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Daily Devotional

Complexity

During the Advent season, we'll be looking at devotions written by Hispanic pastors in our denomination. Today's devotion was written by Carlos Corro. Carlos Corro is pastor of Imago Church, a church plant in Visalia, California, and president of the RCA Council for Hispanic Ministries.

Isaiah 61:8-11
For I the Lord love justice,
      I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
      and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
      and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
      that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
      my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
      he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
      and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
      and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
      to spring up before all the nations.

People and history are filled with layers upon layers of complexity. In the face of that complexity, we can easily ignore two of the deepest truths that Advent attests to.

First, humanity is deeply broken and in desperate need of a Savior. We live in and are a part of a sinful world, a world of broken relationships with God and neighbor. This is true for all people, in all times and all places. Second, the work of God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ is both greater and more mysterious than we want to admit. The Word became flesh to save us and now through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word becomes flesh in us, in order to restore us and equip us for the continued work of redeeming all of creation back to God.

This Scripture passage paints a rich portrait of people coming together through the redemptive power of the gospel. In this biblical account we see the living God causing “righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” (v. 11). Rather than conforming to the patterns of this world, Advent invites Christians into a new perspective that encourages each person to joyfully embrace their own culture and at the same time celebrate the cultural differences of other sisters and brothers in Christ.

In a broken world often marked by tribalism and suffering, the gospel offers expressions of unity through praise and hope for oneness without sameness. In the kingdom of God, diversity within God's people is not just a nice commodity for contemporary Christianity. Instead, multicultural worshiping communities serve as a faithful witness of the living image of God to the whole world.

Prayer: Living God, continue to renew and transform us during this Advent season. Teach us your ways and remind us to praise you in our rejoicing and even in our grieving. Transform and conform us more into the likeness of your son, Jesus Christ, in order that the Word may become flesh in us. Amen.

Hope to a World that is Hopeless

During the Advent season, we'll be looking at devotions written by Hispanic pastors in our denomination. Today's devotion was written by Rodrigo Cano. Rodrigo Cano is pastor of Communidad Cristiana de Grand Rapids, an RCA church plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Isaiah 61:1-4

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
        because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
        to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
        and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
        and the day of vengeance of our God;
        to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
        to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
        the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
        the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
they shall build up the ancient ruins,
        they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
        the devastations of many generations.


For many people, Advent is one of the most exciting times of the year. Families that are scattered come together to celebrate. The atmosphere is full of lights, songs, and festivities. And even though this is the case for many families, there are other realities that many people face. There are people who are alone, who are not able to visit or be visited by family members. There are people who are desperate, and depression comes. For these people, Advent can be a burden, a reminder that their lives don’t seem to measure up.
 
The prophet Isaiah has a word for people who are suffering. He prophesies about the coming of the Messiah. The anointing upon the Savior will accomplish several things. The Savior will come to bring hope to a world that is hopeless. He will bring good news to those who are sick, sad, depressed, and alone. His promise is as his name says: Emmanuel, God with us. And as he leaves this earth his promise stands, and he declares, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
 
In this season, let us be sure to share this good news with people who need it most. Let us share the Lord’s favor, let us comfort those who mourn, and let us celebrate that God is with us.
 
Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming to this earth and shining your light upon us. Help us remember the good news of the gospel, and help us have compassion for those who still need to know you. Amen.

Coming Soon!

During the Advent season, we'll be looking at devotions written by Hispanic pastors in our denomination. Today's devotion was written by Ricardo Velázquez. Ricardo Velázquez supports the areas of strategic leadership development, Hispanic ministries, and Next Generation Engagement for the RCA.

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
 
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
 
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
        who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
        ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
        make his paths straight,’”
 
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
 
Coming soon!
 
These words are meant to catch our attention. Whether it’s a film, a show, a new store, or a whole shopping center, the words are meant to excite us and let us know that there is something for us in the future. Because Christmas decorations get displayed as early as September, the excitement of “Coming soon!” can get lost among the usual signs of the yearly Christmas celebration, its commercialism, and its busyness. Another year of celebrating the “season” can come and go very quickly.
 
In the Gospel of Mark, though, the message of “Coming soon!” comes through loud and clear. And the meaning of the season is also proclaimed: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
 
Mark reminds us that Jesus didn’t just appear; instead, he was announced by someone who had been chosen long before and was given the privilege of making people aware of what was “coming soon!” That person was John the Baptist, a man whose clothing style and eating habits definitely were not his focus. He helped people realize the sin within them and their need to repent. John made it clear that neither he nor his lifestyle nor his actions were the answer, but that someone was to come soon and would make a difference in their lives through the Holy Spirit. John’s announcement excited people and made them aware, and when Jesus came, lives were changed.
 
Now it’s our privilege to announce Jesus. This Advent, let us shift our focus from our clothing and feasts to the exciting message of the gospel. Let us bear witness to Jesus and prepare the way for what the Holy Spirit can do in those around us. Their lives may be changed not only for a season but also for eternity.
 
Prayer: Lord, let us be the voices that speak your love to this world that needs you greatly. Let us be the voices that share the exciting message of salvation in you. Let us be the voices that echo the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Let us be the voices that announce that you are coming soon! Amen.

expectant reflection

Periodically, during the Advent season, we'll be looking at devotions written by Hispanic pastors in our denomination. Today's devotion was written by Richard Caballero. Richard Caballero is pastor of the Spanish-speaking congregation at Emmanuel Reformed Church in Paramount, California.

2 Peter 3:8-13
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
 
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
 
Advent is my favorite time of the year. I love to sing Christmas carols and decorate the house with ornaments. I get excited to see the preparations in the church weeks before—the pageants, the choirs, and the groups of excited children rehearsing to recreate what took place on that beautiful night in the small village of Bethlehem. All the enthusiasm and preparation of Advent gives the impression that we are longing for Christmas to arrive. Christmas Day is the fulfillment of the most glorious and marvelous act in history: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). And that act should awaken in our hearts feelings of longing and expectation for the one who has already come and who has promised to return.
 
Advent is not only a time of preparation for celebrating Christmas, but is also a time of expectant reflection for the second glorious coming of our great King. As Christians, we should long for that day to come. But in today’s passage of Scripture, Peter reminds us that the Lord does not delay his promise because he’s slow. Instead, there is a very powerful reason: God is patient, waiting until the last of his chosen people acknowledge him as their Lord and Savior.
 
In this time of Advent, we remember that Christ came and that Christ is coming. While we prepare to celebrate the origins of our redemption, we take advantage of each opportunity to announce with passion the good news of the gospel. Amen!
 
Prayer: Lord, help me to live like a true chosen one and give me the opportunity to share your gospel with someone today. In Jesus’s name, amen.

will he keep his promises?

Periodically, during the Advent season, we'll be looking at devotions written by Hispanic pastors in our denomination. Today's devotion was written by Armando Becerra. Armando Becerra is pastor of Rancho en Español (RCA) in Temecula, California.

Psalm 85:8-13
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
        for he will speak peace to his people,
        to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
        that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
        righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
        and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
        and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
        and will make a path for his steps.
 
Every year, my children wait anxiously for catalogs filled with new toys for the Christmas season. Each year, they spend hours and hours contemplating and writing down what they want. The list changes every day. They always choose one that that they think they have to have, no matter what. That becomes the toy of the year. Now I have a mission: to get that toy, no matter what.
 
Some years, I wait until the last minute. Then I find that all the toys have been sold, and there isn’t one for my children. Other years, as soon as they identify the toy they want, I buy it to make sure they will have it. Still, every year my children ask me, “Do you promise that you’re going to get it? Are you going to keep your promise?” They wait anxiously for me to say yes. “Listen to me,” I say. “Listen to what I’m going to tell you: I promise to do my part.” From the day they choose their toy until Christmas Day, it’s a time of frustration, waiting, distrust, anxiety, and impatience. The question on their minds is, “Will Dad be able to get what he promised us?”
 
We wonder the very same thing about God. Will he keep his promises? In Psalm 85:8, the psalmist says, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.” One of the things that we can know for sure is that our God is not going to forget to fulfill his promises. We know that he will not wait until the last minute to find out that the store no longer has what he promised. We can rest assured that he will fulfill his promises. Nothing can prevent him from doing so. The psalmist says, “I will listen.” Let us pay attention to God’s words because if he has promised peace, then that peace will come even when it seems that we must wait for a long time.
 
Prayer: Lord, give me faith to trust in your promises and to wait for their fulfillment. Keep me faithful to you. Amen.

favorable to the land

Periodically, during the Advent season, we'll be looking at devotions written by Hispanic pastors in our denomination. Today's devotion was written by Eddy Alemán. Eddy Alemán is the director of strategic leadership development and coordinator of Hispanic ministries for the RCA.

Psalm 85:1-2
Lord, you were favorable to your land;
         you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
         you pardoned all their sin.
 
In the season of Advent, we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus who was born for us and for our salvation. That promise of salvation was something the people of Israel needed to hear at the time of this psalm. Psalm 85 was written after the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, most likely during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. After their arrival, however, they were also under some distress from their neighbors. 
 
In the first two verses of this psalm we can see several things. First, God shows favor to the land and makes it acceptable and good for his people to live there. Second, God restores the fortunes of his people. This is a reference to his bringing them back from a place of captivity. Israel can now rejoice that God has set them free and has delivered them from the land and the hand of their enemy. Third, he forgives the iniquity of his people. We must be thankful that God’s forgiveness is not just a one-time thing. God is loving and forgiving toward us all the time, and in an ongoing manner. Without forgiveness we have no hope. Fourth, God covers the sins of his people. God chooses not to remember our sin. The blood of Jesus is powerful enough in one moment to fully cover all sin and unrighteousness. The removal of sin will bring the removal of God’s anger.
 
We must be thankful for God’s divine favor toward his people. We sometimes are quick to forget how good God has been to us. This psalm was written in the tension between God’s goodness and a difficult time. The best way to approach difficulty is by remembering how faithful God has been to us. This Advent, may we remember God’s goodness to us.
 
Prayer: Lord, today we remember your goodness. Thank you for showing your favor to our land, for restoring our fortunes, and for forgiving our sins.

Advent Devotions

Periodically, during the Advent season, we'll be looking at devotions written by Hispanic pastors in our denomination. Today's devotion was written by Benito Aguilera. Benito Aguilera is a pastor in Holland, Michigan, who will be planting an English-speaking Hispanic church in 2018.
 
Isaiah 40:1-11 (read the entire passage here)

Comfort, O comfort my people,
        says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
        and cry to her
that she has served her term,
        that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
        double for all her sins.
....
A voice says, “Cry out!”
        And I said, “What shall I cry?”

Advent is a season in our Christian calendar year that calls us to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Messiah. In our preparation, something happens in us. We begin to dust off the stories of the faith that remind us of the importance of Jesus’s birth and the anticipation of his coming again. Some of these stories are full of beauty and some are filled with heartache. We remember that God is not fully done shaping our journey, and during the Advent season we quiet ourselves and ponder the truth of that.
 
But what is interesting about today’s passage is that it calls us to be a little less introspective as we journey through Advent. In fact, it calls us to do the exact opposite of quiet reflection. “Cry out!” says the Lord to the prophet. Tell the people that the Lord is coming to feed his flock and gather them in his arms, like a mother does with her newborn child.
 
This news is not for us alone; God will gather his whole flock. The passage reminds us of God’s restorative mission in the world and in our lives.
 
As we begin our Advent journey this year, let us first be reminded that we are children of God and that Jesus will come to make us new. Let us also remember that this journey is not only for ourselves; instead, we are called to invite others to join us. It is a time that we “cry out” because we have good news to share. Jesus is coming! Prepare your hearts and minds, remember the stories of God’s faithfulness, and bring people along with you on the journey. Jesus is coming to hold us all in his arms.
 
Prayer: God, give us the courage to cry out to all people and share the good news of your coming. Amen.

A lovely picture

Matthew 1: 24 "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife."

This Sunday, Bill introduced us to CCLB's new vision statement. We are "a radically welcoming community on a journey towards Jesus, joining with him in the renewal of all things." Matthew 1 is indicative of this sort of community in the way that Mary and Joseph join the Lord in the renewal of all things. Mary, a pregnant, unwed teenager, is welcomed by her fiancee Joseph (not the father of her child) at the behest of God. And together they journey very literally with Jesus (Mary's future child) toward the renewal of all things.

They couldn't possibly have known what that renewal would look like or what their lives would bring them. But this start of their lives together is a lovely picture of what Jesus calls us to, and what City Church is seeking in our life together.

As we move forward during Advent, we'll consider what the practical day to day of this looks like, but for this morning, will you consider what this might look like in your own life (and not just on Sundays)?

Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9: 6

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Today's passage is another, much loved "christmas" passage that points to Jesus as the bringer of peace, and it demonstrates something particular about the sort of peace that Jesus brings. It's not as if Jesus is peaceful simply because he's powerless to defend himself. In fact, if he wanted to respond to threats with violence, there is no power that could withstand him (he is "mighty" and "everlasting"). This makes it all the more remarkable that he chooses to submit to the violence of the cross for the sake of bringing peace to the world. 

Here we come against what theologians call the "already; not yet" reality of Jesus's kingdom: it is already here because of what Jesus gave for us, but we do not yet see the fullness of that kingdom on earth (most of us encounter violence of some kind every day of our lives). But Jesus' peace is one that demands a response. His sheer innocence in the face of violence calls us to put down our own tools of destruction and to respond to our world with peace.

It's hard. Sometimes it feels impossible. And it might mean that we suffer great pain. But this is what it looks like to follow and become more like Jesus. Reflect this morning on one or two areas in your life where you think Jesus is calling you to respond with his peace. Ask him what that might look like today.

Jesus, bringer of peace

Luke 2: 13-14 "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'”

As we draw closer to Advent, it's worth noting the ways in which peace is associated closely with Jesus. In fact, in Luke 2 when angels appeared to announce Jesus' birth to the shepherds, they sing of peace! It strikes me as important here that they do not sing of generosity, or of grace, or of honesty. They sing of peace.

That's not to imply that generosity, grace, or honesty are somehow less important than peace. But it strikes me that the particular thing the angels celebrated in Jesus' coming was peace. Ultimately, Jesus came and died to usher in a season of peace between his people and himself.

That being said, we look at the world today, and it doesn't seem particularly peaceful. As you think about Jesus and peace, you may find yourself longing for his peace to more present and more tangible. And that longing is actually healthy and a good thing. At City Church, we seek to join Jesus in the renewal of all things, and his peace is part of that. So how might you join him in the renewal of peace today?

Violence in the soul

Hebrews 12: 14 "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord."

Sometimes violence is less intense than war and physical struggle. For instance, I imagine that if you stop and think about it, you can come up with at least one person with whom you regularly have some sort of conflict (even if it's just in your own soul). Reflect on that for a few minutes this morning. What is one thing you can do or say to follow in the steps of Jesus and improve on that situation of conflict?

Radical Peace

2 Corinthians 5:21 "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

One of the sins that Jesus became for us when he died on the cross was the sin of violence. There is a paradox here, given the intense violence of his own death. But it is clear from Jesus' life and his submission to this death that violence was a thing he refused.

For instance, at the end of Jesus' life when Roman soldiers came to take him away, Peter (one of his disciples) pulled out a sword and sliced off a soldier's ear in an attempt to defend Jesus. But Jesus stops Peter and even goes so far as to HEAL the man who is about to take him to what Jesus knows is going to be a slow and brutal death.

It's hard for us to digest this sort of commitment to peace. Even if we're not big fans of conquering territory and starting fights, most of us would make use of violence for the sake of defending those we love and want to protect. What does it mean to you then, that Jesus is so radically committed to peace? 

On the mountain of the Lord

Genesis 22: 14 "So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.'”

Yesterday, Greg talked with us about the story of God's apparent demand that Abraham should sacrifice his son Issac. (Spoiler: at the last minute, God provides a ram as a substitute for Issac.) This story has troubled people for centuries, and it's definitely confusing! If God is testing Abraham, it feels like a pretty cruel test. 

But Greg pointed out a couple key things here. The first is that human sacrifice was fairly common during Abraham's time, so while Abraham was likely heartbroken by God's request, he wouldn't have seen it as completely out of left field. Second, it seems likely that God's eventual substitute (the ram) actually signaled to Abraham that his God was different than the God's of neighboring tribes and nations. In a way, by providing the ram, God signaled to Abraham, "Human sacrifice is ultimately not what I ask of you."

Put yourself in the position of Abraham. (It might help to listen to Greg's exploration of Ancient Near East sacrificial practices in this week's sermon; you can listen to that on CCLB's podcast.) What do you think of this reading of Genesis 22? Was it cruel for God to ask this of Abraham? Or does this make sense as a step toward nonviolence for God's people?

here are my mother and my brothers

Matthew 12: 48-50 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

As we've discussed all week, family can be messy. But family is how Jesus refers to his disciples (and to us!). This is a joyful thing! Just like biological families, church family is messy and painful. But Jesus says that we are HIS family, which means that we get to move through this messy, painful space with him. 

When you think about what it looks like to navigate family messiness, what changes when Jesus is suddenly there? How might remembering that Jesus is part of our family help us walk through messiness with that family?

"To thank his God for sorrow..."

Psalm 118: 1 "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever."

I know we normally do contemplative poems for devotions on Friday, but we're gonna mix it up this week in honor of Thanksgiving. Here are the last two stanzas of a moderately lengthy Thanksgiving poem. To read the entire thing, go here.

Thanksgiving

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Full many a blessing wears the guise
   Of worry or of trouble;
Far-seeing is the soul, and wise,
   Who knows the mask is double.
But he who has the faith and strength
   To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
   To gladden every morrow.

We ought to make the moments notes
   Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
   Of music we are living.
And so the theme should swell and grow
   As weeks and months pass o’er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
   A grand Thanksgiving chorus.

Harsh Words in Hard Times

Job 2: 9-10 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

It’s easy to be nice to each other when things are going swell. But, as Job and his wife demonstrate in today’s passage, the rough times make family unity a bit more difficult. Job and his wife had just lost everything (their children, their livestock, their health), so one might be willing to forgive some harsh words in this instance. But that doesn’t mean that this interaction is going to make their suffering any easier.

What is a situation in your family life right now that might be increasing the difficulty of those relationships? How might you prepare yourself to deal kindly with your partner, your children, your parents, your siblings in light of that difficulty?

What To Pray For

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best. Philippians 1:9-10

When Paul prays for his friends in the town of Philippi, he prays that they would know what is best. That's because there are a lot of options. That's because Paul knows that some options are better than others. And that's because Paul, I suspect, also knew that virtually all paths forward have downsides; he prayed for the best option, not for the perfect option after all.

What interests me most about Paul's prayer is that he doesn't just pray for knowledge about what to choose. Instead, he grounds his prayer in something utterly different: that our love would abound. I think he's writing about experiencing God's love and then living out of that love - that's the path to true clarity in our lives. I wonder if that's because Paul knew that whatever path we take will always be filled with pitfalls and deadness and conflicts - so if we wait till the end of the road to love, then we will have missed out on the "life that is truly life" (1 Tm 6:19). 

On this Thanksgiving week, as you face the complicated relationships and situations that come with the holidays, ask God to fill you first with love, and then with clarity about how to manage everything that comes your way. And if you only have time for one prayer, pray for love!

Family is Messy

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 1 Corinthians 5:1

This is not your typical passage for an inspirational devotional. It doesn't show up in a lot of sermons either. But it's in the bible on purpose.

One of the reasons it's there is to remind us that family is messy. Family was messy in the time of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar (as we saw Sunday in Gen 21), and it was messy a thousand years later when Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth. And family is still messy. So if you are looking at your Thanksgiving week with some concern about complicated relationships and situations because of family connecting over the holidays, you are in good company!

God has a lot of practice dealing with messy families. Yours is not outside God's care and concern. 

Paul presses on in 1 Corinthians 5 to shift the focus to how Jesus died to redeem us and our families: "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor 5:7). Jesus has come, Jesus has died, and Jesus has risen - which means that he is indeed the Lord of all and that we can take him at his promise to be with us right where we are. 

How do these truths of scripture speak to you about the complicated relationships and situations you'll be facing this week?

 

Justice at Its Best

“My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” – 1 John 1:1-2

How do we understand sin – the brokenness we see all around ourselves and, perhaps even more heartbreakingly, within ourselves?  We wish the world could be perfect, that we could be perfect – your kingdom come, Lord, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  But that’s not our daily reality.

How comforting then to know that we have an advocate in Jesus – literally in the Greek, a defense attorney, working on our behalf, working with God to bring together God's deep longings to make things right (justice) and to love us completely.  I’m reminded of these words from Dr. King: “…justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Take a few moments to talk with Jesus about where you need his power in your life – his power to defend you and to make you right, to correct whatever is standing against love in your life.  Ask him to do that work and thank him for his never-failing love.

In the Dust

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.  As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the  middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

-       John 8:1-11

This morning I’d like to invite you into a prayer exercise called “imaginative contemplation.”  Read the passage through slowly again, and really try to visualize what is happening, almost like a movie playing in your head.  Notice where Jesus and the other people in the story are and how they are moving, the heat of the day, the smells of the Temple and the crowd.  Now imagine yourself in the story – who are you?  An observer, one of the accusers, perhaps the woman caught in her sin...  What happens between you and Jesus in this encounter?  Imagine the words he is writing in the dust are a message just for you.  What do they say?  How do you receive them?

There’s no rush.  When you feel ready, you can talk with Jesus a little about what you experienced, or just thank him for meeting you in the story and loving you.