20170113

Unfathomable Love

The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.

― Elisabeth Elliot

Scripture: Hebrews 7.17

For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

Reflection: Unfathomable Love
By Thomas Jacombe (1622-1687)

We are more apprehensive of the love of the Son, than we are of the love of the Father. I would not speak any thing to diminish the love of the Son; God forbid! It was wonderful, superlative love! Only I would heighten your apprehensions of the Father’s love in the great work of our redemption.

Admire the love of the Father. 

Redemption was not only brought about only by Christ, the Father had a great hand in it. God set his thoughts on work for wretched man, struck up a covenant with his Son, and therein laid the foundation for man’s recovery. Let angels and men and all creatures adore God’s love. That you would return love for love—return your drop for God’s ocean! We must “honor the Son, even as we honor the Father;” and we must love the Father, as we love the Son.

And then admire the love of the Son too.

He is willing to engage in this covenant. He knew the terms of it; what the redemption of man would cost him—even his life and precious blood: yet, for all this, he willingly and freely binds himself to redeem poor sinners, whatever it cost him.

Oh, the heights, depths, breadths of this love! Blessed Jesus, that you should “lay down your life for” me, to wash away my sins in your own blood, to give your “soul as an offering for sin,” upon this encouragement and motive—that you might see such a poor worm as I brought in to God; that you should set yourself as a screen between God’s wrath and my poor soul, and do and suffer ten thousand times more than what tongue can express or heart conceive.

What shall I, what can I, say to all this? I may only fall down, and wonder at that love which can never be fathomed!

*Excerpted and languages updated from Thomas Jacombe’s sermon, “The Covenant of Redemption Opened.”

The Request for Presence 

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 14 (Listen – 4:04)
Matthew 13 (Listen – 7:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 15 (Listen – 2:53) Matthew 14 (Listen – 4:14)
Genesis 16 (Listen – 2:18) Matthew 15 (Listen – 4:23)

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20170112

Striving for What’s Promised

In his preoccupation with comparisons, the worried person finally forgets altogether that he is a human being. He despair­ingly thinks of himself as being so different from others that he even believes he is different in his very humanity.

― Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Genesis 13.10

And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. — Genesis 13.10

Reflection: Striving for What’s Promised
By Steven Dilla

The voice in Genesis 13.10 breaks from that of the narrator, writes Biblical scholar Robert Alter, revealing the thoughts of Lot as he surveys the land. Far beyond an opportunistic play for better land, Lot seeks to return to “the garden of the Lord”—to Eden itself, where God and humankind walked together.

This desire is, of course, woven into Lot’s nature as a human. It is a longing which Scripture says will one day be fulfilled. But not like this. Not as the fruit of argument (Lot and Abram’s herdsmen were in conflict) and the effect of grasping for more.

The temptation Christ faced in the wilderness was similar, at least in substance. After wandering  through the barren land for weeks, the offer was made: quench your material longings by your own ability. Sustenance, validation, and power—all within reach. All rightfully his. Jesus’ reply? In the end, that wouldn’t satisfy my deepest longings.

Jesus saw past receiving what was promised, looking to the relationship from which he was supposed to draw all his needs. Lot found a way to satisfy his longings through his own power. Pastor Timothy Keller observes:

That’s hyperbolic language, Robert Alter says, but it is spiritually significant… [Lot] wants the garden of the Lord without the Lord! How can you have the garden of the Lord without the Lord? How can you have that kind of satisfaction, how can you have that kind of contentment, and how can you have that kind of sense of success without him?

We have so many appetites—find a way to fulfill them on your own and you’ll still be hungry.

The Concluding Prayer of the Church

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 13 (Listen – 2:16)
Matthew 12 (Listen – 6:41)

 

20170111

The Mission of God

Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.

― Dallas Willard

Scripture: Genesis 12.2

[God said to Abraham], “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Reflection: The Mission of God
By Christopher Wright

God chose not to abandon or destroy his creation, but to redeem it. And he chose to do so within history through persons and events that run from the call of Abraham to the return of Christ.

While every part of this great story has its particular contribution to the whole, we do need to see this whole section of the line as a fundamental unity – the single great saving act of God. I think the unity between the Old and New Testament sections of this part of the biblical story of redemption is why Revelation pictures the redeemed humanity in the new creation singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

This will save us from the common misunderstanding that the Old Testament is Salvation Plan A (failed), and the New Testament is Salvation Plan B (success). That is a severe distortion of the story.”

By the time the story has reached Genesis 11, the human race faced two huge problems: the sinfulness of every human heart, and the fracturing and confusion of the nations of humanity.

The Old Testament continues through the prophets to point forward and to insist that God would keep his promise to bring blessing to the nations and salvation to the whole world, and that he would do so through Israel.

The New Testament presents to us the answer that the prophets point towards: the One who would embody Israel as their Messiah, who would be faithful where they had been rebellious, who would be obedient unto death, and through his death and resurrection would bring about not only the restoration of Israel but also the promised salvation to the ends of the earth.

The return of Christ will not only bring to its grand finale that section of the Bible story line that we have called redemption in history, it will also inaugurate the ultimate fulfillment of the whole point of the story—namely, the redemption and renewal of God’s whole creation.

*Abridged from The Mission of God’s People by Christopher Wright.

The Call to Prayer

Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him! — Psalm 34.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 12 (Listen – 2:51)
Matthew 11 (Listen – 4:06)

20170110

Spaces of Renewal

“Man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power.”

― C.S. Lewis

Scripture: Genesis 11.4

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Reflection: Spaces of Renewal

By Steven Dilla

The story of Babel is a story of technology—humankind’s use of every available asset to propel itself further on the quest for more. It is no different today: we use technology to extend our strength, expand our possibilities for mating, and enrich our knowledge. And we give up so much in exchange for these delights.

Our smart devices track our location and listen to our conversations—all in an effort to target us with more accurate advertising. We risk the messiness of face-to-face conversations less often—texting and email give us time to think through each reply. Even praying for and evaluating needs has been quickly replaced by one-click shopping and within-the-hour deliveries.

The ancients grasped for all they could obtain—it is no different than us today. Yet it is important to find the cadence of this section of Genesis: man attempts to be his own god through technology, God judges mankind’s idolatry, then God blesses humankind (Genesis 12). Their name would be known—but not by their own power.

God’s calling to his people was not to a life of technological fasting and spiritual duties. Instead it was to form a community whose identity is renewed daily in his grace. For us today these spaces of renewal are what our personal technology robs from us first. In The Spirit of the Disciplines Dallas Willard writes:

Bible study, prayer and church attendance, among the most commonly prescribed activities in Christian circles, generally have little effect for soul transformation, as is obvious to any observer. If all the people doing them were transformed to health and righteousness by it, the world would be vastly changed.

Their failure to bring about the change is precisely because the body and soul are so exhausted, fragmented and conflicted that the prescribed activities cannot be appropriately engaged, and by and large degenerate into legalistic and ineffectual rituals. Lengthy solitude and silence, including rest, can make them very powerful.

But we must choose these disciplines. God will, generally speaking, not compete for our attention. If we will not withdraw from the things that obsess and exhaust us into solitude and silence, he will usually leave us to our own devices.

The Request for Presence

Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!”

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 10-11 (Listen – 7:16)
Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)

 

20170109

Bargaining with God

“Unless You abide with me, all things that seem to bring peace and happiness are as nothing, for they cannot bestow true happiness. You alone are the End of all good things, the fullness of life, the depth of wisdom; and the greatest comfort of Your servants is to trust in You above all else.”

― Thomas à Kempis

Scripture: Genesis 9.8-9

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you.”

Reflection: Bargaining with God

By Steven Dilla

“Superstitious people do not believe in God,” reflects André Aciman in The Good Book. “They believe in something far more powerful but also far more mischievous and insidious.” And so many go through life haggling for a better deal: more comfort and provision in exchange for dedication—or the healing of another in exchange for personal misfortune. Aciman continues:

The human mind believes—but always provisionally—that in the course of a lifetime it can negotiate a couple of good deals with Providence. There may be a price to pay and there are no freebies, since Providence always exacts something in return, which is why we offer sacrifices and make sacrifices. I will give this up if you give me that. I will forfeit going after that, if in return I can continue to hold on to this.

But because the logic of divine Providence is not only ironic but frequently counterintuitive, we also know that it may be unreliable enough to bring about something other than what was asked for. You didn’t ask well. Or You asked too much. Or You asked too soon. Or You didn’t think through your request. You turn to me only when you need me. Be happy you got what you got. Now off with you before I change my mind and take back the little I doled out and give it to someone else, preferably your rival.

Aciman denies there is truly a divine being “out there,” noting, “We contend and tussle with him as we tussle and contend with ourselves.” Our own brokenness, projected onto God’s character. But this is not the God we meet in the Scriptures.

There is no better deal to negotiate because we have already been promised everything. There is no other sacrifice to make because the greatest sacrifice has already been made. Divine grace sits before us—any attempt to bargain for it is an attempt to assert ourselves over God.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week

Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

— From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 9 (Listen – 3:50)
Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:56)