Dream Like Joseph

Scripture: Matthew 2.13
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.

Reflection: Dream Like Joseph
By John Tillman

When we think of Joseph and dreams, we aren’t usually thinking about the New Testament. To further confuse the issue, both of the Bible’s dreaming Josephs are sons of Jacob and lived for a time in Egypt.

But even though Joseph of the Old Testament had more famous and fabulous dreams, Joseph the husband of Mary had dreams eminently more practical, more spiritual, and not requiring interpretation.

From the perspective of Jews at that time, God seemed to be missing from the world. His prophets had gone silent. His mighty actions and prophecies had become words in a book that some did not believe. Those who studied his commands most diligently, interpreted them to their own advantage and used scripture to oppress rather than free others.

Some of this situation certainly sounds familiar to us today. The loudest voices claiming to speak for God seem cruel and self-serving, and God himself seems indifferent. Until we focus on one small, poor, and powerless family.

One of the remarkable things about Mary’s Joseph is his connection to God. In a world that had seen no word from God in generations, Joseph’s dreams come with regularity and with specific, actionable intelligence and guidance. His son would become a mighty prophet, speaking and embodying God’s words to the multitudes, but Christ’s quiet father, who never speaks a word in the scripture had an active and real connection to God that guided him.

Into this tension and silence of the time they lived in, God spoke. Mary, and Joseph after her, answered, “yes.” They accepted the danger. They accepted the unknown. They accepted the inevitable suffering of being called by God. They accepted the world-flipping power shift that would start with Mary and be concluded by her first-born son.

What started as an invasion became an incarnation. What started as a world shaking disruption became the only firm foundation.

May we pray and dream as Joseph did. For only with a spiritual connection can we do what we must as a part of our calling.

May we accept the incarnation of Christ into our lives…
Despite the suffering it will bring to us…
Despite the exile we will experience…
Despite the governments from which we will have to flee…
Or the cultural shunning that we will experience…
Let us manifest Christ.

Prayer: The Greeting
O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you. — Psalm 88.14

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 54 (Listen – 3:14)
Matthew 2 (Listen – 3:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 55 (Listen – 2:11) Matthew 3 (Listen – 2:17)
Isaiah 56 (Listen – 2:11) Matthew 4 (Listen – 2:17)

Additional Reading
Read More about Godly Silence
The Bible urges us to experience silence as a spiritual discipline. I believe we would be astounded by all God wants to say to us and yet He never gets a chance. Silence isn’t just golden, it is godly.

Read More about How to Grow in Prayer
Mastering the art of prayer, like anything else, takes time. The time we give it will be a true measure of its importance to us.

Accepting Jesus

Scripture: Matthew 1.20
Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Reflection: Accepting Jesus
By John Tillman

Matthew’s wording is interesting. Mary is reported to literally “have in the womb” the Holy Spirit. We don’t know how this report reached Joseph. It could have come directly from Mary. But just as likely it did not.

Joseph had every natural inclination to think of the unnamed baby, Jesus, as an invader. His plans for an honorable and simple workman’s life were derailed and disrupted by his young wife’s impossible pregnancy.

But even before knowing that her unbelievable story was true, he elects to be kind—granting her mercy not common in that culture. This tells us as much about his character as any of the more grand and dangerous things he later does, under angelic direction, to protect the child.

Joseph, the man who needed no angelic intervention to be kind to an alleged adulteress, was the perfect earthly father for God’s son.

Beyond simple human jealousy or suspicion of adultery, Joseph overcame a spiritual reality that would have been difficult to accept culturally. God spoke to a woman.

In the Garden, the serpent spoke first to Eve and God spoke with finality to Adam. But now—God speaks to the woman first. Mary, standing in for her ancient parent, reverses the curse. And the mystery of the incarnation begins.

She takes within her body
The cure for the sickness of sin
She gives the maker of the Garden
Tiny feet to walk earth again.

From woman, formed of man
And formed of earth
God takes on flesh.
Though prophets are dumb
Profound cries of God
Are heard within the creche.

Her body returned to dust,
Like all who lived and died.
But that part she gave to him,
Is incorruptible! Eternal! Alive!

Adam and Eve were the first to reject God in the Garden. In the gospels, we see another couple, Mary and Joseph, being the first to accept God back into the world.

The Gospel starts with dreams and visions. God will walk with a couple again. And will join their family.

May we dream with God.
May we listen for his cries.
May we, poor family that we are, join the holy family in redemptively reversing the curse.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. — John 15.4

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 53 (Listen – 2:39)
Matthew 1 (Listen – 3:29)

Additional Reading
Read More about how Christmas is Upside Down
The Spirit that overshadowed Mary and grew Christ within her body, longs to birth Christ to the world through our actions. May we be the Lord’s servant as she was. May we manifest Christ.

Read More about Good News to the Poor
Christ’s incarnation is about granting access. For homeless shepherds. For despised Samaritans. For foreign immigrants and those of other faiths. The Annunciation, the Magnificat, and Christ’s Nazareth sermon all prominently focus on granting access to the poor and the outcast.

Invitation

Scripture: Revelation 22.17
“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

Reflection: Invitation
By Steven Dilla

What is the purpose of Christian living? We know what it looks like when it’s done wrong. Moralism breeds guilt for failure, intolerance toward others, and pride in perceived successes. Rejection of morality and discipline erodes the transformative power of sacramental living. To understand the purpose we have to look toward the goal.

Like a masterfully arranged symphony, the final note of Scripture rings with wonder and beauty: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Grace—and not just grace, but an invitation for others to come into grace. Gregory the Great observed:

Hear how John is admonished by the angelic voice, “let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’” He into whose heart the internal voice has found its way may, by crying aloud, draw others into where he himself is carried.

There are predictable ways a religious text could end: rules, admonition, veiled threats—yet the Christian Scriptures end with open arms. Charles Spurgeon believed that invitation, “come,” is the motto of the gospel:

The cry of the Christian religion is the simple word, “Come.” The Jewish law said, “Go, pay attention to your steps—to the path in which you walk. Go, and if break the commandments, and you shall perish; Go, and if keep them, and you shall live.”

The law was a dispensation of the whip, which drove men before it; the gospel is just of the opposite kind. It is the Shepherd’s dispensation.

The Shepherd goes before his sheep, and bids them follow, saying, “Come.” The law repels; the gospel attracts. The law shows the distance between God and man; the gospel bridges that distance and brings the sinner across the great fixed gulf which Moses could never bridge.

Evangelism is not an action, but the culmination of Christian living. As we cultivate Christian practices—personal devotion, service to the marginalized, and commitment to community—our lives, workplaces, and cities flourish.

In this way Christian living is sacramental. Devotion cultivates peace, peace flows—like living water—into a dry and thirsty world. Gregory the Great concludes:

For the Church dwells in the gardens, in that she keeps the cultivated nurseries of virtues in a state of inward greenness.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 52 (Listen – 2:46)
Revelation 22 (Listen – 3:59)

Additional Reading
Read More about Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness
We exchange the cup of God’s wrath that we deserve for the cup of living water that Christ freely offers to us.

Read More about the Meaning of the Ascension
He has not taken his heart from us, nor his care from us, nor his interest from us: he is bound up heart and soul with his people.

Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness

Scripture: Isaiah 51.22
See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again.

Scripture: Revelation 21.6
…To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

Reflection: Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness
By John Tillman

When it comes to divine wrath, scripture often portrays it as a liquid.

Noah’s deadly flood. Jeremiah’s boiling pot. John’s bowls of God’s wrath. The intoxicating cup of poison to be drunk that Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and John describe. Even the eternal destination of those under God’s wrath is a lake of fire.

God’s liquid wrath flows from his love for the victims of injustice. It is fueled not by simplistic destructive retribution, but redemptive restoration.

This is what separates the Christian concept of God from that of pagans. A pagan God is always angry, and is only benevolent when placated with bloody destruction.

The Christian God is always loving, and is only wrathful at the abuse of his creation. But our God goes further than that. The God of the Bible does not demand sacrifice from his followers. He provides it on their behalf.

The sacrifices in the Temple were only ever shadows and signs of the true sacrifice to come—the moment when Christ would drink the cup of God’s wrath. And even though it was planned from eternity past, when the moment comes, the cup of God’s wrath is so dreadful that Christ begs not to drink of it.

In the garden, Christ begins to shed his own blood as a sacrifice for us before he has ever been pierced by a spear or nail—before he has ever been struck by a whip or a cruel fist. His blood begins to drip to the ground for us at the simple dread of drinking the cup of wrath before him.

The forgiveness of our sins is accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ’s blood. A liquid sacrifice, flowing from love. The cup of God’s wrath is taken for us by Christ. He begs not to drink it, and yet he does. Leaving us not a drop to taste after him.

It is this sacrifice that makes it possible for Christ to say in Revelation 21, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

We exchange the cup of God’s wrath that we deserve for the cup of living water that Christ freely offers to us. That is liquid wrath and liquid forgiveness. That is heaven in two cups. That is the gospel. Drink up.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. — Psalm 92.12

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 51 (Listen – 4:35)
Revelation 21 (Listen – 4:34)

Additional Reading
Read More about Degrading Each Other
“You have done it unto me.”
Whether we help or harm others, Jesus steps into the interaction.

Read More about The Loving Wrath of God
God is not, by unleashing his wrath on sin, contradicting his love for humankind, but fulfilling it.

Face Like Flint :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture: Isaiah 50.7
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

Reflection: Face Like Flint :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Jesus is the word who sustains us through suffering.

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.

Reflect on Jesus as the word of God—the word we must speak to the world.

He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.

Too often our prayers are dictating a list to God rather then taking down what he would dictate to us… Ask the Holy Spirit to waken your ears to listen.

The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.

How often does inner rebellion cause us to turn away from the suffering Christ calls us to?

Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

When Jesus set his face like flint, determined to go to Jerusalem, the disciples expected a fight. Many of them seemed to expect to win.

James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” Peter rebuked Christ’s prediction of death, saying, “This shall never happen.” They also cried in the garden, “Shall we strike with our swords?”

In what ways are we willing to accept victory with Christ but not suffering?

Where do we reach for our swords, when Christ calls out, “No more of this!”…and heals the one we would attack? Are we willing to heal our enemies?

I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting…
…Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

Christ’s pulled out beard, his spit-upon face, his nakedness, and every other manner of his death was culturally shameful. Yet it was our shame he bore, not his own. Are we willing to be shamed with him?

Thomas recognized going to Jerusalem was a death sentence. “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Are we willing to die with him?

May we, like Christ and like Thomas, set our face like flint in anticipation of suffering. May we listen, follow, and speak, and, if not for God’s intervention, suffer or die with Christ.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 50 (Listen – 2:09)
Revelation 20 (Listen – 2:49)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Crucible of Suffering
Unfortunately, many Christians run from suffering, instead of facing it head-on.

Read More about Suffering for Our True Identity
If we suffer for doing good, at least we are showing the world our true identity.

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