Archive for November, 2012

November 30, 2012

Advent: The Incarnation Should Shock Us

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Micah 5:2
M’Cheyne Text: Micah 5; Luke 14

Shocking: If we don’t understand the weight of the miracle of the incarnation of Christ, it’s because we don’t understand the weight of the holiness of God. The incarnation should shock us. In fact, it’s so appalling that it’s the reason why Muslims and Jews reject Christianity [1]. They think it’s ludicrous that an infinite and holy God would become finite to live with unholy sinners.

Fearful: The holiness of God is fearful. When Moses asked to see His glory, He said, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” [2]. When the ark was being brought to Israel, some men looked inside of it and, as a result, God struck down fifty thousand men. The people despaired, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?” [3]. When David was bringing the ark to Jerusalem, one man touched it. God immediately struck him down, “and David was afraid of the Lord that day” [4]. The nearer Ezekiel approached the throne of God, the less sure his words became: “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face” [5]. When Job finished questioning God, He answered, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? … Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” [6].

Incarnation: Jesus embodies the holiness of God. For Jesus is God and has been with God from the beginning [7]. In him, God has effected complete self-disclosure. And it is a shocking miracle. Our holy God, who said, “man shall not see me and live”, became incarnate. People saw him and lived. Our holy God, who struck down thousands for mishandling the ark, became incarnate. People touched him and lived. Our holy God, whose magnificent throne left Ezekiel speechless, was born in a manger. Our holy God, who asked, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”, was born in an insignificant town. As Micah prophesied,“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” [8].

Prayer: Lord, The incarnation is so shocking because you are so holy. In advent, prepare us to receive your condescending love. Let us humble ourselves before you. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Islam: In the Quran, we find the core of Islam in the command of the Muslim confession: “Allah begets not and was not begotten” (Sura al-Ikhlas 112). Elsewhere in the Quran, Muhammad gives a more radical argument to this theme: “The Christians say, ‘The Messiah is the Son of Allah.’ That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming to the unbelievers before them. Allah, destroy them! How they are perverted!” (Sura al-Tawba 9:29, 30). Judaism: The Jerusalem Talmud states explicitly, “If a man claims to be God, he is a liar” (Ta’anit 2:1). In the 12th century, the preeminent Jewish scholar Maimonides codified core principles of Judaism, writing, “[God], the Cause of all, is one. This does not mean one as in one of a pair, nor one like a species (which encompasses many individuals), nor one as in an object that is made up of many elements, nor as a single simple object that is infinitely divisible. Rather, God is a unity unlike any other possible unity.” | [2] Exodus 33:12-23 | [3] 1 Samuel 6:1-21 | [4] 2 Samuel 6:5-15 | [5] Ezekiel 1 | [6] Job 38-40 | [7] See John 1. | [8] Micah 5:2 ESV

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November 29, 2012

Advent: The Second Advent

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Luke 13:2-3
M’Cheyne TextMicah 4; Luke 13

Favor: Last week, we thanked God for sending Jesus to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – that is, a space of time for salvation [1]. As Paul wrote, “Now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2]. Yes, it is true that today is not the final judgment of the Lord. By His gracious hand, however, He does discipline us today. Sometimes He does it obviously through tragedies [3].

Tragedy: Tragedy struck Jerusalem. Some pilgrims from Galilee had come to celebrate Passover and, while they were making sacrifices at the temple, they were butchered by some Roman troops. When some of Jesus’ followers came to him with the news, he knew what they were thinking. They assumed that such an extraordinary tragedy must have been preceded by an extraordinary sin. But Jesus responded, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” [4]. In other words, all of them were guilty sinners.

Advent: All of us are extremely sinful – so sinful that, when tragedy strikes, none of us should be surprised. The amazing thing in this world is not that sinners perish, but that God is slow in anger and abounding in love [5]. In this season of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, let us remember that we are in a second Advent season today, as we anticipate his return. But his second coming will not be like his first. As we saw last week, when he comes again, the space of time for salvation will end [6]. That is why Jesus warned, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In other words, if we repent, we will not experience the divine judgment of God that comes after death.

Prayer: Lord, We do not know how long you will be patient with us. We may only have this moment or this hour. As the fear of the Lord grips our hearts this Advent season, let us repent by turning away from our sin, admitting that we have corrupt natures, laying hold of Jesus to cover our sin, taking an oath of allegiance to him by obedience and praise, and hoping in your promises. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening (7:17 minutes total)

Micah 4 (2:41 minutes) – here

Luke 13 (4:36 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] 843 Acres. “Thankful: The Year of the Lord’s Favor.” 20 November 2012.  |  [2] 2 Corinthians 6:2 ESV.  |  [3] Other times He disciplines us subtly through a giving over to our sinful desires. See Romans 1:16-32 (This is perhaps the most dangerous of all God’s judgments and disciplines because it is the most subtle. Here, He withdraws His Spirit in such a way that we slowly and increasingly become numb to the effects of our sin so that we no longer feel the bridling of our natural and sinful selves.) We will develop this further in later reflections.  |  [4] Luke 13:2-3 ESV  |  [5] See Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:15.  |  [6] Id. at 1.

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November 28, 2012

Advent: Living a Life Without Fear

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Luke 12:32
M’Cheyne Text: Micah 3; Luke 12

Fearlessness: Jesus wants us to live fearlessly. And he longs for us to know that our ability to live fearlessly is not based on our own resources – money, abilities, looks, status, connections – but on our knowing that God is for us. Here, in Luke 12, Jesus tells us not to fear those who kill the body because God will be for us in death [1]. He also tell us not to fear persecution because the Holy Spirit – not our creativity or shrewdness – will prepare us [2]. Finally, he tells us not to worry about having things because our Father knows what we need [3].

Seeking: What kind of living makes us fearless? Jesus says, “Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you” [4]. In other words, everything we need to live a fearless life – hope in death, escape from persecution, sustenance in life – will be given to us if we seek the kingdom. John Piper writes, “Jesus calls us to replace thing-seeking with kingdom-seeking” [5]. Yet Jesus knows that it is hard to stop thing-seeking. Most of us love thing-seeking so much that kingdom-seeking seems like a threat to our desires, hopes and dreams. Into our fear, however, Jesus promises, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” [6].

Kingdom: When Jesus calls us to put down thing-seeking and take up kingdom-seeking, he is calling us to be different from the world in its pursuit of things [7] and to give away things for the sake of the kingdom [8]. We fear doing these things because we wonder, “If we turn from thing-seeking to kingdom-seeking, will we be happy and able to survive?” But Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” It is in the kingdom, not in things, where we find the things we truly seek – joy, fullness, home, restoration, fulfillment, healing, family, love, advocacy, service, peace, truth.

Prayer: Lord, We confess that we fear this message because we are thing-seekers, not kingdom-seekers. If we believe it, then you may call us to live radically different lives. Knowing our fearful hearts, however, you tell us not to fear. For you delight to give us the kingdom. Therefore, let us trust you more than our money, abilities, looks, status and connections. Make us treasure the kingdom by making us fall in love with the King. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening (9:28 minutes total)

Micah 3 (1:50 minutes) – here

Luke 12 (7:38 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] See Luke 12:4.  |  [2] See Luke 12:8-12.  |  [3] Luke 12:22, 29-31 ESV  |  [4] Luke 12:22, 29-31 ESV  |  [5] John Piper. “Loved Flock, Do Not Be Afraid to Give It Away.” 16 May 1993.  |  [6] Luke 12:32 ESV  |  [7] See Luke 12:30.  |  [8] See Luke 12:33.

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November 27, 2012

Advent: The Gift of the Spirit

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Luke 11:11-13
M’Cheyne Text: Micah 2; Luke 11

Christmas: Last Christmas, Sally from Ohio wrote to the New York Times for advice: “My husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I gave him a list of practical items: a sports watch, a spa day. But later, he mentioned that he and my son had done a lot of research about a special gift for me. Curious, I checked our shared e-mail and discovered that he’d bought a $2,500 telescope. This is lovely, but I’m not interested in astronomy. I’d rather use the money for a scheduled home improvement. How do I tell him that his gift is generous but unwanted?” [1]

Goodness: Some of us go to God in prayer like we go to our loved ones at Christmas. We have a list of things that we want, and we expect to receive gifts from that list. When Jesus was telling his disciples to be persistent in prayer, he spoke to them about the Father and His ability to give good gifts: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” [2].

Spirit: This Christmas, is the Holy Spirit on our wish lists? Most of us ask for less existential things – books, clothes, etc. But we need the Spirit more than we need anything else. Yes, there is a reality of receiving the Spirit when we become believers. But there is also the experiential reality of receiving him. The Spirit is an experience, not merely a doctrine. He gives us power, boldness and confidence [3]. He works within our hearts so that our lives are changed through obedience and praise [4]. Our faith is not merely the performance of rituals or sacraments. It is a life-changing experience of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Lord, At first glance, we may come to you with thoughts about what we want, but we confess that you know what we want better than we do. Therefore, we come to you asking, seeking and knocking. Give us the gift of your Spirit and an increased experience of him so that our lives are changed in obedience and praise. Amen. [5]

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Audio: Bible Listening (9:14 minutes total)

Micah 2 (2:13 minutes) – here

Luke 11 (7:01 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Philip Galanes. “Save the Packaging.” The New York Times. 15 December 2011.  |  [2] Luke 11:11-13 ESV  |  [3] See Acts 1:5, Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 8:14; 2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:12-13.  |  [4] See Acts 10:46; Acts 5:29.  |  [5] For additional reflection on receiving the Spirit, see John Piper. “What Does It Mean to Receive the Holy Spirit?” 19 May 1991. and “How to Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” 29 April 1984.

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November 26, 2012

Advent: Being a Good Neighbor

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Luke 10:25-29
M’Cheyne Text: Micah 1; Luke 10

Poverty: In a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy, a disheveled homeless man complains of migraines and vomiting, but the doctors cannot find anything wrong with him. They think he just wants drugs. One intern, however, becomes his advocate. She shaves his beard and orders some tests. An attending physician questions her, “You gave him a CT and an extreme makeover? You’re here to do surgery.” She responds, “I cleaned him up a little because poor people don’t get good medical care. Or dirty people. Or smelly people. If he had come in a good suit with some cologne, we’d all be busting ourselves for him instead of accusing him of scamming drugs. I thought, if his scans show he needs a consult, maybe his next doctor won’t blow him off” [1].

Neighbor: A lawyer once tested Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Then the lawyer revealed his true heart: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” [2].

Compassion: John Piper writes, “Jesus responds to the lawyer’s self-justifying question with a parable that does not answer his question but changes it. He changes the question from What kind of person is my neighbor? to What kind of person am I?” Jesus then told the parable of the Good Samaritan. Piper continues, “Jesus asks the lawyer, ‘Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ The lawyer answered, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’ Jesus does not give an answer to his question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Instead, he says in effect, go become a new kind of person. Go get a compassionate heart” [3].

Prayer: Lord, As we approach Advent, we remember that Jesus became our neighbor when he came to dwell among us. He chose to commune with the poor, the sinful and the sick. Show us where we are not good neighbors and give us compassion that disregards status. Amen.

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FAQs

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____________________________________

Audio: Bible Listening (8:10 minutes total)

Micah 1 (2:56 minutes) – here

Luke 10 (5:14 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Grey’s Anatomy. “Second Opinion.” Hulu. 15 November 2012.  |  [2] Luke 10:25-29  |  [3] John Piper. What Jesus Demands from the World. Crossway, 2006. pp. 265-266.

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