November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Prayers

by Steven Dilla

Daily Readings:
Micah 2
 (Listen – 2:35 min)
Luke 11 (Listen – 7:01 min)

The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11.2-4)
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

A Puritan Prayer of Thanksgiving, Author Unknown, From The Valley of Vision

Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil; 

for the body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding; 

for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, 

for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly,

I love thee above the powers of language to express, 

for what thou art to thy creatures.

Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.

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November 26, 2014

Overcoming Excuses to Show Love

by Steven Dilla

Daily Reading
Micah 1 (Listen – 2:56)
Luke 10 (Listen – 5:14)

A chronically prone host to robberies and murders, the 17 mile road referred to in the parable of The Good Samaritan descends 3,500 feet from Jerusalem to Jericho. In Jesus’ day it served as a commuter road for Priests and Levites. Original hearers of Jesus’ parable would have known the religious leaders in the story were returning home after their two-week period of serving in the Temple.

If a Priest or a Levite touched a corpse they became ceremonially unclean and needed to return to the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, purchase a red heifer, and (at the proper time) sacrifice it. In addition to the financial cost, the process required would delay the Priest and Levites’ journey home by about a week. It is clear, however, from the Jesus’ story that cursory evaluation of the wounded man would reveal he was not dead——meaning the Priest and Levite leveraged God’s word to justify their unwillingness to sacrifice time, money, and comfort. Brian Stiller says it more strongly, “In a sense, these two continue what the robbers had begun in destroying the man.” [1] 

There are many excuses for the Samaritan not to show love. To help someone on a trade route was to take your life into your own hands; it’s clear there are wicked people nearby. Additionally, inns were known to be places of ill repute. Innkeepers were notoriously dishonest, and while the Samaritan protects the wounded man from debtor’s prison by offering to pay any cost incurred, he absorbs all the risk if the innkeeper takes advantage of either of them. 

It is a distinctly American way of reading a text to picture ourselves as the hero. Jesus wanted his listeners to find themselves in his parables——but in this story he’s revealing just as much about himself as he is about ourselves. Jesus is the true good Samaritan. We are the ones who are mortally wounded. We’re the ones overwhelmed by evil and incapable of helping ourselves. It’s Jesus who saves. He takes his life into his own hands——withholding nothing to pay the price. Like the Good Samaritan, Christ’s generous love defies logic and is offered freely at our most vulnerable point.

Prayer: God, thank you that you rescued us when we were yet sinners. We see that until we accept Jesus’ love for us, we’ll never be able to sustain in sacrificial love to our neighbors, let-alone our enemies. Remind us of the love you first showed us and allow us to live as extensions of that love to everyone around us.

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Footnotes

[1] Brian Stiller. Preaching Parables to Postmoderns. p.83.

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November 25, 2014

Prosperity’s Calling

by Steven Dilla

Daily Reading
Jonah 4 (Listen – 2:00)
Luke 9 (Listen – 7:43)

Prosperity’s Calling 

Pedaling the promise of earthly riches through spiritual commitment, teachers of the prosperity gospel clamor for the spotlight in American media. Far too often they win it, entwining the American Dream with a verse or two in order to sell their brand of success (favor, blessing, etc). The Bible affirms that, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above,” [1] but it also warns, ardently, that chasing the gifts instead of following the giver is a pathway to destruction.

Jesus’ call to follow him was a call to a difficult path. He gave up every good and perfect gift of heaven to be born in a subsistence-level family. He spent much of his ministry homeless, owning only the clothes on his back at his crucifixion. Of all the emotions associated with Jesus, he is referred to most often as a man of sorrows, weeping for the brokenness he saw all around him. Jesus’ charge to his disciples was the antithesis of a call to seek earthly blessing. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9.23-35)

“Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His cross,” says Thomas à Kempis. “He finds many companions at His feasting, but few at His fasting. All desire to rejoice in Him; Few are willing to endure anything for Him. Many follow Jesus as far as the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of His passion. Many reverence His miracles, but few will follow the shame of His cross.” [2]

Christianity that results in prosperity is a call to sacrifice. Radical generosity is the only way to keep our hearts from falling in love with the things of this world. John Wesley draws our attention to what happens when Christians gain prosperity through faith and then refuse to deny themselves: “riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity.” [3] Jesus’ warning was precisely because the gospel can lead to prosperity, but anyone using Christ to obtain worldly status and prosperity is not truly pursing Christ. That person, Christ says, could gain all the blessings of the whole world and still lose their soul.

Prayer: Father, purify our hearts; bring to light ways we pursue you for your blessings. You are our hope, God, and we long to be with you. Give us this day our daily bread, and lead us not into temptation. We give ourselves to you, for in you we have found everything we need.

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Footnotes

[1] James 1.17 | [2] As quoted in, The Divine Hours, p.95. | [3] John Wesley. Sermons on Several Occasions: Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity, p.1069.

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November 24, 2014

Evil is Easy; Cultivate Good

by Steven Dilla

Daily Reading
Jonah 3 (Listen – 1:45)
Luke 8 (Listen – 7:26)

And some [seed] fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.” — Luke 8.7

Thorns rob nutrients from the soil before plants can benefit from them——choking them to death. Jesus’ vivid picture draws our attention to the way in which the promise of fruit is robbed from otherwise healthy plants. Jesus explained, “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” 

The longer thorns are left untended the deeper the roots grow, consuming more than ever. Eventually, thorns can overcome a field and block the light, leaving the landscape fruitless and barren. Professor Thomas Constable says choking on thorns is a metaphor for what happens when we’re focused on, “The present life, rather than the life to come, and present treasure, rather than future treasure… [Thorns] are deceitful because they can drain spiritual vitality before the person realizes what is happening.” [1] Loving riches, even if they are blessings, can steal our best time and energy away from loving God.

Evil things are easy things, for they are natural to our fallen nature. Right things are rare flowers that need cultivation,” Charles Spurgeon counseled his London congregation in 1888.  Spurgeon knew our spiritual vitality is always in danger of being choked by the thorns we live among. “The thorns were already established in the soil. They were not only the natural inhabitants of the soil but they were rooted and fixed in it… The roots of sin run through and through our nature, grasp it with wonderful force and keep up their grasp with marvelous tenacity.” [2]

Jesus wasn’t trying to burden those who follow him with fear of thorns, but to warn of the severity of leaving them untended. Conviction over sin is a sign of grace; inaction over conviction is a sign of thorns. Spurgeon finishes his sermon saying Christians should address the pain of spiritual thorns in the same way children respond when inflicted with a garden’s thorns: by running to our parents. It is only in the arms of our Father where we see He will stop at nothing to remove the wretched thorn, all while handling us with the greatest tenderness and precision.

Prayer: Father, we confess that our lives become consumed by the things in them——that the worries of the world come to our mind far more readily than the security of your salvation. We want to thrive in you. Give us courage to confess, surround us with merciful friends, help us to see your grace.

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Footnotes

[1] Dr. Thomas Constable. Matthew, 2014 edition, p.213. | [2] Charles H. Spurgeon. Sown Among Thorns, 1888, Newington, England.

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November 21, 2014

3 Pictures of Christ in Luke 5

by Steven Dilla

Daily Reading:
Obadiah 1 (Listen – 3:31 min)
Luke 5 (Listen – 5:15 min)

1. Christ as a Master Worth Following

As Simon Peter responded to Jesus’ command to lower his nets after a night of fruitless fishing, he called Jesus, “master.” It’s likely he was obeying out of respect, and Simon Peter must have been wondering what kind of master Jesus was. The masters of the world lorded their power over people like Simon Peter; he was a mere fisherman, dependent on what he pulled from the water for the well-being of his life. After a miraculous catch, Simon Peter fell in awe at the Master’s feet. The sovereignty and generosity Jesus had shown was something Simon Peter joyfully pursued with all his heart, mind, and strength. (Luke 5.1-11)

2. Christ as the Lord and Healer of Our Greatest Pain

Later, Jesus gave clean skin to a leper and strong legs to a paralytic; but he wasn’t satisfied with just physical healing. Jesus knew there were many then, and now, that he would not stand in front of to touch and heal, so he drew our attention to something greater. “Your sins are forgiven,” he said to the paralytic. Jesus taught it is sin that separates men and women from God. It is only in the healing of our deepest pain, which we cannot heal apart from Christ, that Jesus shows himself as true Lord and Healer. (Luke 5.12-26)

3. Christ as Friends of Sinners 

Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt. Eating at Levi’s table is the equivalent of sipping wine from Bernie Madoff’s cellar——it’s offensive to even think of an upright person partaking in the fruit of corruption. Jesus wasn’t there to enjoy exquisite food and drink, he was there to give himself as a friend. Jesus befriends sinners to his own detriment, giving up his reputation as the elite scorn him and offering his life as sinners reject him. Jesus is the living example that there is no greater love than a man laying down his life, even while we were yet sinners. (Luke 5.27-39)

None were left the same, all had been touched by grace. Instead of unapproachable power, Simon Peter found blessing. Instead of a God removed from the pain of life, the sick found intimacy and healing. Instead of judgment that precludes relationship, Levi found sacrifice that allowed for embrace. Christ shows himself as our greatest provider, the solution to our deepest problem, and loving friend who lays down all to live in relationship with us.

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Weekend Readings

Saturday: Jonah 1 (txt | aud, 2:52 min); Luke 6 (txt | aud, 6:28 min)
Sunday: Jonah 2 (txt | aud, 1:27 min); Luke 7 (txt | aud, 6:39 min)

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