hearts that comes vitriol, and judgment and condemnation. We will give an account for “every careless word you utter.” And, words lead to actions. Our actions often speak even louder than our words. Even “good, religious people” can produce rotten fruit if the tree doesn’t stay grounded in the life of Jesus. Jesus reserves his harshest critique for those who have such mean spirits in their hearts yet operate under so-called “religious values.”  

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 13, 2019

Psalm 146:5-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
  whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
  the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7   who executes justice for the oppressed;
  who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
  the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
  he upholds the orphan and the widow,
  but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
  your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
 
In reading the scriptures I am struck by how often the litmus test for faithful leadership is the care of widows and orphans, oppressed and hungry, prisoners and those who are bowed down. It is as if God’s judgment on leadership is determined how those in these conditions are treated, especially by the King and other leaders.
 
Contrast the way God will treat the King and the oppressors of those in the aforementioned conditions. God promises that those who do not help are considered wicked and will be brought to ruin.
 
We live in a HIGHLY politicized time. Much of the disagreement we have politically boils down to how we treat those in the conditions mentioned above today. Some believe government is the answer. Others advocate for churches to be the “social fabric” that keeps people from falling through the cracks. Others prefer to ignore the needs, or blame those who are in such conditions for making “bad choices” that contribute to their condition.
 
In this part of Psalm 146, the psalmist is reminding us that it is ultimately God’s work in the
world to bring hope and blessings to ALL people. The promise is that God will not ignore the plight of those who struggle in these ways, and will hold US accountable to how we respond. And blessed (happy) will be those whose help is the God of Jacob!

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 10, 2019

Matthew 3:1-12
 
3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'"
Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
 
On Sunday I dealt with this text from the perspective of the connection with John the Baptist and Jesus, and how they both preached the same message, “REPENT!”, though with differing styles. Today, I’d like to focus on the phrase, “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Do you understand this phrase? 
 
I think it means that when we “repent” or turn from walking away from God and walk toward God, then we will produce a “fruit” that is worthy of being called repentance. It has been said before and bears repeating, “words are cheap.” To say that we want to change and re-order our lives and priorities, but not doing so, is not worthy of the call to repentance. The proof is in the pudding. 
 
The papaya tree is a fascinating tree because sometimes there will be a papaya tree that didn’t bear fruit at all. It will go as far as flowering, but those flowers never produce fruit. It isn’t until the head is cut off, will it start growing again and produce fruit. There is probably a good scientific explanation for that – however for the purposes of this message, sometimes there are things, situations, people even, that we have to cut away from our lives in order for us to bear fruit. (Arlette D. Benoit Joseph, https://episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/bear-fruit-worthy-gift-repentance-%E2%80%93-advent-2-2016)
 
The call of Jesus, and John the Baptist, is to repent and to bear the fruit worthy of being called repentance. And, there may need to be some pruning in our lives for the fruit worthy of being called repentance to come forth. What are the “things, situations, people even” that need to be trimmed from your life in order for you to bear the fruit worthy of being called repentance? Every tree that does not bear fruit, you see, is cut down and cast into the fire. This is a message with urgency and with long-term ramifications.

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 12, 2019

Ruth 1:6-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
Naomi and Her Moabite Daughters-in-Law
6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” 14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said,
“Do not press me to leave you
    or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
    and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die—
    there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
    and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”
18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
 
I love the story of Ruth in the Bible. It goes like this: A woman named Naomi has her husband die, and then her two sons. The wives of those two sons are from the country, Moab, a country that has not been friends of the people called Israel. When the sons of Naomi die, the two daughters-in-law (Orpah and Ruth) are told by Naomi to go home to Moab, to rejoin their families and go make a new life for themselves. Both plead with Naomi to stay with her. Naomi refuses them, and tells them to go on. Orpah does go back to Moab.  But Ruth pledges her undying loyalty to her Mother-in-law and in this beautiful message, “where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
 
The Hebrew word “hesed” is a word that denotes this type of loving-kindness as exhibited in the love of Ruth for Naomi. The word denotes a pure love, a dedicated love, a sacrificial love that is rare in the human experience but mirrors the love God has for us. Ruth is an example of God’s “hesed.”
 
How rare is the experience of “hesed” for you? Is there a love in your life that is like Ruth’s? Is there a sense of loyalty and self-giving in your love of family and friends? Lately, I have been reminded of the blessing of that love I have within my family. During challenges, to know of a love that is so deep and so loyal as to provide a deep sense of comfort and blessing is quite amazing to feel. I am grateful to God that I have that blessing, and it reminds and encourages me to be that love for others. It is the love we are to share as God’s family, and is beautifully personified in this story of Ruth.
 
As the Bible presents it, Ruth is an ancestor of King David, through Obed and Jesse. And we know who is the “son” of David, Jesus (the true “hesed”)!

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 9, 2019

 

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
A Life Pleasing to God
Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.
 
Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; 10 and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, 11 to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.
 
In the Wesleyan theological tradition, we place a lot of emphasis on sanctification. To explain sanctification, we sometimes use a house analogy. We talk about Prevenient grace inviting us to the house, say on the front porch. We talk about Justifying grace as leading us across the threshold of faith, whereby we profess our faith and receive forgiveness and are justified by faith in Christ Jesus. Then, we further the analogy by talking about what God will do in us as we “live” in the house, and we refer to this work as “sanctifying grace.” Paul says in this passage from Thessalonians that this is the will of God!
 
One of my favorite sayings is that, “God loves each of us right where we are, but loves us way too much to leave us there.” This is Sanctification! Coming into relationship with God in Jesus Christ calls us to live lives that are different. In this passage, Paul enumerates what some of those distinctions will be. We will control our passions within our own bodies and be “holy,” and then we will also treat each other with respect, minding our own business and tending to our own affairs without judging the affairs of others. This is the work of Sanctification, and it is God’s work in us. Cooperating by living intentionally in the house of faith is our proper response.