1 Corinthians 1

Read 1 Corinthians 1.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

1 Corinthians 1:26-29

We are simultaneously entering the home stretch of the busy holiday season and the gentle reflective season of advent meant to focus our hearts on our Savior. During this first week of advent it’s easy to get distracted with all the things we “need” to do in preparation for gatherings and celebrations. It’s easy to get caught up in our preferences for certain holiday traditions…even at church…and for those who struggle with less than ideal circumstances, it’s easy to get bogged down with despair. However, the first week of advent directs us to reflect on hope. Not the hope of having a successful party. Nor the hope of finding the perfect gifts for our loved ones. But rather the hope found in our Savior who graciously loves the sinner.

What greater source of hope than that of God’s love! Let’s enter this season with hearts full of celebration, for God didn’t send His Son to redeem only those who are considered great. He didn’t plan to rescue only the righteous. He chose to work through lowly sinners to bring to fruition his grand plan to conquer sin and death, not so that we can believe we are in better standing than others but so that we can proclaim his goodness and grace. Can we possibly slow down this week and humbly rejoice in God’s love for us and the hope that can only come from His sacrifice? Can we share this hope with those in our paths, loving them as Christ has loved us?

Acts 18

Read Acts 18.

The thing about Paul’s missionary journeys is that they were not always easy, fun adventures in sharing the gospel…as is typically the case when we are working to share the good news and love our neighbors. Sometimes it’s exciting and invigorating work, and other times the roadblocks seem to just keep popping up and it’s all we can do to keep putting in the hard work. Loving people and doing good can be messy and exhausting. However, Paul sets for us a great example of endurance and grace. As you read this passage, it’s like a rollercoaster. Paul experiences a win, a struggle, a win, a loss, another struggle, a win, and on it goes. Through it all we are able to see the fruit of the gospel in his refusal to throw in the towel.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

Let us be reminded that we, like Paul, are not in control of the seasons or of the choices others make. We can’t save those we so desperately want to see following Christ. We can’t determine when the Holy Spirit will move in another’s heart. We can’t foresee when when we will enter into a season of harvest or struggle. What we can do is follow the example set by Paul and the advice provided in Galatians. We can continue in the work of love and grace, sharing His love with those around us even in hardship. We can trust that Holy Spirit is at work around us and we can endure in the work of love that is set before us, caring for our neighbors as ourselves. Let’s encourage one another in our walks today, not growing weary of doing good.

James 5

Read James 5.

Patience is not a gift of mine. When I’m in a frustrating situation, I want it fixed. When I’m learning a new skill, I want to master it right away. When I’m waiting on my coffee to brew, I want it to brew twice as fast. This issue is due in part to my lack of mastery in the skill of resting. I move quick, I have high expectations, and productivity brings me comfort. All of these qualities are fine on their own, but the problem lies in that none of these provide much room for resting, peace, and patience. Unless I’m intentionally focusing on patience and rest, it doesn’t happen. And still, sometimes it takes someone close to me calling me out and reminding me to calm down, be patient, and rest.

Here in James, we are reminded that struggles, suffering, and waiting are all part of this life. Everything will not always go our way and we won’t always get the results that we so desire. We won’t see eye to eye with everyone around us. But in the midst of both suffering and joy, we are called to wait patiently on the Lord…to remain steadfast in our walk. We are called to live in peace with those around us, striving to further the kingdom. So whatever season you are in, whether one of joy or suffering, can you focus your heart on our Savior? Can we step back from our busy schedules and rest in the peace our Father provides? Allowing that peace to sustain us as we wait for the coming of Jesus?

Acts 9

Read Acts 9.

And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 

Acts 9:27-28

Within this well known chapter showcasing Saul’s conversion, we find a very short mention of a man named Barnabas. I don’t know about you, but I often get so excited reading about Saul’s encounter on the road and subsequent launch into the mission field that I tend to overlook the instance of the believer’s fear of Paul and Barnabas’ choice to step in on his behalf. Barnabas trusted that this man-who not long ago had been set on the path of persecuting local believers-had been transformed into a new creature in Christ. Paul had not been his friend but rather his enemy. He had a totally different testimony and life experience than Barnabas. Even so, Barnabas was willing to love him as Christ loves us and bring him into the fellowship of believers. Notice, he didn’t go on and on about Paul’s past and his sinful choices. He spoke on his behalf to the other believers about the work of the Lord in his life and the ways Paul had been sharing the good news since his conversion. Barnabas took note of the saving grace that Paul received and followed the example Jesus set of showing mercy and love. Because Barnabas stepped up with encouragement for the other believers, Paul was able to share the good news of Christ’s love with many. Let us be like Barnabas and embrace those who may have a different story than our own, welcoming them with grace, mercy, and love.

Luke 23

Read Luke 23.

This month our Sunday school kids are exploring the question, “What did Jesus do to Save us?” The answer to this question, as they are learning, is that “Jesus lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and rose from the dead.” This is a significant part of our faith that we are pretty familiar with and one that most of our kids have also heard and talked about. However, we are focussing on the why of Jesus’ death as we grapple with this question. We know Jesus was powerful, that this was an excruciating way to die, and that Jesus was completely innocent. So why then could he not have solved our sin problem in a different way? An easier way? A less painful way?

God loves us and is just. Though it’s sometimes difficult to read through the trial and crucifixion of our Savior, it’s also a reminder to us of God’s great love for us. It was out of this love that He sent His Son, allowed this horrific punishment, and ultimately saw Him pay the price of death for the sins He never committed. As the curtain in the temple tore, allowing full access to God’s presence, so did the curtain of sin separating us from our Creator. God didn’t need a relationship with His creation, but desired that relationship. Even with that unimaginable amount of love, God is also fully just. He cannot ignore sin, He can’t simply let it slide…sin comes with a cost and that cost is death and separation from a holy God. As followers of Christ, we don’t have to pay that debt…Jesus paid it for us. Do we fully grasp the gravity of our sin? That even our seemingly insignificant sins require full atonement? So as our hearts sit with this passage today, let’s remember the reasons behind it. As our kids strive to understand the darkness of sin and the beauty of God’s love and justice, let’s also seek to grow in our own understanding and love for our Savior.

Luke 13

Read Luke 13.

Have you ever been reading a book and are coming close to the end…all of the plot points are running full steam ahead toward a resolution that is jam packed into the final ten pages? The tension is palatable as everything comes to light, consequences for earlier choices are dolled out, and characters are changed? I love a good book of this sort, but truthfully, it’s a wee bit stressful for me. I start counting final pages, knowing things have to be sorted by the end. I start whispering unheard notes to the author that time is running out, 12 pages left, issues need to be resolved, hurry, hurry. I even start pacing the room as I read. Though I’m sure you just love to hear about my stressful reading habits (or not), there is a reason I share this with you. If we slow down and read today’s passage, not as a familiar chapter we’ve ready many times, but rather with a contemplative heart, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has a very similar feel to these types of books. He’s traveling along with his friends and disciples–preaching, teaching, healing–all while His opposition is mounting. He begins calling God’s people to repent, to search their hearts and realize their sins are no less than the gentiles. He warns of God’s coming judgement, that the door for repentance will soon close. He knows where His journey will lead and that time is of the essence. During this journey some rejoiced and followed Him, but many held stubbornly to their pride and hypocrisy.

Now we as we live with the great commission calling us to make the most of our days on this earth, sharing the gospel with all people, do we feel this same tension? This desire to repent and seek God’s glory? Or are we stubbornly living in opposition thinking surely our sins are small and God’s mercy is great? I pray we take time to search our hearts as Jesus called God’s people to do so long ago, that we use our time wisely–loving our neighbors and following Jesus.

Luke 3

Read Luke 3.

As John is preparing the way for Jesus by preaching, teaching, and baptizing, he focused on a central theme…repentance. We think of this simply as turning from sin and turning to God, not only saying sorry and going about our day but rather coming to God with a heavy heart seeking to no longer linger in that sin. Seeking to grow closer to our Father by abiding in his presence. This isn’t an easy thing to do, especially if the things we need to repent of have become a way of life. Many of the people in the crowd listening to John were people whose current lifestyles weren’t exactly bringing glory to God. Tax collectors, soldiers, the general population. All of these people had habits that were centered on their own best interests, whether that was padding their pocket with extra “taxes” or bribery or basic greed.

Something changed when they heard John preaching on repentance. They began to question. They no longer wanted to live in their old ways; they wanted to understand how to live for God’s glory through repentance. The question that they asked over and over was “What then shall we do?” The answers John gave would require personal sacrifice and humility if they truly wanted to follow the one true King. This wasn’t necessarily a popular message to proclaim, but those whose hearts were being changed by the Spirit were baptized in faith to live a life marked by repentance. So…thinking about that crowd, the crowd who stood hearing a hard message, the crowd standing at the water’s edge searching their hearts and desiring to repent…I wonder if we ask that question often enough. What then shall we do? If we are followers of Christ, our baptism by water and spirit are not the end of our call to repentance, but rather the beginning of seeking a new way of life. Is there anything in our hearts that we have been avoiding? That maybe we need to question? It’s not an easy task, but one worth the sacrifice.

2 Peter 2-3

Read 2 Peter 2-3.

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 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.

2 Peter 3:17-18

It’s easy to get carried away. I can get carried away with excitement, frustration, creativity, processes, you name it. If something catches our fancy, it’s easy to go all in and be carried away. In this particular passage, Peter is speaking of false prophets and teachings…something a little more serious. He’s pointing out the ways people were straying from the truth to live in ways that suited their own desires. Many times, if we aren’t spending time actively growing in our relationship with the Lord and seeking wise counsel it’s easy to hear new ideas and find them enticing. Especially ideas that make us feel good or make our selfish desires seem justified. The same goes for sinful habits, they are easy to fall into when we aren’t walking daily with the Spirit. So I encourage you to follow Paul’s wise advice, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord that we may bring Glory to Him always.

Hebrews 10

Read Hebrews 10.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25

As Christ followers, we are under the new covenant of Christ’s sacrifice. Thus, we are no longer slaves to sin or tied to physical sacrifices. However, we are called to live in such a way that will bring Him glory, seeking to turn from sin and turn to Christ. Despite the circumstances we find ourselves in, we have the hope of salvation because our Savior is faithful. We are encouraged to faithfully build each other up, fellowship and worship together, and love our neighbors well. These all seem like pretty straight forward things that we are used to hearing, but when it comes down to our daily lives, are we really striving to live in this way? Are there opportunities we are missing to love our neighbors as well as we could? Or to encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith? As the day of Christ’s return draws near, how can we better focus our lives on Him?

Acts 24-25

Read Acts 24-25.

Justice. I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a longing for things to be made right. When I see things that are unjust, I want them fixed yesterday. I want the truth to be known and things to be fair. This is all good and great until the things are out of my control. I don’t have the ability to make everything right in the world or to fix every injustice I see. Sitting around being frustrated by this fact isn’t going to change it. Reading this passage telling of Paul’s long journey through the justice system being charged for crimes his accusers couldn’t even prove simply drives me batty. I want to scream, “It’s not fair! He did nothing wrong! What an absolute waste of time!”

Then I remember…God’s plan is better. Even as Paul was being treated unjustly, he saw many an opportunity to become less so that His Savior could become more. He continually shared the good news of the gospel to those in his reach, he witnessed to his accusers through his defense, and he sought to bring glory to God and rejoice in his own suffering. What if we did the same? What if we sought to love others and lean into God’s good plans even when life is tough or things seem unfair?