12/6/202

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah: Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness:Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8, CEB)

I remember first hearing about John the Baptist in Sunday school and having a hard time connecting to him. Now reading this I think about all the people who have acted as John in my life. All of those friends and family that reminded me of Christ. Not all of them have been Christian or Lutheran either, they remind me of Christ through their love and kindness. 

I urge you to look for the John’s in your life and think about how they remind you of the coming of Christ every day. 

12/5/20

27 Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. 28 They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I have a question for you. Give me an answer, then I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. 30 Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me.” 31 They argued among themselves, “If we say, ‘It’s of heavenly origin,’ he’ll say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But we can’t say, ‘It’s of earthly origin.’” They said this because they were afraid of the crowd, because they all thought John was a prophet. 33 They answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.” (Mark 11:27-33, CEB)

I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s plan. Life this year, and especially the last two months, have been rather crazy, and I have been seeking answers for why life has been so crazy. As I read this, I’m reminded that we aren’t supposed or can’t know all the answers. Sometimes all we need to know is that God is the final authority and to continue to follow him all of the answers will eventually be found.

12/4/20

19 Now those who were scattered as a result of the trouble that occurred because of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. They proclaimed the word only to Jews. 20 Among them were some people from Cyprus and Cyrene. They entered Antioch and began to proclaim the good news about the Lord Jesus also to Gentiles. 21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord. 22 When the church in Jerusalem heard about this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw evidence of God’s grace, he was overjoyed and encouraged everyone to remain fully committed to the Lord. 24 Barnabas responded in this way because he was a good man, whom the Holy Spirit had endowed with exceptional faith. A considerable number of people were added to the Lord. 25 Barnabas went to Tarsus in search of Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him to Antioch. They were there for a whole year, meeting with the church and teaching large numbers of people. It was in Antioch where the disciples were first labeled “Christians.” (Acts 11:19-26, CEB)

I don’t think I can put a number to how many times I have prayed for more faith. I have begged and I have pleaded, but my faith doesn’t seem to budge. It makes me jealous of people like Barnabas, whose faith was so obvious to others that they responded to his ministry in droves.

That jealousy made me miss the point of the story of Barnabas for a long time. In truth, Barnabas went where he was sent, paid attention, and did his job. Much of the work was done before he got to Antioch, so when he arrived he used his gifts for the benefit of the new Christians there. His faith was a gift, but it wasn’t the point.

While I still might wish I had a little more faith, I know I have the gifts I need for the tasks to which I’m called. Like Barnabas, I can know my gifts and be ready to go.

12/3/20

We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. This is because we remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.Brothers and sisters, you are loved by God, and we know that he has chosen you. We know this because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know as well as we do what kind of people we were when we were with you, which was for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering. As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The message about the Lord rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place. The news about your faithfulness to God has spread so that we don’t even need to mention it. People tell us about what sort of welcome we had from you and how you turned to God from idols. As a result, you are serving the living and true God, 10 and you are waiting for his Son from heaven. His Son is Jesus, who is the one he raised from the dead and who is the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10, CEB)

I’m often disheartened by the massive number of horrifying stories that clog my news feed. I feel the need to thank God for the handful of heartwarming stories of caring people, much like Paul thanks God for the continued faith and love of the Thessalonians. 

The world is constantly in need of more Imitators of Christ, but these people can take any form. Jesus summarized his teachings into a single commandment and called on us to follow it: to love thy neighbor. So, to me, an Imitator of Christ is anyone who acts gracefully with love in their hearts, regardless of their background or faith. 

Imitators of Christ can come from anywhere to deliver the grace of the Holy Spirit to those who need it, and for these people I give thanks to God. 

12/2/20

34 “Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life. Don’t let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth. 36  Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Human One.” 37 Every day Jesus was teaching in the temple, but he spent each night on the Mount of Olives. 38 All the people rose early in the morning to hear him in the temple area. (Luke 21:34-38, CEB)

We need to not get lost in the fear and anxiety of this world so we give in to the downward spiral of the world. We must stay above board and focus our lives on Jesus. Do not let yourself be caught up in the fear and hate of this world that you lose sight of what is coming to us in a manger in 23 days.

Christ our savior came to us and gave us the understanding of loving the world, but not being a part of it. 

Follow after Christ and do not live in fear, but share God’s love.

12/1/20

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was filled with light because of his glory. He called out with a loud voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a home for demons and a lair for every unclean spirit. She is a lair for every unclean bird, and a lair for every unclean and disgusting beast because all the nations have fallen[a] due to the wine of her lustful passion. The kings of the earth committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth became rich from the power of her loose and extravagant ways.” Then I heard another voice from heaven say, “Come out of her, my people, so that you don’t take part in her sins and don’t receive any of her plagues. Her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God remembered her unjust acts. Give her what she has given to others. Give her back twice as much for what she has done. In the cup that she has poured, pour her twice as much. To the extent that she glorified herself and indulged her loose and extravagant ways, give her pain and grief. In her heart she says, ‘I sit like a queen! I’m not a widow. I’ll never see grief.’ This is why her plagues will come in a single day—deadly disease, grief, and hunger. She will be consumed by fire because the Lord God who judges her is powerful. “The kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality with her and shared her loose and extravagant ways, will weep and mourn over her when they see the smoke from her burning. 10 They will stand a long way off because they are afraid of the pain she suffers, and they will say, ‘Oh, the horror! Babylon, you great city, you powerful city! In a single hour your judgment has come.’ (Revelation 18:1-10, CEB)

Babylon has fallen, as powerful and as great as it was. It has fallen in spite of its kings and wealth and tyranny. Today and forever, Babylon only receives what it has given, and can give only injustice. 

God’s power makes even the mightiest, most terrifying powers of man crumble into dust, but his power is not the great destructive power of armies, nor is it violence magnified. The power of God that sweeps all away is the same love and life-giving power of a clear river, slowly chipping rock and smoothing sand, shaping land and sea. 

11/30/20

Then I saw another great and awe-inspiring sign in heaven. There were seven angels with seven plagues—and these are the last, for with them God’s anger is brought to an end. Then I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire. Those who gained victory over the beast, its image, and the number of its name were standing by the glass sea, holding harps from God. They sing the song of Moses, God’s servant, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, king of the nations. Who won’t fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? You alone are holy. All nations will come and fall down in worship before you, for your acts of justice have been revealed.” After this I looked, and the temple in heaven—that is, the tent of witness—was opened. The seven angels, who have the seven plagues, came out of the temple. They were clothed in pure bright linen and had gold sashes around their waists. Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven gold bowls full of the anger of the God who lives forever and always. The temple was filled with smoke from God’s glory and power, and no one could go into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven last angels were brought to an end. (Revelation 15:1-8, CEB)

Justice is a difficult question for Christians. What is just about justice sent down in seven plagues? What is awe inspiring? 

Maybe the plagues are not what God has done, so much as they are what we have left undone, and we are reaping the whirlwind. As we wait patiently for the most precious gift, what can we do to leave less in the world undone, and prepare it again for God’s Kingdom? 

11/29/20

24 “In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. 25 The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken.26 Then they will see the Human One[a] coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. 27 Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven. 28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. 30 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.  32 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows.  33 Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming.  34 It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert.  35 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!” (Mark 13:24-37, CEB)

The world is a scary place, and before it gets better it will get worse.

And there is already a lot of fear in the world and if things are going to get worse the fear will increase. But we do not have to live in fear even when we don’t know what will happen. We can know and have the promise that hope is greater than fear and the hope we have is in God, and will cover any fear and any thing that comes our way.

So live in hope over fear, and know that the coming baby in the manger is the hope we have and need and will always be with us.

11/28/20

15 “When you see the disgusting and destructive thing that Daniel talked about standing in the holy place (the reader should understand this), 16 then those in Judea must escape to the mountains.17 Those on the roof shouldn’t come down to grab things from their houses. 18 Those in the field shouldn’t come back to grab their clothes. 19 How terrible it will be at that time for women who are pregnant and for women who are nursing their children. 20 Pray that it doesn’t happen in winter or on the Sabbath day. 21 There will be great suffering such as the world has never before seen and will never again see. 22 If that time weren’t shortened, nobody would be rescued. But for the sake of the ones whom God chose, that time will be cut short. 23 “Then if somebody says to you, ‘Look, here’s the Christ,’ or ‘He’s over here,’ don’t believe it. 24 False christs and false prophets will appear, and they will offer great signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, even those whom God has chosen. 25 Look, I’ve told you ahead of time. 26 So if they say to you, ‘Look, he’s in the desert,’ don’t go out. And if they say, ‘Look, he’s in the rooms deep inside the house,’ don’t believe it. 27 Just as the lightning flashes from the east to the west, so it will be with the coming of the Human One. 28 The vultures gather wherever there’s a dead body. 29 “Now immediately after the suffering of that time the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Human One will appear in the sky. At that time all the tribes of the earth will be full of sadness, and they will see the Human One coming in the heavenly clouds with power and great splendor. 31 He will send his angels with the sound of a great trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from the four corners of the earth, from one end of the sky to the other. (Matthew 24:15-31, CEB)

When the Human One comes again it will not be good. But do not fear and follow after every person who says the Human One is coming.

We will know when the Human One is coming. Don’t believe the hype or buy into the fear people are projecting in this. It will be clear as the sign to the shepherds and the wise men. 

Do not spread the fear, be calm and steadfast in the Lord, and know the baby we wait for is the one we await the return of and we will know.

Live in Jesus’ love and stop the spread of fear.

11/27/20

So then, brothers and sisters, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus to keep living the way you already are and even do better in how you live and please God—just as you learned from us.You know the instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. God’s will is that your lives are dedicated to him. This means that you stay away from sexual immorality and learn how to control your own body in a pure and respectable way. Don’t be controlled by your sexual urges like the Gentiles who don’t know God. No one should mistreat or take advantage of their brother or sister in this issue. The Lord punishes people for all these things, as we told you before and sternly warned you. God didn’t call us to be immoral but to be dedicated to him. Therefore, whoever rejects these instructions isn’t rejecting a human authority. They are rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. You don’t need us to write about loving your brothers and sisters because God has already taught you to love each other. 10 In fact, you are doing loving deeds for all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. Now we encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do so even more. 11 Aim to live quietly, mind your own business, and earn your own living, just as I told you. 12 That way you’ll behave appropriately toward outsiders, and you won’t be in need. 13 Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope. 14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus. 15 What we are saying is a message from the Lord: we who are alive and still around at the Lord’s coming definitely won’t go ahead of those who have died. 16 This is because the Lord himself will come down from heaven with the signal of a shout by the head angel and a blast on God’s trumpet. First, those who are dead in Christ will rise.17 Then, we who are living and still around will be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet with the Lord in the air. That way we will always be with the Lord. 18 So encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-18, CEB)

Here we see Paul’s words reflect Jesus’ message in Matthew 6.  Faith shouldn’t be a boisterous affair where one is outwardly rewarded for proclaiming loudly the label of Christianity.  A common strategy for authors of fiction whether writing books or screenplays is the maxim, “Show, don’t tell.”  

Often the things we are shown, not told, leave a greater impact on us as a reader/viewer than those delivered to us in an exposition dump.  Likewise, nothing leaves a greater impression of your faith on others than the actions you take.  Small services rendered humbly shine much brighter than large actions rendered with overwrought pomp.

As Paul carries on in verse 13 with his reassurance about the place of those who have died we can be reminded that those who are eager to “tell” have received their reward in the telling.  But we are assured that the reward for the reward for those of us (and our loved ones who have passed) that “show” through humble service have nothing to fear and will reap greater rewards.

As a personal extension, I often find that things I do for others that go unseen still make me feel better than those done which are more visible.  I think this goes hand-in-hand with being in a good mental health place of loving one’s self without the need for others to validate those feelings.  When you’re able to be happy with yourself you’ll find personal joy in the small, unseen deeds you do for others.  When you can love yourself it’s much easier to find yourself surrounded with others who love you.  And perhaps more importantly, it can often assuage a tendency to seek the approval from those whose approval holds little value and can often lead us, via peer pressure, to do things that are not a reflection of who we truly want to be.