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Advent Day 21

admin Advent, blog

December 17, 2016

READINGS

Psalm 55 · Isaiah 10:20-27

Jude 17-25  

 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.

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.

Luke 3:1-9  

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
    and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin 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.”

 

MEDITATION

I— and I’m guessing, you too— don’t do very well with waiting. I need something to do. If I know I’ll be sitting in line at the DMV, I take a book. If I find myself stuck in line at the grocery store, I’ve always got my phone. Sometimes it feels like it’s part of my wiring to need to be accomplishing something or at the very least stemming the time of boredom with entertainment at all times.

God knows this part of our hearts. He created us and knows us perfectly. So in between the call to repentance, which John the Baptist gives us even before Christ’s ministry, and the mercy and salvation we await at the end of things, he’s actually given us a lot to do.

But the to-do list isn’t necessarily what we’d expect. Part of the instruction we find in Jude’s writings to “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” is to keep ourselves in the love of God. I take great comfort in this language of in. Jesus himself tells us to abide in him. Though we have a lot of work to do; doing justice and practicing hospitality and the jobs which he has uniquely called us to as members of his body; our primary task is just to sit at his feet and be. To hang out, be together, and become like him.

How am I supposed to do this? One of the great gifts he has given us while we await his return is prayer. When was the last time you confessed to God? Poured out your heart to him? Noticed something he did for you and thanked him? Prayed a written prayer from a book? I know I could keep the lines open far more than I do, how about you? What do you need to start, or stop, doing in your life to make space for prayer?

This time of waiting isn’t empty time. God doesn’t want us to become bored. It is an opportunity to become so ingrained in a relationship with him that when we do get to finally see him face to face, we can fall into his arms and recognize his embrace as the one we felt all along.

 

-Katie Collins

 

PRAYER

Father, I confess that I find so many things to fill the airspace that I don’t make enough room just to be with you. In this season of advent, would you help me to clear my life of the extra things that crowd you out. Thank you that you simply want me to be with you, in you. As I wait on you, fill my heart and make me more like you. Amen.

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Advent Day 20

admin Advent, blog

December 16, 2016

READINGS

Isaiah 10:5-19 · 2 Pet. 2:17-22

Psalm 40

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy are those who make
    the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
    they would be more than can be counted.

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

11 Do not, O Lord, withhold
    your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.
12 For evils have encompassed me
    without number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head,
    and my heart fails me.

13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
    O Lord, make haste to help me.
14 Let all those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who desire my hurt.
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
    who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”

16 But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God.

Matthew 11:2-15

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 Let anyone with ears listen!

MEDITATION

Waiting is the worst! Yet, it is such a part of our daily lives. We wait for the day to end, for special occasions, for frustrating situations to change, etc. Waiting is also a major theme in the Advent season. We remember how the world waited for Christ to come (Israel waited hundreds of years), while we also actively wait for his return. In waiting, we sit in the tension of what is and what is to come. There is an anxiety to waiting. The image of a butterfly in a cocoon comes to mind. As the butterfly continues to grow and develop its wings, the cocoon gets tighter and tighter till it feels like there’s no possible room for movement. Patience is not a word that comes to mind when we think about waiting. Yet, in Psalm 40, David says he waited patiently for God. It is interesting to notice how David wrestles through this idea of waiting as the passage goes on. There’s a sort of back and forth, with David remembering God’s faithfulness, and then asking him to hurry up. There is a beauty in this movement, with David honestly expressing his desires to God and then remembering God’s ways. It seems impossible to wait patiently without an expectation that there will be fulfillment, that God will remain true to his word. Trust is what makes patient waiting possible. It may be messy. There may be a back and forth movement, but the patience comes in continuing to land in the belief that God is trustworthy.

In the second passage, we witness the fulfillment of this waiting when John asks Jesus if he is the Messiah. His straightforward words are almost humorous: Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? As people who have experienced waiting, we can surely relate to John’s directness. This time, there was good news for John. Instead of directly answering the question, Jesus points to all of the evidence: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. This really is good news.

We are in good company as we wait for Christ’s return. In Advent, we can lean into and identify with those who, like John, waited for Christ to come. We can find comfort from those who have walked in the anxiety and unknown of long seasons of waiting. We can remember that we are not alone and that our God is trustworthy to fulfill his promises.

 

-Jen Manglos

 

PRAYER

Take some time to reflect on what you are currently waiting for in your own life. As you identify these areas, talk to God about how you feel about waiting right now. Let Psalm 40 be an encouragement for you to be honest with God, whether you feel peaceful or whether you feel anxious in your waiting. He receives you and your honest words with open arms.

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Advent Day 19

admin Advent, blog

December 15, 2016

READINGS

Isaiah 9:18 · 2 Pet. 2:10b-16

Psalm 50

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
    speaks and summons the earth
    from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
    God shines forth.
Our God comes
    and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
    and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above,
    and the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me this consecrated people,
    who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
    for he is a God of justice.

“Listen, my people, and I will speak;
    I will testify against you, Israel:
    I am God, your God.
I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices
    or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.
I have no need of a bull from your stall
    or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
    for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
    or drink the blood of goats?

14 “Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
    fulfill your vows to the Most High,
15 and call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

16 But to the wicked person, God says:

“What right have you to recite my laws
    or take my covenant on your lips?
17 You hate my instruction
    and cast my words behind you.
18 When you see a thief, you join with him;
    you throw in your lot with adulterers.
19 You use your mouth for evil
    and harness your tongue to deceit.
20 You sit and testify against your brother
    and slander your own mother’s son.
21 When you did these things and I kept silent,
    you thought I was exactly like you.
But I now arraign you
    and set my accusations before you.

22 “Consider this, you who forget God,
    or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to rescue you:
23 Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me,
    and to the blameless[d] I will show my salvation.”

 

Matthew 3:1-12

1 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.

 

MEDITATION

What does God want from us? Do you ever feel the challenge of trying to live each day in relationship and communion with an omnipotent, invisible being who is always in the right? As American Christians, we often pride and define ourselves based on our “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. But what does this relationship actually look like? What do we want out of this relationship? What does God want out of it?

In Psalm 50, we hear God expressing his hurt and frustration with the empty gestures of sacrifice from His People. Think about this with the metaphor of marriage: a husband may dutifully buy flowers for his wife on their anniversary, but if he does not communicate with her and share her burdens daily, these gestures will feel empty. They may even feel insulting—a paltry performance of love that has none of the intent behind it that makes such gestures meaningful in the first place.

God reminds His People of the obvious in this passage: “Every animal of the forest is Mine”. He is weary and disappointed by the empty gestures of sacrifice—receiving flowers but not receiving hearts. But God doesn’t expect His People to read his mind: He tells them what He wants:

 

Sacrifice a thank offering to God,

and pay your vows to the Most high.

 

First, God asks us to be thankful—gratitude is the sacrificial offering He craves. While we are all familiar with the idea of “counting your blessings”, ask God to cultivate a heart of gratitude in you. Ask Him to open your eyes—which our optimizing, materialist culture helps to shut—to see with truth and clarity how He loves you and cares for you on a daily basis. This is a prayer He is longing to answer.

Call on Me in a day of trouble;

I will rescue you and you will honor Me.

 

Sometimes we feel that only certain levels of “trouble” warrant calling on God. Finding a partner, looking for a job–but the little, petty troubles of daily life are also opportunities for us to call to God. God invites us to cultivate radical dependence on Him. His Word promises that He will rescue us—even when that doesn’t necessarily look like what we expect. But more importantly, calling on God is honoring Him. Christ’s sacrifice for us means we don’t have to pretend to be self-sufficient or perfect. We have a Father who wants us to call on Him with every trouble we face. Knowing that in itself begins to create the heart of gratitude He desires from us. Thanks and radical dependence are what God longs for from us.

-Carla Neuss

 

PRAYER:

What prayers of gratitude can you pray to God?

What are the needs and troubles in your life for which only God can save you? How are you in need of His rescue?

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Advent Day 18

admin Advent, blog

December 14, 2016

THE READINGS

Isa. 9:8-17 · 2 Pet. 2:1-10a

Psalm 119:49-72

Remember your word to your servant,

in which you have made me hope.

This is my comfort in my distress,

that your promise gives me life.

The arrogant utterly deride me,

but I do not turn away from your law.

When I think of your ordinances from of old,

I take comfort, O Lord.

Hot indignation seizes me because of the

wicked, those who forsake your law.

Your statutes have been my songs

wherever I make my home.

I remember your name in the night, O Lord,

and keep your law.

This blessing has fallen to me,

for I have kept your precepts.

The Lord is my portion;

I promise to keep your words.

I implore your favor with all my heart;

be gracious to me according to your

promise.

When I think of your ways,

I turn my feet to your decrees;

I hurry and do not delay

to keep your commandments.

Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,

I do not forget your law.

At midnight I rise to praise you,

because of your righteous ordinances.

I am a companion of all who fear you,

of those who keep your precepts.

The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast

love; teach me your statutes.

You have dealt well with your servant,

O Lord, according to your word.

Teach me good judgment and knowledge,

for I believe in your commandments.

Before I was humbled I went astray,

but now I keep your word.

You are good and do good;

teach me your statutes.

The arrogant smear me with lies,

but with my whole heart I keep your

precepts.

Their hearts are fat and gross,

but I delight in your law.

It is good for me that I was humbled,

so that I might learn your statutes.

The law of your mouth is better to me

than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

MEDITATION

The first time I used Photoshop was for a graphic design class in college. I somehow missed the lesson on how to use this complex and powerful program. So when I sat down to do my first assignment I was flummoxed; I had no concept of what Photoshop was even supposed to do, let alone how to use it. The program has a thousand features, but I built my final project using only resizing, contrast, and text. Without proper instruction, this amazing tool was little better than a pair of scissors and a pen in my hands.

That, I think, is how the author of Psalm 119 feels about human life. God created us as selves with incredible potential – to cultivate the world around us, create art, explore our universe, and love and serve our God and our neighbors. But if we don’t know the proper way to be selves, our lives’ potential will be constantly frustrated by poor choices and bad habits.

The psalmist’s solution to save us from ourselves is that we learn God’s commandments and walk in His ways. That is the promise and the hope that the psalmist pleads for – “teach me your statutes!” If I could only learn to keep your law, I would have fullness of life and peace in your presence. But how can I get there, when the power of sin in my life and in the world seems so intractable?

I think it is striking that this long meditation on the law begins with “Blessed are those whose way is blameless” (v. 1a) and ends with “I have gone astray like a lost sheep” (v. 176a). God’s law points the way to life, and yet it is a way we cannot follow. This tension is reflected in the overarching narrative of the entire Old Testament, building our expectations for the appearing of the Son of God.

The advent of Jesus reveals a way of life that is not hopelessly enslaved to the desires of our flesh. His is a pattern of humanity that is impervious to the slow degradation that selfish desires wreak upon our psyches and relationships.

So in Advent we cry with the psalmist, “teach me your statutes!” And we wait with John the Baptist for the one who will come to “baptize [us] with the Holy Spirit.”

Psalm 119 is like the stakes that guide the growth of a young fruit tree so that it will bear good fruit in its season. As we meditate through it in faith, moved by the Holy Spirit, it slowly trains us to depend on God’s mercy, hope in his promise, and desire to become more like Christ in everything we do.

- Jeffrey Still

PRAYER

Oh Lord, we know that the obedience that we accomplish through Christ is not won through mighty acts of will power. As your servant, Thomas Merton, once wrote, “Real self-conquest is the conquest of ourselves not by ourselves but by the Holy Spirit. Self-conquest is really self-surrender.” We pray that you would give us the courage to surrender – that you would empower us to be powerless for your sake, so that we might be made perfect by your power working in us and walk in your ways to the glory of your name. Amen.

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Advent Day 17

admin Advent, blog

December 13, 2016

Artwork by Micah Collins

Remember, Marker on paper

 

THE READINGS

Psalm 45 · Isaiah 9:8-17

2 Peter 1:12-21

12 Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Luke 22:39-53

39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” [[43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] 45 When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” 49 When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50 Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

MEDITATION

We need to be Reminded…

As we reach to this advent day we know that God exists and we are sinners, that our Father God sent us his beloved Son, Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, and that the Holy Spirit powerfully and mysteriously accompanies us until the day of Jesus’ second coming.  On a daily basis we have the tendency to forget the fundamental facts of our faith and our commitment; that’s why we need to be reminded of these things (cf. v. 12.15). It happens because we live –spiritually speaking- in a dark world, as Jesus said to his enemies before he was unjustly condemned to die on the cross: “… but this is your hour –when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).

When we believe in Jesus, we know that the ‘the morning star rises in our hearts’ (2 Pe: 1:19), and we are not his enemies anymore.  Jesus is that morning star, and once he shines in our lives we become a part of the crowd of witnesses of his majesty (cf. v. 16). Being his witnesses means that we are called to be his followers in such a way that people who see us, see Jesus in us, because his life and joy are shining in all we say and in all we do.

We need to be reminded daily of this amazing truth and grace. But how will it be? Through prayer and continuous and intentional contact with the Holy Scriptures, because in them we find the very Word of God (cf. v.21), that delivers us the mercy and life of Jesus.  This is the best way to prepare ourselves for his second coming, when we will see him as victorious, gracious and righteous Judge and Savior. To him alone be praise, honor and worship, now and forever. Amen.

-Juan and Maria Marentes

PRAYER

Spend some time “remembering,” recalling to God who He is and the great things that He has done for us.

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Advent Day 16

admin Advent, blog

December 12, 2016

THE READINGS

Isaiah 8:16-9:1 · Luke 22:39-53

Psalm 41

Happy are those who consider the poor;
    the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.
The Lord protects them and keeps them alive;
    they are called happy in the land.
    You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;
    in their illness you heal all their infirmities.

As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me;
    heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
My enemies wonder in malice
    when I will die, and my name perish.
And when they come to see me, they utter empty words,
    while their hearts gather mischief;
    when they go out, they tell it abroad.
All who hate me whisper together about me;
    they imagine the worst for me.

They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me,
    that I will not rise again from where I lie.
Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
10 But you, O Lord, be gracious to me,
    and raise me up, that I may repay them.

11 By this I know that you are pleased with me;
    because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
    and set me in your presence forever.

13 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.

2 Peter 1:1-11

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

MEDITATION

We are looking forward to Christmas Day, the Nativity of our Lord, the celebration of the Incarnation. Christmas is all about how God took on human flesh to redeem all humanity. God is by His very nature “not human.” Divine and human are radically different. So why would God become like us?

This was a great mystery that was pondered and debated during the first centuries of the Church. One of my favorite theologians of the early church was a bishop named Athanasius of Alexandria. Athanasius wrote a book called On the Incarnation of the Word, which contains the famous line, “God became man so that man could become god.” Essentially, he is saying that “God became like us so that we might become like God” or “God took our human nature so that we might be able to share in His nature.”

Peter speaks of us becoming “participants of the divine nature.” Unlike us, God is holy and has a divine nature. But God took on our nature (our human flesh) to raise humanity to Himself. He fills us with his Holy Spirit, uniting us to Himself and sanctifying us—making us like Him: holy. Christmas is not just some nice little story about a baby, his mother, and some farm animals. Christmas is about a God taking a radical step down towards us, uniting Himself with humanity, and raising us up to Himself through the Spirit. Christmas is about the union of divinity and humanity. After Christmas, humanity will never be the same.

- Jon Ziegler

PRAYER

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

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Advent Day 15

admin Advent, blog

December 11, 2016

THE READINGS

Psalm 63:1-8(9-11), 98 · John 3:22-30

Isaiah 13:6-13 (ESV)

6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;

   as destruction from the Almighty[a] it will come!

7 Therefore all hands will be feeble,

   and every human heart will melt.

8 They will be dismayed:

   pangs and agony will seize them;

   they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.

They will look aghast at one another;

   their faces will be aflame.

9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,

   cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,

to make the land a desolation

   and to destroy its sinners from it.

10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations

   will not give their light;

the sun will be dark at its rising,

   and the moon will not shed its light.

11 I will punish the world for its evil,

   and the wicked for their iniquity;

I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,

   and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.

12 I will make people more rare than fine gold,

   and mankind than the gold of Ophir.

13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,

   and the earth will be shaken out of its place,

at the wrath of the Lord of hosts

in the day of his fierce anger.

Hebrews 12:18-29 (ESV)

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly[a] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

MEDITATION

I will not be shaken. Those words feel false, I am easily shaken. I am fearful and anxious. I am often unkind and ungrateful. I get frustrated at work and I am irritated when things are not going my way. I feel shaken by the world, the suffering and injustice that surrounds me on a daily basis. So to prescribe the words unshakeable to a fickle and breakable human being in the face of the raw and overwhelming judgment of the all-powerful God feels strange and pretty impossible.

When I consider the power and the ferocity of God as described in Isaiah 13, I know that is what my sinful soul deserves. He promises to shake the whole world and rid it of wickedness and evil. I don’t know about you, but I easily relate to the people identified as prideful and arrogant. So when I really think about the implications of that passage and I know truly and deeply that punishment described in Isaiah is far more recognizable than this prescription of being unshakeable, I am not quite sure how to respond.

I do not want to live in self-condemnation, but I am acutely aware that I am unworthy. There are often days, like today, that I need to be reminded that I am incapable of being unshakeable on my own. Of myself, I am a terrified and wayward soul. The truth is that we were all quite shakeable, but Jesus changed everything for us. His ushering in of the new covenant and His blood changed everything. When I contemplate all of that undeserved truth, the invitation of Hebrews 12:28 is all that makes sense by way of response.

We are called to gratitude. We are called to live in awe of Him and revere Him. We are called to worship. He is as beautiful and as terrifying as a consuming fire and we are safe and cared for under His protection. Christ’s blood grants us a place in the unshakeable Kingdom so when God’s judgment pours out over the earth, we truly will not be shaken.

- Bethany Gioielli

PRAYER

Lord Christ, I am humbled that you have brought me into your protection and care. I want to rest in the promise of this new covenant with you, this participation in your unshakeable Kingdom. However, I am fickle and forgetful. Help me to remember today that you have changed my life and you have made me new. I live in awe of who you are and what you have done for me. Amen.

 

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Advent Day 14

admin Advent, blog

December 10, 2016

THE READINGS

Psalm 30 · Isaiah 8:1-15  

2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

14 Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers. 16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you.

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.

Luke 22:31-38  

31 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”

35 He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

MEDITATION

For some of us, the idea that Christ is going to return inspires laziness. What does it matter what we do now? After all, Christ is coming soon and He is going to fix it all, right? But Paul warns us against idleness.  And Paul claims to have worked night and day, so as not burden any of the Thessalonians.

Knowing that Christ is going to return should actually inspire us to work. Think about it. When He returns, what will He find us doing? Will we be about “the Father’s business,” doing those “good works which He prepared in advance for us”? Where will our focus and efforts be concentrated on the day He visits us?

As Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. “ Let us do His work today.

- Jon Ziegler

PRAYER

Ask God to remind you of the work that He has called you to and perhaps to show you new work that He is preparing for you.

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Advent Day 13

admin Advent, blog

December 9, 2016

THE READINGS

Isaiah 7:10-25 · 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

Psalm 31
1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
   do not let me ever be put to shame;
   in your righteousness deliver me. 
2 Incline your ear to me;
   rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
   a strong fortress to save me. 
3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
   for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, 
4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
   for you are my refuge. 
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;
   you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. 
6 You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
   but I trust in the Lord. 
7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,
   because you have seen my affliction;
   you have taken heed of my adversities, 
8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
   you have set my feet in a broad place. 
9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
   my eye wastes away from grief,
   my soul and body also. 
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
   and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
   and my bones waste away. 
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
   a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
   those who see me in the street flee from me. 
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
   I have become like a broken vessel. 
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
   terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
   as they plot to take my life. 
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
   I say, ‘You are my God.’ 
15 My times are in your hand;
   deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
   save me in your steadfast love. 
17 Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord,
   for I call on you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
   let them go dumbfounded to Sheol. 
18 Let the lying lips be stilled
   that speak insolently against the righteous
   with pride and contempt. 
19 O how abundant is your goodness
   that you have laid up for those who fear you,
and accomplished for those who take refuge in you,
   in the sight of everyone! 
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
   from human plots;
you hold them safe under your shelter
   from contentious tongues. 
21 Blessed be the Lord,
   for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
   when I was beset as a city under siege. 
22 I had said in my alarm,
   ‘I am driven far from your sight.’
But you heard my supplications
   when I cried out to you for help. 
23 Love the Lord, all you his saints.
   The Lord preserves the faithful,
   but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily. 
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
   all you who wait for the Lord.


Luke 22:14-30

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 2 0And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

MEDITATION

I am among you as one who serves, Jesus says to his disciples on the very night of his betrayal and arrest. Here we see Jesus serving his disciples bread and wine, pointing to his ultimate act of service for them and for the whole world which he is about to complete.

Here Jesus articulates and shows again what it means for him to be the long-awaited Messiah, the one who would enact a “new covenant” in which the people of God would faithfully follow God because his law would be written on their hearts.

Part of what it means to be this faithful people is to know that everything we have comes from God. Just as we receive the bread and wine—Christ’s body and blood—from the table each week, we remember that Christ is among us as one who serves. Our life together as God’s people, our new life in Christ, is birthed out of Jesus’ death. Not only does this orient us toward the source of our life, but this truth directs us outward, to be servants to one another and to our neighbors.

If Advent is a season of expectation, we are expecting the fullness of the kingdom of the God who serves and calls to serve.

If Advent is a season of preparation, we are preparing ourselves for that future kingdom as well as for living in the kingdom here and now.

In the liturgy, we confess that we have sinned against God in “thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” Advent is a season of repentance, because much like Jesus’ disciples, we often find it easier to spend our energies arguing about who is the greatest among us rather than who is the least. Many of us attempt to exert our greatness over others by speaking harsh words and doing unkind deeds. Yet I’m sure most of us can think of many words we should have spoken and deeds we should have done.

- Alex Tiethoff

PRAYER

Ask God to continue reorienting you toward himself, toward the reality that our entire life comes from him.

Reflect on the people to whom and the places to which God has called you to serve. Reflect on situations and people that you have influence and authority over. Reflect on how God is leading you and preparing you for kingdom life, a life of service. Repent of what you need to repent, and pray the Prayer of Confession.

 

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Advent Day 12

admin Advent, blog

December 8, 2016

THE READINGS

Isaiah 7:1-9 · Luke 22:1-13

Psalm 37

Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
    and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
    Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
    and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
    and gnash their teeth at them;
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that their day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
    to bring down the poor and needy,
    to kill those who walk uprightly;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
    and their bows shall be broken.

16 Better is a little that the righteous person has
    than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
    but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
    and their heritage will abide forever;

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12  

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, 10 and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, 12 so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.

MEDITATION

Don’t Fret!

Today’s meditation is a joint effort by Mustafa Zeno and Catherine Lawrence. It reads like a conversation.

Mustafa:

Fretting! If I had to choose one word to essentialize our world today it would be fretting; From commonly responding to “how are you?” with “crazy busy,” to doomsday prepping, to the xenophobia and racism highlighted so well in the current socio-political climate in the USA and internationally.

In this Psalm passage, verse 8 says: “ do not fret–it leads only to evil.” and when we look back in history to all the different genocides, pogroms, holocausts… they usually start with this ‘fretting,’ often based in economic insecurity. People worrying about the livelihood of their families, something that is so human and so noble even, can in fact be the source of much evil. Of course, it’s much easier to point fingers in times like this, but really how guilty are we all of letting these primal anxieties get the best of us every single day?

Catherine:

This fretting thing really spoke to me, too. I have so many anxieties about so many things, big and small. When I fret (have anxiety, worry, fear), I tend to avoid life-giving and loving things: helping those in need, being open to new situations, meeting new people… the list goes on and on. What does it leave me with? Evils: avoiding others, giving up hope, doubting myself….

So how do we get out of these evil patterns of protecting our own, which in turn actually harms ourselves and the world around us? There are so many promises in this passage of what

God will do if we follow Him. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s really hard to “do good” and “trust”! These patterns of thought and behavior go deep.

Mustafa:

What if trusting in God is a skill that needs practice? Everyday I realize how my fears, although rooted in real experiences, are not truly grounded in my life here and now.

Nevertheless, these fears feel real and it’s important to hold ourselves (and each other) in compassion for them. After that though, practicing putting faith in God and doing things regardless could really help in reprogramming our minds and bodies to respond more accurately to reality. Doing the work, the prayer, and practicing leaving the rest up to God; honestly, is anything beyond that even in our hands?

Catherine:

I like that a lot: Practice, pray, and leave the rest up to God. It’s true, everything else is out of our hands. And we have so many promises in this text alone to look forward to. In this season of waiting and preparation, it’s a good reminder to look at these promises not only for our lives here and now, but for our future… when Christ returns.

PRAYER

God, I pray that you give us continued reminders of your promises, and help us to always keep our trust in you. Amen.