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Advent Day 11

admin Advent, blog

December 7, 2016

THE READINGS

Psalm 38 · 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Isaiah 6:1-7

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

John 7:53-8:11

53 Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

MEDITATION

I always pack at the last minute. I forget to bring snacks to the park for my kids. As you are reading this, I have yet to buy a single Christmas present. Needless to say, I’m not very good at getting ready—at preparation. To be fair, I have some good excuses, two children under two with a third on the way, two jobs, and a million other things pulling me different directions. But the reality is that I am not a planner and as such Advent is a season that is foreign to my nature—a season of preparation. Each Advent season, I find myself in an unfamiliar space that invites me to pause, to prepare, to get ready.

Like me you may find yourself, in this season less prepared than you hoped to be by this point. We have yet to complete all the tasks on our to do list–party planning, gift buying, cookie baking, tree decorating. In addition, we may also find ourselves unprepared to encounter Jesus, unprepared because our lives are tainted with brokenness. Sometimes recognition of our brokenness is forced upon us by circumstances outside of our control, like in the case of the woman in our Gospel reading today. There are other times where our brokenness remains less obvious to us and rears its ugly head in the ways we mistreat and expose other people, demonstrated by the Pharisees failure to care for this woman.

The prophet Isaiah is also confronted with his own sin when he enters the presence of the Holy One. This kind of self-awareness, sometimes called repentance, is our small part in naming the ways in which we for one reason or another fail to see and live in a way that is consistent with the coming King. In Advent, we prepare room for Jesus by recognizing that that he is coming as King to establish justice, goodness, and peace. As we reflect in this season, let us consider the part we play in creating the kind of world where Jesus can be King. Jesus has hopeful words for us today. The same invitation that was extended to the adulterous women is extended to us in this Advent season: “Go and sin no more.” There is no condemnation, just an invitation to live into the goodness and wholeness of the coming King.

-Janna Mahoney Ziegler

PRAYER

God, grant me the grace to receive Jesus as King and live into his wholeness and goodness today. 

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Advent Day 10

admin Advent, blog

December 6, 2016

THE READINGS

Psalm 26 · Isaiah 5:13-17, 24-25

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

12 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13 esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.

23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

25 Beloved, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27 I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.


 Luke 21:29-38

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. 38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

MEDITATION

Today’s meditation calls us to the task of active waiting – not anxious, apathetic, or absent-minded – but active waiting. This paradox captures the essence of our faith. We are called neither to be escapists anxiously waiting for heaven, nor materialists concerned only with worldly pursuits.

To understand this calling, we must first answer the question of what. What are we waiting for? The restoration of creation by the full reign of God’s kingdom. Throughout the book of Luke, Jesus demonstrates that “the kingdom of God” is coming to earth. As he heals, liberates, and proclaims the good news, particularly to the poor and marginalized, evidence of God’s kingdom can be seen. Yet, according to today’s reading from Luke, the kingdom of God has not yet fully come. Jesus indicates that it will be ushered in by the coming of the Son of Man, a title from Daniel 7 for the Messiah, “whose words will not pass away.” With the second coming of our King, the kingdom will bring justice and will restore the broken-hearted.

With the knowledge of what we are waiting for, we must ask ourselves, how are we to wait? The passage from Luke instructs us to wait as those who have hope. The signs that Jesus mentioned just prior to this passage involve destruction and pestilence. This is the backdrop for verse 34. Rather than being disheartened, “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life,” we are called to guard our hearts by anticipating the great reversal that is to come.

Our second passage, from 1 Thessalonians, provides an overview of the concrete ways of living that we are called to. From this text, it is clear that we are not called to wait alone, where we would be vulnerable to anxiety and isolation. Instead, let us wait in community, actively encouraging, helping, and demonstrating patience to each other.

As we remember our Lord’s first coming and anticipate his second, let us partner with him to advance God’s kingdom through our care for one another and love for the strangers, outsiders, and disheartened in the world around us.   

-Robert Balfour

PRAYER

Spend a few moments in silence, asking God to help you imagine what it looks like for you to actively wait for the full coming of his kingdom. What might you change about the way you live in community, interact with those who have lost their hope, organize your finances, etc.?

Pray the Collect for Peace:

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Advent Day 9

admin Advent, blog

December 5, 2016

THE READINGS

1 Thess. 5:1-11· Luke 21:20-28

Psalm 25

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
    do not let me be put to shame;
    do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
    let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
    for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
    according to your steadfast love remember me,
    for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
    and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
    for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

11 For your name’s sake, O Lord,
    pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who are they that fear the Lord?
    He will teach them the way that they should choose.

13 They will abide in prosperity,
    and their children shall possess the land.
14 The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
    for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart,
    and bring me out of my distress.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
    and forgive all my sins.

19 Consider how many are my foes,
    and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 O guard my life, and deliver me;
    do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
    for I wait for you.

22 Redeem Israel, O God,
    out of all its troubles.

Isaiah 5:8-12; 18-23

Ah, you who join house to house,
    who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
    and you are left to live alone
    in the midst of the land!
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
Surely many houses shall be desolate,
    large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
    and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah.

11 Ah, you who rise early in the morning
    in pursuit of strong drink,
who linger in the evening
    to be inflamed by wine,
12 whose feasts consist of lyre and harp,
    tambourine and flute and wine,
but who do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
    or see the work of his hands!

18 Ah, you who drag iniquity along with cords of falsehood,
    who drag sin along as with cart ropes,
19 who say, “Let him make haste,
    let him speed his work
    that we may see it;
let the plan of the Holy One of Israel hasten to fulfillment,
    that we may know it!”
20 Ah, you who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!
21 Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes,
    and shrewd in your own sight!
22 Ah, you who are heroes in drinking wine
    and valiant at mixing drink,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
    and deprive the innocent of their rights!

MEDITATION

It was around this time last year when I was walking to my next class with one of my dear friends when she asked, “Janelle, what does your necklace say?” I twirled around the newest addition to my ever-growing collection of jewelry, looked down at it, and said, “It says, ‘Choose joy.’ Just bought it yesterday!” This friend then posed a question: “Do you think everyone has the power to make that choice?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, curious to know her response. I remember feeling confused and even slightly annoyed at her for making such a big deal of the phrase on my necklace. She continued by sharing that her sister had been in and out of mental hospitals over the course of the past year due to a brutal battle with depression. From the outside looking in, it didn’t seem like she had the option of choosing joy. I nodded in silence before we parted ways to go about the rest of our days.

A few months later, I found myself in the thick of my own tumultuous battle with depression. Up until this point, I had accepted the reality that depression certainly affected aspects of my life, but it never prevented me from going on with my day-to-day. After going to therapy once a week for a year and a half, I thought I mastered all the tricks of the trade. I prided myself on being the bubbly, enthusiastic girl who could take anything that came her way, putting on a happy face while secretly struggling to even get out of bed some days. For months on end, I tried my best to “choose joy” and practice resilience the best I could, but the only person I was fooling was myself.

In April 2016, I was placed on antidepressants. The first thing I did after being handed the neon orange bottle of pills was do a quick Google search for “Should Christians take antidepressants?” Part of me felt silly about it, but another very real part of me feared that a dependence on this medication meant that I was no longer depending on God as the source of my joy.

David’s prayer in today’s passage, Psalm 25, reminds us of the honesty that God invites us into in prayer. I especially love verses 16 and 17:

“Turn to me and be gracious to me,
   for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
   and bring me out of my distress.”

In a lot of ways, this psalm sounds a lot like many of the prayers I’ve prayed lately, and perhaps they echo some of your own cries as well. David’s prayer isn’t sugarcoated and wrapped in a pretty bow out of a fear that maybe God won’t be able to handle all that he’s feeling. In fact, it’s quite opposite of that. These days, I’m learning to be okay with the fact that my prayers take on a different tone than usual. While these honest pleas often stand in stark contrast to the holiday cheer around me, it is not seen as any less holy in God’s eyes.

-Janelle Paule

PRAYER

God, thank You that You are able to handle my honesty. You are familiar with my loneliness and longing even in the midst of this season of joy and giftgiving. Thank You that in seasons of affliction, You promise to walk with me and bring me out of my distress. Prince of Peace, I ask you to bring hope to this weary soul of mine.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

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Advent Day 8

admin Advent, blog, Justice

December 4, 2016

Artwork by Julia Clare Ziegler

He Expected Justice, Watercolor on paper

THE READINGS

Psalm 148 · Luke 7:28-35

Isaiah 5:1-7

1 Let me sing for my beloved

    my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
    and people of Judah,
judge between me
    and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
    that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
    why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
    what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
    and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
    and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
    it shall not be pruned or hoed,
    and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
    that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
    but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
    but heard a cry!

2 Peter 3:11-18

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

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

MEDITATION

Our church tends to emphasize the “renewal of all things.” That is, how God is going to renovate the world in which we live. We emphasize the importance of stewarding God’s creation (including our bodies) because all of creation belongs to God and He plans to restore all of it. At first glance, this might seem in contradiction with Peter’s message here. He seems to be saying “it’s all going to burn!” Right?

Sure, there is a little tension, but maybe not as much as we would think. Imagine that you discover an old house for sale. It had been abandoned for 10 years, infested by termites, and used as a crack house. It’s in such bad shape that you can buy it for really cheap. Now you are going to start the process of renovating the house. What is the first step? You will have to gut most of the house. The sheet rock will be removed along with many of the boards framing the house and perhaps the flooring and the plumbing as well. Renovation will begin with demolition. To re-create and re-store the house to its originally intended beauty, you will first destroy much of what is left of it.

When reading the English translation we miss the poetry in Isaiah’s Hebrew:

[God] expected justice (miš·pāṭ)
    but saw bloodshed (miś·pāḥ);
righteousness (ṣ·ḏā·qāh),
    but heard a cry (ṣə·‘ā·qāh.) !

In Hebrew, the words for “justice” and “bloodshed,” and “righteousness” and “a crying out” sound very similar—but they are, of course, radically different. The house that God is building, the humanity that He is reconstructing, will be built out of justice and righteousness. Unfortunately the “house” that currently comprises humanity is largely built out of bloodshed and cries of those who are distressed by the evil, oppressive powers of our world systems.

As harsh as it sounds, there is much about our world that requires the dismantling and destructive power of “fire” before God will be able to re-create that we so earnestly long to live in. Injustice has no future in the future that God is bringing about.

- Jon Ziegler

PRAYER

Almighty God, Ruler of the Universe, lover and judge of all humankind, show me those things in my life which have no future in your coming Kingdom. Refine my life with your holy fire, that I might live a life of justice and righteousness to the glory of your name, through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

 

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Advent Day 7

admin Advent, blog

December 3, 2016

Artwork by Peter Collins and Stephanie Hutin

Victory, Mixed Media

THE READINGS

1 Thess. 4:13-18 · Luke 21:5-19

Isaiah 4:2-6

In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit[a] of judgment and a spirit[b]of fire. Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory[c] will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.

Psalm 20

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
    and accept your burnt offerings.[b]
May he give you the desire of your heart
    and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
    and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
    but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
    Answer us when we call

MEDITATION

No one is comfortable with the idea of God’s judgment, especially when we worry or suspect that it will fall on us. But, in the world of today, we also long for the fullness of justice that our communities and institutions can’t fulfill. Today, let’s challenge ourselves to think of God’s judgment not as something frightening and vindictive; let us think of it as justice—the type of justice that our hearts yearn for when we look at the world, but that we are powerless to execute.

Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.

A verse like this one can make us afraid: it can make us feel like we aren’t holy and not good enough. Guess what? We aren’t. But God follows it up with a loving promise: to cleanse us. That is the daily promise we have by living in Christ: to be cleansed. Think of a mother giving an infant a bath in the kitchen sink. That’s the type of cleansing God gives us as His Children. And yes, Scripture says that it is through a spirit of judgment and fire. God is deeply invested in wiping away our sin. He judges our sin with fire–but not us. He wipes sin from us every day, whether we are aware of it or not.

Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.

 

There are a lot of times in life when we don’t feel victorious. But God is victorious in those times, whether we feel it or not. When we are blessed, God is victorious. When we feel downcast, discouraged, and deeply aware of our own shortcomings, God is actively working in our hearts and in those spaces at the same time. To be a child of God means to never be outside of His work towards justice and victory.

-Carla Neuss

PRAYER

Ask God to show you how He is answering your prayers in new and unexpected ways today—let him open your eyes to the work He is doing that the world can blind us to.

 

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Advent Day 6

admin Advent, blog

December 2, 2016

THE READINGS

1 Thess. 4:1-12 ·  Luke 20:41-21:4

Psalm 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
    in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
    or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11 You show me the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Isaiah 3:8-15

For Jerusalem has stumbled
    and Judah has fallen,
because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord,
    defying his glorious presence.

The look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom,
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
    For they have brought evil on themselves.
10 Tell the innocent how fortunate they are,
    for they shall eat the fruit of their labors.
11 Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are,
    for what their hands have done shall be done to them.
12 My people—children are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
    and confuse the course of your paths.

13 The Lord rises to argue his case;
    he stands to judge the peoples.
14 The Lord enters into judgment
    with the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.

MEDITATION

You may be wondering how/if these two passages connect. We begin with strong words from the prophet Isaiah, who rebukes Jerusalem and Judah for their wickedness. Then, we move into a song of David who is seeking help from God and remembering his goodness. Let’s start by looking at verse 8 of the Isaiah reading, where the prophet explains that these kingdoms have fallen “because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence.” God’s people have completely disobeyed him and he is letting them know he has seen their rebellion. Do you remember a time when you’ve been in a situation where you’ve asked for an explanation of why you cannot do something and are met with the frustrating statement “because I said so”? Perhaps that is how we see God and his call to obedience. So often we see life with God as a bunch of rules that we have to follow. Some make sense, and some we follow just because God said so.  However, what’s really at stake here is a choice to live life on our own terms or to choose his way. If we rewind back to the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve chose to ignore God’s way. When they ate the fruit, they decided to take their own path, apart from him. The result was a relational chasm, a life full of toil, and separation from God. They missed out on his glorious presence. But why should we care about God’s presence? This leads us back to the selection from Psalms. The final verse of Psalm 16 says: You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. He is the way of life. There is no other path, no matter how hard we try to figure it out on our own. Fullness of joy is not discovered in finding your bliss or pursuing your dream, but is found in God’s presence. We say yes to him, because we know that he leads us on a pathway to life.

-Jen Manglos

PRAYER

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Let the last verse of Psalm 16 be your prayer today. Begin by quieting down and then slowly read through this verse. Pause for a moment and then read it again, this time paying attention to what words or phrases stands out to you. Take this words(s) back to God and consider with him why this might be resonating with you. Read through the verse again and finish by offering this word or phrase up to God as your prayer to him. Return to this word(s) throughout your day, as a reminder to open to God’s presence.

 

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Advent Day 5

admin Advent, blog

December 1, 2016

THE READINGS

Psalm 18 · 1 Thess. 3:1-13

Isaiah 2:12-22

12 For the Lord of hosts has a day
    against all that is proud and lofty,
    against all that is lifted up and high;
13 against all the cedars of Lebanon,
    lofty and lifted up;
    and against all the oaks of Bashan;
14 against all the high mountains,
    and against all the lofty hills;
15 against every high tower,
    and against every fortified wall;
16 against all the ships of Tarshish,
    and against all the beautiful craft.
17 The haughtiness of people shall be humbled,
    and the pride of everyone shall be brought low;
    and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.
18 The idols shall utterly pass away.
19 Enter the caves of the rocks
    and the holes of the ground,
from the terror of the Lord,
    and from the glory of his majesty,
    when he rises to terrify the earth.
20 On that day people will throw away
    to the moles and to the bats
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
    which they made for themselves to worship,
21 to enter the caverns of the rocks
    and the clefts in the crags,
from the terror of the Lord,
    and from the glory of his majesty,
    when he rises to terrify the earth.
22 Turn away from mortals,
    who have only breath in their nostrils,
    for of what account are they?

Luke 20:19-26

19 When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

20 So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.

MEDITATION

In this story, the religious leaders think they have set the perfect trap for Jesus. They ask him, “Should we pay our taxes to Caesar?” On the one hand, they speak for the Jewish people who were forced to pay taxes to the Roman Empire but did not receive the benefits of citizenship. If Jesus confirmed that Jews should pay Caesar’s tax, his own people would have been angry and felt betrayed. But if Jesus tells the people not to pay taxes, these spies can report him to the Romans for encouraging people to violate the Empire’s laws. It’s a no-win situation.

But Jesus sees the trap coming. He has a chance to expose the spies’ deceitfulness in front of everybody; or just ignore their question. Instead, he actually gives a truthful answer to their dishonest question. Jesus asks the questioner for a coin, and holding it up to the crowd, points to Caesar’s face imprinted on the piece of metal. The owner of that coin probably worked hard for it. She probably felt like we do towards money we earn: it belongs to us and we can decide how to spend it. But the question is not only about our money. Jesus reminds the crowd that God is concerned with all aspects of our lives. It is easy to forget where the gifts of life come from. What we do with our money is important, but we can only honor God with our resources when we have given God our full obedience, our trust, and our love. Caesar creates currency, but God has created all of life. Do you live as if your life belonged to God?

Luke tells us that the crowds were astonished by Jesus’ answer. When Jesus spoke the truth, it shattered their expectations. When we ask God for guidance or provision, we often tell God how we’d like God to answer our prayer. But this story reminds us that God’s truth will surprise us—we may get an answer we’re not expecting. This year, I (Jair) have been praying for good grades. God hasn’t magically written “A”s on all of my papers; but he has given me perseverance to work really hard. I have tried to obey God by giving my best in school, and have found that I can trust him to help me get the grades I need! We can be thankful that we do not have to trust in our money or in the government to take care of us. When we give our lives to God, he provides.

-Brendan Dry and Jair Solis

PRAYER

What prayers might you offer to God in response to what you have read?

 

Mixed Media, Lee “Bubbles” Metcalf

Advent Day 4

admin Advent, blog

November 30, 2016

Artwork by Lee “Bubbles” Metcalf

Blameless, Mixed Media

THE READINGS

Isa. 2:1-11 · 1 Thess. 2:13-20

Psalm 119:1-24

Happy are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways.
You have commanded your precepts
    to be kept diligently.
O that my ways may be steadfast
    in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
    having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
    when I learn your righteous ordinances.
I will observe your statutes;
    do not utterly forsake me.

How can young people keep their way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    do not let me stray from your commandments.
11 I treasure your word in my heart,
    so that I may not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes.
13 With my lips I declare
    all the ordinances of your mouth.
14 I delight in the way of your decrees
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts,
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

17 Deal bountifully with your servant,
    so that I may live and observe your word.
18 Open my eyes, so that I may behold
    wondrous things out of your law.
19 I live as an alien in the land;
    do not hide your commandments from me.
20 My soul is consumed with longing
    for your ordinances at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
    who wander from your commandments;
22 take away from me their scorn and contempt,
    for I have kept your decrees.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me,
    your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your decrees are my delight,
    they are my counselors.

Luke 20:19-26

When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

20 So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.

MEDITATION

What an unusual approach to the law. In Psalm 119, the writer asks God to open his eyes to see the “wonderful things” in the law. Wonderful things? Perhaps, at best, we accept that laws are meant to keep us safe. Or maybe we feel insulted by laws (God’s or humans’) because we disagree with them, or feel limited by them because it’s inconvenient to follow them.

Imagine a playground with swings, slides, monkey bars, and anything else you remember loving from childhood. Kids are running around, being loud, and having fun. Now picture that playground next to a busy street where cars are speeding by all day. If there is no fence, parents will constantly be worried about their children running into the street. They will tell their children not to get close to the street, and may even feel compelled to tell them not to run at all for fear of them accidentally going into the street. If the city comes and installs a fence between the street and the playground, how will the parents feel then? They can relax because the fence protects their children. The children can actually enjoy more freedom to run and play because of the fence.

Perhaps God’s law is like such a fence, and God is like a caring parent. His law is not meant to limit freedom, but rather to let true freedom flourish within its safety. God is a loving parent who wants his children to know joy and peace. His commands are designed to show us how to live the best life we can – the life in which we know him as our friend and savior. In this Advent season, let us renew our devotion to “give to God what is God’s” and to love God by obeying his commands. He is worthy, he is able, and he deeply loves us, his children.

                    -Lauren Balfour

PRAYER

Read through Psalm 119:1-24 again, this time as a prayer, asking the Spirit to make the words true in your own heart.

 

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Advent Day 3

admin Advent, blog

November 29, 2016

THE READINGS

Thess. 2:1-12 ·  Luke 20:9-18   

Psalm 6

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
    while you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, save my life;
    deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who can give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
    they grow weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
    they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.

Isaiah 1:21-31

21 How the faithful city
    has become a whore!
    She that was full of justice,
righteousness lodged in her—
    but now murderers!
22 Your silver has become dross,
    your wine is mixed with water.
23 Your princes are rebels
    and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
    and runs after gifts.
They do not defend the orphan,
    and the widow’s cause does not come before them.

24 Therefore says the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel:
Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies,
    and avenge myself on my foes!
25 I will turn my hand against you;
    I will smelt away your dross as with lye
    and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
    and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
    the faithful city.

27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
    and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together,
    and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
29 For you shall be ashamed of the oaks
    in which you delighted;
and you shall blush for the gardens
    that you have chosen.
30 For you shall be like an oak
    whose leaf withers,
    and like a garden without water.
31 The strong shall become like tinder,
    and their work like a spark;
they and their work shall burn together,
    with no one to quench them.

MEDITATION

It only takes a skimming of the news to hear the cries for relief that surround us. Injustice toward the oppressed and marginalized is in our city and around the world. Deceit, corruption and political unease cause worry about future times. The reality is that the world around us is not as it should be and we feel it. Our hearts cry out, we are frustrated, we complain and we appeal for relief and justice from those in power. Though the big issues are obvious to see, we each also carry our own concerns and burdens that may go unseen (even to us).

When the inevitable comes and we see the reality of destruction around us, we want nothing more than to search for relief. Complaint seems unhelpful and blaming God might even seem out of the question. But, what if we were encouraged to enter into the pain of deconstruction? What if the process of sitting in the midst of complaint, pain and neediness served as an invitation? In Advent, we wait and hope, even when all the pieces seem to be falling apart. It is here in this place of the in-between that we are called to embrace the tension of honestly recognizing our complaint that God is absent, but expecting God’s inevitable rescue.

Maybe the idea of holding such a tension is already causing some anxiety in your stomach. Or, maybe you’ve dismissed the idea as being irrational and unhelpful. However, as we read in Psalm 6, David models for us a way to pray to God through lament (a prayer of complaint) as a way to acknowledge the expression of one’s heart in the midst of painful life events and sit in a posture of confident waiting for God’s provision.

David complains to God, blaming God for his current pain. This may seem too bold or over-stepping our bounds, but in doing so David invites God into his most intimate place. David shows us prayer is about honesty, not about being good. He shows us that the painful in-between is a waiting place that disorients us in order to reorient us through forming a more intimate way of relating to God.

But, David does not despair. He expects God to show up. Likewise, we remember and believe that our restoration is grounded in God’s covenantal love, something easy to forget as we wait.

So, in this time of Advent, we take time to hold our place of waiting by honestly recognizing our current state of pain with unfiltered complaint to God. In so doing, we can articulate our intimate areas in honest prayer while we wait for the promised coming of the One who rescues.

-Chris Gioielli

PRAYER

What prayers of lament or complaint do you wish to offer to God?

What are some ways that you need God to “show up” in your life?

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Advent Day 2

admin Advent, blog

November 28, 2016

THE READINGS

Psalm 1· Luke 20:1-8   

Isaiah 1:10-20

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
    says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
    or of lambs, or of goats.

12 When you come to appear before me,
    who asked this from your hand?
    Trample my courts no more;
13 bringing offerings is futile;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
    I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you stretch out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17     learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

18 Come now, let us argue it out,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be devoured by the sword;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

MEDITATION

Repentance: Shifting Gears on the Inside

    You can’t steer a parked car, but can you steer a stalled car? Imagine you are driving down Figueroa and your car stalls out. You call up a couple homies to help you move the car out of traffic and onto the side of the road so you can figure out what’s going on.

    When they arrive, you put the car into neutral and your friends push. You attempt to steer, but the power steering has failed, so you’re struggling. Your homies push your clunker in the right direction, towards the shoulder. Finally, you make it to safety and begin trying to sort out the problem.

    The word “repent” means to turn. Is it something we do or is it something God does? Yes.

    In the Isaiah passage, God challenges His people to repent. They have become complicit with injustice. He brings their wrong to the forefront and tells them what he wants–for them to stop doing wrong and do the right thing (v.16-18). God wants His people to take action against injustice. He urges them to “stop doing wrong” (v.16) and “Learn to do right” (v.17). Doing the right thing looks like advocacy on behalf of your society’s weaker members: “Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless;
 plead the case of the widow.” (v.17)

    God offers forgiveness in verse 18. The hinge point occurs in verse 19 “if you are willing and obedient”. What is required for us is an internal “shifting of gears”.

    Instead of trying to work harder and harder at making ourselves better people—much like someone trying to rev a dead engine—God invites us to turn to Him for mercy.  God invites us to be “willing and obedient” (v.19) rather than the alternative, to “resist and rebel” (v.20).

    This internal shift enables us to be “pushed” by God in the right direction. The main force of energy to move our car forward comes now from the outside rather than from within.  Resistance and rebellion to the outside nudging of God on our lives is like refusing your friends’ help and insisting upon trying to make your broken car move. It just can’t. Twenty minutes later you’re going to find yourself in the same place you started—stuck. So call your friends, make the shift into neutral, and allow God—and community—to push you in the right direction. Surrender, and let God change your position.

-Lydia Lockhart

PRAYER

Lord, give me grace to stop insisting on my own way, which is clearly not working. Please give me the humility to ask You and others for help. Turn me in the right direction. This I ask in the name of Jesus, in whom there is forgiveness, Amen.

Pray the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.