Change of Gears in Devotional

The text for next Sunday’s homily is John 1:19-51. In order to prepare our hearts to receive God’s word next Sunday, let’s make this text our devotional text for the entire week. You can break it up into parts, or you can read the whole thing each day over again for 6 days–God works both ways!

Rather than wait for me to say something, I’d like you to engage me on this text. Read the text and do two things each day:

  1. Ask one question about the text. It can be something you don’t understand about the text, or it could be a question about how to interpret it or apply it. Ask your question in the form of a comment on this blog.
  2. Make one observation about the text. How would you apply this? How would you live it out? Be prepared for responses….often, when we attempt this, we don’t handle the text appropriately, and have to be guided and taught. That’s our purpose here.

I will respond to all comments. And I’m praying for each of you! Here is the text:

19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites in order to ask him, “Who are you?” 20And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed that “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What, then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? In order that we may give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say for yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord!’ just as Isaiah the prophet said.” 24Now they had been sent by the Pharisees. 25And they asked him and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” 26John answered them, saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27who comes after me, the straps of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose.” 28This happened in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, the place where John was baptizing.

29The next day, he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold: the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes one who outranks me, because he was before me.’ 31And I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing in water, in order that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness, saying that “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven and land on him. 33And I myself did not know him, but He who sent me to baptize by water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and land on him—the same is He who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

35The next day again, John was standing with two of his disciples, and 36seeing Jesus walking, said, “behold: the lamb of God!” 37And when his two disciples heard him speaking, they followed Jesus. 38And Jesus, turning around and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi (which is interpreted, ‘Teacher’), where do you stay?” 39He said to them, Come and you will see.” Then they came and saw where he stayed and remained with him that day, for it was the tenth hour. 40One of the two disciples who heard John and followed him [Jesus] was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah (which is interpreted, ‘the Christ’).” 42He brought him to Jesus, and when Jesus saw him, said to him, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas, which means Peter.”

43The next day Jesus wanted to depart into Galilee and found Philip, and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the law and the prophets, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth.” 46And Nathanael said to him, “Is any good thing able to come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and said concerning him, “Behold! A true Israelite in whom is no treachery.” 48Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49Nathanael answered him,”Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said I saw you under the fig tree, you believe? Greater things than these you will see.” 51And he said to him, “Truly I saw to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the son of man.” 

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Luke 3:21-22

If I don’t spend time talking to my wife and listening to her, we will eventually have problems. Sending her a text isn’t going to cut it. This is a relationship, which means we need to invest time in it. Why would any of us believe that it is any different with God?

21And it happened that when all the people were baptized and Jesus was baptized and prayed, heaven opened up 22and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form on him and a voice came from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am pleased.”

For us, baptism is associated with repentance. We get baptized because we are dying to our old selves and putting on our new selves. But for Jesus, who had no sin, it was different. It was his way of identifying with us. He went under the water because he was one of us. He wasn’t only baptized; we see him pray again. Here is the 2nd Person of the Godhead, praying. Prayer was significant to Jesus. He made a habit of it. And that day, at that time and in that space in the history of humanity, all three Persons in the Godhead were witnessed by those present. The voice of the Father boomed from heaven while the Son was in the water, and the Spirit took on a physical form to descend and land on the Son. The Trinity was front and center, and surely none of those present would ever be the same.

While Jesus was fully God, he was also fully man, and his prayer life is a model for us. Do we see prayer as important as he did? Do we devote the time to it? Do we pray, other than to ask God for stuff? You can hear the intimacy in the Father’s voice as he admires his Son in front of witnesses. This is the God we worship and serve: an intimate, personal God who loves us and wants to spend time with us. Dare we ignore him because we’re sleepy, or busy, or bored, or lazy?

Where is your prayer life today? Have you developed one? Do you spend time worshiping him? Thanking him? Interceding for others? Simply meditating to hear from him?

Where are you headed? Luke 3:1-20

One of the classic mistakes many Americans believe about the gospel is that their salvation is all about them. When you got saved, it wasn’t just about you. You stood up from that altar and walked into your mission field. What does that look like? And how should you approach it?

1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar, with Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea, and Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother as tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2and during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3And he went into all the region of the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it was written in the book of the law of Moses the prophet: “a voice crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight his path! 5Every valley will be filled and every mountain and hill will be made low, and the crooked will be made straight and the rough road will be made smooth, 6and all flesh will see the salvation of God!” 7Therefore he said to those who came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who has warned you to escape the coming wrath? 8Therefore produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you that God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham! 9The axe is already laid at the root of the tree; therefore, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and cast into the fire.” 10And the crowd asked him, saying, “What shall we do?” 11He answered and said to them, “Let the one who has two tunics give to the one who has none, and the one who has food do likewise.” 12Then the tax collectors came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13And he said to them, “Do not collect more than what is ordered.” 14And the soldiers asked him, saying, “What should we do,” and he said to them, “Neither extort nor blackmail, and be content with your wages. 15As the people were waiting in expectation and considering in their hears concerning John, whether he was the Christ, 16John answered and said to them all, “I baptize you with water, but one is coming who is stronger than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to loose; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18With many other sayings he exhorted them, preaching the good news to the crowd. 19But Herod the tetrarch, having been reproved by him concerning Herodias his brother’s wife and all the other evil done by Herod, 20added also this: that he had John locked up in prison.

The author, Luke, is very careful to make mention of the secular ruling authorities in the first verse. The reason is that he wants his work to pass muster if anyone checks on it. Anyone can go to a secular history authority (like Tacitus, for example) and corroborate Luke’s history. This brings a legitimacy to his gospel that aids Gentiles in believing his theme. It is also noteworthy that John the Baptist’s ministry pictured in such rich detail. First, we should note that verse 2 says that “the word of God came to him.” He was a mere man like you and me, so he didn’t have the Word “in” him any more than a natural-born human being would. The Word of God was external to him, and came to him. Next, we note that his ministry seems very concerned with issues of justice. It is very “praxis”-oriented—that is, it is concerned not just with affirming the right doctrinal beliefs, but also with living them out. There is an emphasis on the people of Judea. There is an emphasis on tax collectors—the most hated of all people in Judean culture. There is an emphasis on soldiers—representatives of the hated Roman empire. These are the people to whom John is sent. God cared so much for these societal rejects; he deliberately sent a prophet to them to shine the way to the Messiah. Even the culturally powerful—Herod the king—are affected by his teaching. John told God’s truth to everyone—small, large, powerful, weak.

God has sent you to where you are right now. He cares deeply about the people around you—your family, your co-workers, your neighbors. He has sent you to them to tell them the truth of the gospel. He is concerned for them, and he wants you to be concerned for them. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t see how important these people were; they overlooked their importance. Don’t make the same mistake with the people in your sphere of influence. Don’t be like the Pharisees; be like John the Baptist, who was with them and talked to them and fulfilled God’s will among them.

Who are some of the people to whom God has sent you? And what can you do to minister to them?

Habits, Again: Luke 2:39-52

My youngest son gets up early every morning and goes to football camp. Even though it is the summer and he doesn’t really have to do this, he is faithful and dedicated to this habit. He gets up, he gets dressed, his brother drops him off on the way to work, and he does drills, weight-lifting and football practice until we pick him up at 11. As a result of this habit, he is in top-notch physical shape and conditioning. It all starts with a habit.

39And when they finished all according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own city of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong, full of wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. 41Now his parents went each year to Jerusalem to the feasts of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve, they went up according to the custom of the feast, 43and when the days were completed, in their returning, the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know. 44Believing him to be in the caravan, they went a day’s journey and searched for him among the relatives and acquaintances, 45and not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46And after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were astonished at his insight and his answers. 48And looking at him, they were overwhelmed, and his mother said to him, “Child, why did you treat us this way? Behold: your father and I were distressed, seeking you!” 49And he said to them, “Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?” 50And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subordinate to them. And his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus advanced in wisdom and maturity and favor with God and men.

Joseph and Mary were true parents. They took seriously their task of developing Jesus during childhood. They were diligent to model obedience to God’s law, to bring their son to God’s house, to be faithful to his word. Jesus didn’t grow up in a moral or religious vacuum; his parents were committed to raising him in the ways of God. When Jesus is found in the temple having an intense discussion with the teachers of God’s law, we note that he is both listening and answering questions. He had been actively involved in God’s word from childhood, and was no dummy. We must remember that he was not only fully God, but was also fully man—so he LEARNED as he grew.

If Jesus Christ—the Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity—felt that it was important to read God’s word, be faithful to his house, and learn his ways, then maybe it should be important to us, too. Jesus didn’t just sit passively in the synagogue and wait for something to happen to him. He was actively engaged in reading God’s word. He was actively engaged in being in God’s house. He was actively engaged in discussions about God with God’s people. He made a habit of such activity; it wasn’t just something he did on Sunday.

If it’s good enough for Jesus, isn’t it good enough for you? If you truly want to grow in the Lord and become strong, you will have to become much more than a “Sunday Christian.” You will have to really invest yourself in God’s word, God’s ways, and God’s house. You will want to take a new step to a new level of learning, of engaging, of asking questions—a new level of dedication. This is how you grow.

What are some specific ways you could take a step toward the kind of regular engagement Jesus is modeling for us in this passage?

Habits: Luke 2:22-38

Every night at 6 pm, I turn my cell phone off and eat dinner with my family. Every single night. It’s a habit. I started doing it years ago, and now if I miss a day—or forget to turn my phone off—or am late, life feels weird. It’s amazing what a person values once that person develops a habit.

22And when the days of his purification were fulfilled according to the law of Moses, he was brought up to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord, 23just as it is written in the law of the Lord that “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord,” 24and to offer sacrifice according to what was said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves and two young pigeons.” 25And behold: there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon and he was a righteous man and devout, looking for the comfort of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him, 26and it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he beheld the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came by the Spirit to the temple, and when the parents of the child Jesus brought him in and did for him according to the custom of the law, 28he took him in his arms and blessed God and said, 29“Now your servant can depart in peace, Master, according to your saying. 30For I have seen with my eyes your salvation 31that you have made ready before the presence of all people, 32a light for the revelation to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel.” 33And his father and mother were astonished at what was said about him. 34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold: this one is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and is for a sign that is opposed—35and you will have your own soul pierced with a sword—so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” 36And there was a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, and she was advanced in years, having lived with her husband for seven hears from her virginity, 37and she was a widow for 84 years, and did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38And as the hour approached, she was praising God and speaking concerning him to all those waiting for the redemption of Israel.

Once again, we see several themes repeating themselves in the gospel of Luke. We see a very observant, Jewish family that takes God’s word seriously and worships together (22-24). We see yet another instance of the Spirit’s involvement in human worship resulting in someone prophesying (25-32). And we see yet two more examples of elderly people who have devoted their lives to loving God, trusting him, and being faithful to him. Simeon has waited decades for the revealing of the Christ, and God had taken notice. He saw the old man’s faithfulness. Anna had trusted God for her companionship, satisfaction and daily bread for 84 years—and the Lord took notice of her, too. She had developed a habit of fasting and praying regularly—which always puts one in touch with the living God.

Often, we American Christians make the mistake of believing that our “salvation” is for ourselves. It is a private affair, and is only between us and God and does not involve anyone else. And if we make a mistake and don’t pay much attention to God, then it’s no big deal. But notice the model that the Bible gives us: people who remain faithful in habit to God—day in, day out—until decades have passed. Decades of disappointment, happiness, contentment, lack of resources, good health, bad health, fun times, tragic times—and through it all, we see these two old ones faithfully going about their habits of worship and faithfulness. The Bible doesn’t tell us to look to our youth to help us understand God’s ways; it points to the old ones. It points to people who have made a habit in their lives of fasting and praying and listening to God.

What do you think we’re doing with this devotional? You are developing habits. You are developing a habit of daily time with God. It is difficult to establish this habit, because you already had a habit of spending that time only on yourself. But once you establish this habit, you will be richer in Christ because of it. You will become one of the faithful ones that our young look toward in order to learn how to truly trust God.

Walking Differently: Luke 2:8-21

All of us love to meet God at the altar and feel our lives “get right” with him. We all like the feeling of resolve and momentary loyalty to him that we feel when we stand up from the altar. It’s going to be different this time, we tell ourselves. But by 6 that evening, it’s not different. It’s the same. Why? What’s happening? And how can this be fixed?

8And there were in the same region shepherds living outside and watching their flocks by night, 9and an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly terrified. 10And the angel said to them, “Do not fear, for behold: I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people, 11that there is born unto you this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. 12And this will be a sign to you: you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there appeared with the angel a military throng in the heaven, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill to men.” 15And when the angels had departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see these things that the Lord has made know to us.” 16And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. 17And seeing, they made known the things that had been spoken to them concerning this child. 18And all who heard were astonished at what the shepherds told them, 19but Mary treasured all these things and considered them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God at what they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. 21And when eight days were completed, they circumcised him and called his name Jesus, the name from the angel before he had been conceived in the womb.

Three things jump out from this text:

  1. We have another “angelophany.” This is a fancy word that means “an appearance of angels.” This is truly an extraordinary time in human history—when God’s messengers make so many appearances to humans. He is really getting their attention!
  2. Jesus was a child of the “Law.” That is, from his very birth, he was raised to be obedient to the very word of God. He was circumcised on the 8th day, just like the Torah had taught. He was being raised in church, doing church things. His parents were showing him how to “walk” with God by teaching him God’s ways and the ways of God’s people.
  3. What must it have been like for the shepherds to return to their fields after seeing something like this? I mean, they’ve been in the presence of celestial beings that they had previously BELIEVED existed….but now they saw with their own eyes! They had just had a tenet of their faith corroborated by supernatural events. This was a serious game-changer of a moment for these guys. What was “shepherding” like after that? I would imagine that they attended to their flocks like never before: they had been favored with God’s presence, after all, in their state as shepherds. Why not be the best shepherds ever?

I imagine it was a little bit like getting up from the altar after trusting Christ as your Savior. There is a MOMENT of justification. A MOMENT of God’s divine rescue hitting home just a bit. Then you get up from the altar and go home. Life sets in. the stresses of work, family, health, money….they tend to crowd out the momentary experience that you had in space and time just a few hours earlier. By the next day, you’ve practically forgotten what Jesus did for you. It’s human nature. And it’s why God gave you something that is so much MORE than just a MOMENT. He gave you the discipline of discipleship.

He has given you brothers and sisters who will walk you through the scriptures and help you learn to have a prayer life. He has given you a church who will help model what it means to hear from God and obey him. He has helped you, and you may or may not even realize it. Just like the shepherds who have met God’s messenger, you now have a task of getting up from the altar and going out into the world. You have to “walk” for Christ now.

It’s a different walk than the walk you were walking before. And you need brothers and sisters to help. So how can you take those first steps to doing this? What concrete things can you do today that will help you “walk” like a shepherd whose whole life just got changed by the living God?

Luke 2:1-7

A good portion of the time, we might be tempted to skip over this passage of scripture unless it’s Christmas. But there’s something very powerful in it, and we shouldn’t miss it.

1Now it happened in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all households should register. 2This was the first census that happened in the reign of Quirinius of Syria. 3And all went to register, each to his own city. 4Now there went up Joseph from Galilee, of the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to a city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary his betrothed, who was pregnant. 6And it happened that while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should give birth, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Creator of the Universe willingly subjected himself to a tyrant named Caesar Augustus. He suffered the indignity of being born to a family that was forced to travel while his mother was pregnant. He suffered the indignity of having to come into the world in a manger rather than an inn. He suffered indignity by becoming flesh and dwelling among us. From the very beginning, it has always been this way: the Lord loves us so much that he willingly suffered indignity and injustice for our sakes. The name of his hometown—Bethlehem—means “House of Bread” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament, a woman named Naomi had been forced to leave Bethlehem because of a terrible drought; the irony was that the “House of Bread” had no bread, and so she fled to Moab. While there, her sons married Moabite women and then died. One of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, pledged to leave her own god and her own people and cling to Naomi. And so Ruth and Naomi came back to Bethlehem, where Ruth met Boaz and married him—beginning the lineage of kings that would result in Jesus. Now, on this ancient Christmas morning, the House of Bread is once again full—because the Bread of Life is born in it.

The Second Person of the Trinity allowed himself to be mistreated because of his love for you. He created you, and you were made FOR him, and yet he willingly underwent all of these indignities so that you might be rescued from the justice that you deserve. He is both the Bread of Life and the Provider of literal bread for you. Where he is, the world is full and satisfied. And he loves the time he spends with you during these devotionals.

Today is a day to meditate on this irony: that we live in a world of want and need, but the Bread of Life has come to rescue us. He is the all-powerful one, but he subjected himself to torment and suffering out of love for you. Worship him today, for he is God, as well as your friend.