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Pastor Paul's Blog

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 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 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 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 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 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. 

 

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 8, 2019

Matthew 3:1-12 (NIV)
 
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
 
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”
 
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
 
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
 
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
 
John the Baptist, the cousin of Christ, was an unusual dude. His clothes were made of camel hair. His diet; locusts and wild honey... not exactly Keto-friendly. His prolific pastime became a permanent part of his name. As was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, his role was to prepare the way for the Messiah. So how does one prepare a sinful people to meet their holy God? How do you "make straight paths" among a crooked generation? John used a most natural tool, his voice. And what did he "call in the wilderness? His sermon could be summarized down to one word: REPENT. 
 
Literally translated, it means to make a decision to turn around, to face a new direction. And when you've been living life without the Messiah in it, as John's audience had done... it's time for a new direction. 
 
Where are you this holiday season? Has 2019 been a year spent without the Messiah? Have you found yourself relying more on you and less on Him? Have your decisions been self-centered instead of God-centered? Perhaps the 2,000 year old voice of the forerunner can still reach your heart today? Repent... for the kingdom of God is near... celebrated this month in the birth of a Messiah... who is still making our paths straight, one soul at a time.  

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 7, 2019

Hebrews 11:32-40 The Message (MSG)
 
32-38 I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them! — making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.
 
39-40 Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
 
Hebrews 11 is considered by some to be the Hall of Fame of Faith.  Some of the names mentioned are well known and their faithful deeds are obvious; Gideon won a battle, David killed a giant, Samson destroyed an enemy, etc.  
 
While they all may have had a single act (or season) of faith (hence the Hebrews 11 shout-out), they all also behaved in ways that were less than ideal for hall-of-famers.  Gideon “fleeced” the Lord so frequently, the very word today constitutes a negative action.  While David may have been a man “after God’s own heart”, his parenting was an absolute disaster and he’s responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. And while Samson may have been physically strong few can argue that he was morally weak.  These are the people who made it into the Hall of Fame chapter?  These are the believers that the writer of Hebrews acknowledges as examples of faith?  These are the ones we are supposed to look up to?  
 
Yes and here’s why.  We can relate to them.  While we all have parts of our lives and past that are less than ideal, we are all capable, through Christ, to be men and women of faith.  Don’t feel like a spiritual giant?  That’s okay.  Feel like your past or failures are too great to keep you from God’s next mission?  You’re in good company.  
 
Trust in the Lord this season… and watch what God can do with that kind of faith.

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 6, 2019

Acts 13:16-25 (NRSV)
 
16 So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:
“You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance 20 for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21 Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. 22 When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ 23 Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; 24 before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.’
 
In investing, you often hear the phrase, “past performance is not a guarantee of future results.” Just because a firm, or an investor, or a fund, has made money in the past is no guarantee it will continue. That is not the way it is with God.
 
Throughout the scriptures, the Word of God rehearses God’s faithfulness in the past. In so many different places, the history of God’s working is reiterated as in this passage from Acts. The writer traces God’s salvation history and in this section he begins with the people called Israel enslaved in Egypt. He continues to retell the story of their deliverance, to settling in the land, with a King, and points to David and the promise God made to him, that God would bring one from his line who would be God’s Savior. Paul points to Jesus as the One who is the fulfillment of God’s promises, and that John, who was so influential, wasn’t “worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.” 
 
When we face our doubts and fears, and when we have our uncertainties, one of the ways we express our faith is by looking at what God has done and trusting that God’s plan, begun so many years ago, is still in effect today. God is still on “Plan A,” and there is no plan B. He is working his salvation story in the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. Count on it. It’s good news and always has been, and always will be.

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 5, 2019

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (NRSV)  
Prayer for Guidance and Support for the King      
                
Of Solomon.
1 Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor.
5 May he live while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth.
7 In his days may righteousness flourish
    and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.
 
Someone once offered a compliment to me after a sermon. “I like your sermons. They aren’t political,” they said. I did take it as a compliment for how they meant it. I don’t talk “politics” from the pulpit. In our over politicized culture, where everyone and everything is judged through the political lens, I tend to steer away from political issues in sermons. And, I usually think I am right in doing that.
 
However, when I read parts of the Bible, like Psalm 72, I wonder if I am right. Psalm 72 smacks of politics. Psalm 72 is thought to be a coronation Psalm, a song that would have been sung at the crowning of a new King, or the celebration of a King’s anniversary of his reign. It quickly turns political. “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.” The people are praying for the new King, but praying a very specific prayer that the new King practice the Hebrew words for justice and righteousness, mishpat (justice) and zedekah (righteousness). The word mishpat denotes when we care for the “least” in our society, that justice is only justice when EVERYONE is included in the provision. Zedekah (righteousness) means living in the “right” relationship with God by living in right relationships with each other. If God is to be loved, the proof of that love is how well we are caring for the lower rungs of the societal ladder. God’s will for us to love him and love each other must be embodied in how we treat the poor and the marginalized.
 
When we read this Psalm today through the lens of our Christian faith, we quite naturally see Jesus as the true King. Jesus is the embodiment of the hopes of the people, that the true King will establish mishpat and zedekah. But, what if, as Romans 13 says, that the political leaders of our day are given their authority and are instituted of God? Does the prayer of Psalm 72 call us to pray for our President, and our Congressional representatives, and our Mayor and Council, and all elected representatives to work for mishpat and zedekah? Maybe Psalm 72 is a call to get political!?

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 4, 2019

Isaiah 54:1-10 The Message (MSG)
 
Spread Out! Think Big!
54 1-6 “Sing, barren woman, who has never had a baby.
    Fill the air with song, you who’ve never experienced childbirth!
You’re ending up with far more children
    than all those childbearing women.” God says so!
“Clear lots of ground for your tents!
    Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big!
Use plenty of rope,
    drive the tent pegs deep.
You’re going to need lots of elbow room
    for your growing family.
You’re going to take over whole nations;
    you’re going to resettle abandoned cities.
Don’t be afraid—you’re not going to be embarrassed.
    Don’t hold back—you’re not going to come up short.
You’ll forget all about the humiliations of your youth,
    and the indignities of being a widow will fade from memory.
For your Maker is your bridegroom,
    his name, God-of-the-Angel-Armies!
Your Redeemer is The Holy of Israel,
    known as God of the whole earth.
You were like an abandoned wife, devastated with grief,
    and God welcomed you back,
Like a woman married young
    and then left,” says your God.
7-8 Your Redeemer God says:
“I left you, but only for a moment.
    Now, with enormous compassion, I’m bringing you back.
In an outburst of anger I turned my back on you—
    but only for a moment.
It’s with lasting love
    that I’m tenderly caring for you.
9-10 “This exile is just like the days of Noah for me:
    I promised then that the waters of Noah
    would never again flood the earth.
I’m promising now no more anger,
    no more dressing you down.
For even if the mountains walk away
    and the hills fall to pieces,
My love won’t walk away from you,
    my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart.”
    The God who has compassion on you says so.
 
For those of us who have fallen, failed, felt forgotten and feeble, this passage from Isaiah feels hopeful. Isaiah is writing to God’s people scattered by exile and isolation from all that they had known. Many were removed from their homeland, resettled in other parts of the world. Others were left to fend for themselves, homes and fields destroyed, futures left uncertain. Many of us can relate to these feelings of destruction though we may not have faced the exact situation of Isaiah’s first readers.
 
We hear, too, Isaiah’s words of hope and restoration. Isaiah is telling the people to look past the what has been to what can be. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Embrace the previously unthinkable. Times of failure are inevitable but need not be fatal. The only real failure is failing to get up when we fall. God is making promises of restoration to his people in Isaiah, and we can rest assured those promises still hold for us today. Are you ready to make the move from failure to fearless?

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 2, 2019

 

Romans 6:1-11 The Message (MSG)
When Death Becomes Life
6 1-3 So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!
3-5 That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.
6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
 
Sin is insidious. It has a gradual and cumulative effect. It lurks and prods and waits for its chance to claim us, shame us, and name us as failures. Our sin clings to us and weighs us down and seeks to divide us from God, each other and even from ourselves.
 
But, thanks be to God, because of what God has done in Christ Jesus we can be dead to sin and alive to God. In Eugene Peterson’s translation of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he makes it abundantly clear: in our Baptism into Christ Jesus, we are not bound by the past, by the failures, by the shaming of sin. We are made alive in Christ Jesus as we are born into him.
 
Our Advent attitude for this week is readiness. Are you ready to die to your old way of being and be re-born into the new life of Jesus Christ? That’s what Jesus did, and still does. Are you ready?
 
Paul B. Thompson

 

Advent Attitudes Daily Devotional - December 3, 2019

Hebrews 11:32-40 The Message (MSG)

32-38 I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.

39-40 Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

The life of faith is not an easy life. There is no promise of protection from challenges and struggles, and, in fact, there is the guarantee that doing the right thing will bring resistance and obstacles. The writer of Hebrews in this section has listed many people who have lived the difficult life of faith. They have endured many things for the sake of faith and trust that God both makes and keeps promises to those who will receive him.

Our Advent Attitude this week is readiness. So, here’s a simple and profound question: Are we ready to walk the journey of faith? Knowing that the journey will not be easy, that it will mean difficulties as listed, yet that it will bring us into the completed whole, a family of faith, connecting us to God and to one another. Deciding to take the next step forward in this journey of faith without knowing where it will lead us is the decision of faith.

Paul B. Thompson