Thursday, November 26, 2015

November 26, 2015

When Paul preached the Gospel in Thessalonica there was a group of people who formed a mob and they sought Paul to hurt, or possibly kill, him. He and Silas had to sneak out of town by night. (See Acts 17.) One can imagine that he might have some anxiety for these people’s safety and their feelings about him for the trouble they endured because of him. That is why he writes as he does in this passage of giving thanks for them, having heard from Timothy that they were not angry with Paul and that they prayed for him and longed to see him. He too longed to see them and to continue to teach them about God’s salvation in Christ. This passage combines the longing for fellowship which is natural for Christ’s followers with their longing for His return – His second advent. 
There is great joy in the fellowship of believers. They share a common hope and desire. The hope is that because Jesus died and rose again their sins are atoned for and they can live forever in the resurrection. The desire is to be with Jesus when He comes again and they can experience being completely blameless and holy. In the meantime Paul prays that the believers’ love for one another will increase and abound.
As we prepare for Christmas we think of Jesus coming as a little baby, but Advent is also about Jesus’ second coming. We rejoice in the first coming because in it Jesus died and rose again for us. Our hearts have been cleansed, and although we do not feel blameless God has declared us to be so. This truth moves us to love God as we have been loved, and to love one another as God has loved us.
The day will come when Jesus will come with all His saints; all the people who have been cleansed by faith and the shedding of His blood. What a day that will be! We have much to be thankful for even before that day comes however. He has given us one another to love and to be loved by, to encourage and so we may receive encouragement, to pray for and for them to pray for us, and to stand before God together because of the hope we have in Jesus.
Lord God, You have placed us in relationship with one another, therefore we pray for one another and love one another as You have loved us. We long for the day when Jesus will return with all His saints.
Thank You for giving us blameless and holy hearts. Thank You for giving us brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank You for the privilege of having people pray for us, and for being able to pray for them.
Please forgive us for not sensing the connection You have made with us and our fellow believers more keenly and for not loving them as deeply as we ought. Forgive us for growing excited about celebrating Jesus’ birth, His first coming, and for not anticipating His second coming.
Send Your Spirit to work in our hearts to help us to love one another as You have loved us. Lead us to pray for one another with passion and love. Help us remember that Jesus is coming again, and to rejoice because of that, longing for the day that we see You face to face when He comes. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 25, 2015

Scripture: Psalm 25:1-10
Psalm 25 is an acrostic with 22 verses, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Luther says it is, “a psalm of prayer in which the righteous pray that God will make them godly, forgive their sins, guard them from sin and shame, and finally deliver them from all enemies and all evil. Along with this the psalm mocks the false, self-centered spirits and teachers.” In the advent season this psalm reminds us to wait for the Lord and we think of the Old Testament people who waited for Jesus’ birth, and of believers today who wait for Jesus to return.
Trust and waiting go hand in hand. We trust God to come for us and to rescue us. That means that we wait for Him to come to us in His chosen way and at His proper time. For the people of the Old Testament they waited for Messiah to come. Ever since God promised a savior to Adam and Eve the birth of each boy raised the question: “Is he the one God promised?” So they waited for God to come and save them from sin.
As New Testament people we know that God kept that promise by sending His Son, Jesus, who took on human flesh so that He could pay for the sins of our flesh with His blood. We, also, have been called to trust and wait. Jesus promised that He would return to judge the living and the dead, and that He would take us into the eternal home God has waiting for us. That day has not come yet, but it will. Trust and wait.
Think back to when you were going to be picked up to go somewhere. How would you feel if the person who was driving was late? What if they didn’t tell you exactly when they would be there, but to be patient and know that they would come get you? Would you doubt that they were coming?
Some doubt that Jesus will return. We might begin to wonder if He will return as we go through difficult times or think of the time between Jesus’ Ascension and today. Psalm 25 encourages us to lift up our souls to the Lord, to call on Him in worship, praise, confession, and prayer, and to wait. He will come. 
To You, O Lord, we lift up our souls. O God, we trust in You, and it is for You that we wait. You are good and upright. You instruct sinners in the way, lead the humble in what is right, and teach us Your way. All the Your paths are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep Your covenant and testimonies.
Thank You for not letting anyone who trusts in You be put to shame. Thank You for leading us in your truth, teaching us, and for being the God of our salvation. Thank You for remembering Your mercy, O Lord, and Your steadfast love.
Remember not the sins we have committed and forget our transgressions, O Lord. According to Your steadfast love forgive our sins for the sake of Christ who shed His blood for us.

Lord, let the wantonly treacherous be ashamed, but lead us in Your truth and teach us to know Your ways all the more deeply. Give us faith to wait for You all the day long, even for all of our lives knowing that none who waits for You will ever be put to shame for Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 24, 2015

Scripture: Luke 21:25-36
With the coming of a new church year, the Gospel which the reading focuses on shifts. In this church year the Gospel that will serve as the primary source is the Gospel of Luke. The events of this passage took place in the days shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion. The reading records predictions Jesus made about the End, promises that His Word will not pass away, and the exhortation to stay awake and be watchful for Jesus’ return. In the Advent season, these texts draw the reader to the message that Jesus is coming. We may not know when, but we do anticipate His return and hold tightly to His Word.
Jesus speaks of the end of the world as an event that is both fearful and hopeful. He speaks signs in the heavens, nations in perplexity, people fainting with fear and foreboding. It is clear that God’s judgement is hard, and the day that His judgement falls upon the earth will be dreadful.
At the same time, this second advent is a time of hope. Believers know that Jesus’ return means their full redemption. The full effect of Jesus’ cross and empty tomb will be known in their life and they will no longer struggle with sin, temptation, persecution, fear, or doubt. Having watched and waited for that day and having held on to Jesus’ eternal Word they will receive the promised reward
Sometimes when people talk about the end of the world and Jesus’ second coming they do so with fear and trepidation. It is important that we take Jesus’ words to heart on this matter. He says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” We are indeed to watch so we do not become weighed down in dissipation and drunkenness; that we are not lulled to a comfortable doze by the enchantments and pleasures of this world, but we watch and wait for that day when our salvation will be completed.
Lord Jesus, You will return at the proper time, a time we do not expect. That day will be terrible and some will pass out with fear because of the terror. For us who trust in You for our salvation, however, that day of Your coming is our redemption, hope, and joy.
Thank You, O Lord, for promising to return. We thank You for judging sin and for destroying it. You will come in power and might against those who have harmed Your people, and we thank You for redeeming us from the powers of this world. Thank You for warning us to be awake and to not be lulled asleep.
Forgive us, Dear Christ, for allowing ourselves to become so comfortable with this world that we have indeed been like drunks, dissipated and heedless of Your will and judgement. Indeed, there have been times that even Your salvation has been far from our minds and all we longed for was the pleasures that this world offered us. We repent and ask for Your forgiveness.

Come soon, Lord! Shake the heavens and come down to rescue us from our lives of sin and sorrow. Help us to see the events of this world and to not become discouraged but to lift up our heads and to take note of the change in the seasons which tell us that You are coming soon. Give us strength, to endure and to hold on to that which will never pass away: Your Word. Amen. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

November 23, 2015

Scripture: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Part of the context which must be considered in reading this passage is that a new church year is beginning, and this reading is for the season of Advent where the focus is on the coming of Jesus; both as a baby in the incarnation and as a glorious judge in the second coming. Jeremiah’s prophecy points us to those events.
Most of Jeremiah’s ministry dealt with prophesying doom and punishment for God’s people because of their sin. It is largely a sad book, and Jeremiah is often referred to as, “The Weeping Prophet.” Chapters 30-33 stand in stark contrast to the rest of the book. Here God promises hope and salvation to His people. The verses appointed for this week point to days which are coming that will see God keeping His promises to His people as He raises of a righteous Branch which will spring up from David. It is a reference to the king that will sit on David’s throne forever, whom we know to be Jesus. The passage prepares us to receive this King and to watch for Him, reminding us that He won’t be like any earthly king for He will be our righteousness.
“The days are coming,” says the Lord through His servant Jeremiah. This is not a phrase like people often use that, “someday,” they’ll do this or that thing they’ve put on some kind of bucket list. This is God’s way of saying that the time in imminent. Even so, imminent for God does not always seem so imminent to His people. It would still be almost six-hundred years until the righteous Branch would spring up.
This coming king would be different from any other that had yet been born. For one thing, this king would be righteous and just in a way that no other king had been before. Indeed, He would save God’s people and would be their righteousness.
As followers of Jesus our language is often influenced by the way the Bible uses words. One of those words is righteous. In the 1980’s and ‘90’s we might have heard someone talking about an intense or incredible experience as being, “righteous,” but this is a word that doesn’t get much use today. The word itself actually means to be right with God, or to do what is right. It is somewhat synonymous with being holy. But here is what is so special about this passage. It does not say that we will do righteous things, or even become righteous. It says, “The Lord is our righteousness.” In other words, it is what God does that makes us righteous, and that is ultimately true in Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection.
Lord God, You raised up the righteous Branch when Jesus was born. He is our righteousness.
Lord Jesus, thank You for removing the burden of trying to become righteous by our deeds and for giving Your life in such a way that You have become our righteousness.
Forgive us, O God, for trying to satisfy You with our righteousness and for imagining that we can somehow be good enough to satisfy Your justice.

O Holy Spirit, help us to comprehend and be amazed by the truth that the Father has kept His promises and given the Son to be our righteousness, and grant us faith to trust in Him so firmly that our faith changes the way we live and our lives testify to Christ’s righteousness which is available to all. Amen. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

November 20, 2015

Scripture: Mark 13:24-37
As we read this passage we should remember that this conversation was sparked because one of Jesus’ disciples was overawed by the physical glory of that place. Jesus, having been asked when the destruction of the temple would take place, began to talk also about the end of all things and His second coming. The impact of this passage on us is to take our eyes and thoughts off of this world so we will not be drawn to be in awe of it, but so that we fear, love, and trust in Jesus instead. 
Carl Sagan said, “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” Often we think of the stars, the moon, the earth, and the things upon it as though they will always persist in some way or another. But notice what Jesus says about this world we live in and the cosmic structures around it. He speaks of them being shaken and says that heaven and earth will pass away. The only thing that lasts this shaking and ending will be Jesus’ words – His promises, and the work that they do bringing salvation to those who believe.
He compares this world to a house which has a master who has gone on a journey and the servants are left in charge. The servants may do their work or neglect to do it, they may remember the master is coming or forget all about him, but whatever they do the master will return, and all will give an account. The warning is clear: the judgement is coming! That day will be terrible in earthly terms, but the believer’s hope is in the promise that the Master sent His Son to save His people.
This world will end. The many things that we pursue in this life will often be shown to be useless endeavors and self-indulgence. Yet it is clear that we have been given a stewardship of this world and our lives. We are intended to live in this world, despite the fact that it will not last, and to do the work we have been given. That work is not named here, but it is to serve our God by sharing the hope we have in Christ’s death and resurrection.
We become so focused on physical things in this life. This is not wrong in-and-of-itself. It becomes a problem when we focus on the physical to the exclusion of the eternal. We lose track of what lasts: God’s Word, His promise, His salvation, even the hope we have because Jesus died and rose for us.
Lord Jesus, You have taught us that this world will end. There is, however, work for us to do in Your service until that day. We may not know the day or the hour that the cosmos will be shaken, but the signs tell us that the time is coming. It will be good for us to be awake to that truth when You come.
Thank You for making known to us that the physical world as we know it will have its end so that we do not overly focus on it. You have given us eternal goods in Your Word, particularly the message of Your salvation. Thank You! And we also thank You for the earthly blessings we steward until then.
Forgive us for dozing on the job and for not remaining alert in Your service. Forgive us for clinging to things that are temporal instead of holding on to Your eternal truth.

Keep us steadfast in Your Word and help us stay awake so that we serve You with our whole lives. Help us use the things of this world for Your eternal glory. Amen. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

November 19, 2015

Scripture: Jude 20-25
Jude is a brief book which was likely written by one of Jesus’ half-brothers. It is a letter written to urge believers to contend for the faith because there were people within the church working against the message of the gospel. This particular passage urges the believers to be built up by the Holy Spirit and to proclaim the gospel of salvation as they wait for the mercy of Jesus to bring them into eternal life. The passage serves to point believers to remember that the ministry of God’s people is about saving sinners even as we await the coming of our Lord Jesus to present us before the Father in eternal glory and joy.  
The apostles had warned the church that in the last time there would be scoffers who followed their own ungodly passions. While these people brought division and worldliness into the church, Jude sought to firm up those who believed God’s Word and clung to it. He says that while the scoffers cause division the believers should keep themselves in the love of God and to wait for Jesus’ mercy which leads us into eternal life. To do this the believers should build themselves up in the faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. They were to study God’s Word and let it lead them into prayer.
The life of the believers was also to be marked by mercy as they continued to share the message of the Gospel so as to save many. Their own position might seem precarious in such a time, but they were encouraged to trust God to keep them from stumbling.
Jude’s words to the early church ring true for us today. Do we not live in a time when there is division within the church? As we wait for Jesus to return aren’t we, too, called to lead faithful lives built up in the holy faith that is delivered to us in God’s Word? Aren’t we, too, called to pray in the Holy Spirit? And certainly we, too, have been called as God’s people to join in His mission of saving sinners by sharing the hope we have in Jesus.
But what strength do we have to do this work? Often it feels like none. Jude 24-25 can serve as great words of encouragement to us because, while they are praise to God, they remind us that Jesus is able to keep us from stumbling and to make us blameless before God. That message gives us joy as we serve Him now and wait for His glorious return.
Lord Jesus, as we wait for Your mercy to be fully ours at Your second coming, we are called to build ourselves up in the faith by hearing Your Word and to pray in the Spirit. You privilege us by allowing us to join You in Your mission of saving sinners and sharing the mercy You have given to us.
Thank You! Thank You for having mercy on us, keeping us from stumbling in sin, and for making us blameless in the Father’s eyes. Thank You for giving us both mission and ministry.
Forgive us for not being committed to being built up in the faith, for not praying as we ought, and for not being merciful to others as You have been merciful to us.

Let Your Spirit form us in true faith so that we pray as we ought and our lives reveal Your glory and mercy to others. Amen. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

November 18, 2015

Scripture: Psalm 93
Often when we speak of the context of a passage it is with the thought of what comes before or after the text in question. In this psalm the context is of living in a land where people serve other gods. In the face of such idolatry God’s people confess that He reigns and is almighty. This is true of God now, always has been, and always will be. The psalm is a declaration of our God’s sovereignty and calls upon the hearer to be in awe of Him and to trust in Him above all gods.
This psalm proclaims God’s might. This is perhaps an aspect of God that we do not always consider in modern times. In David’s time God would regularly have been compared to the gods of the nations around them. As strange as it may sound, this still happens today. There are other religions that vie for people’s worship. Not only that, but people have come to worship reason and knowledge to the point that they declare God a quant and obsolete notion – nothing like the powerful image presented here.
It is important for God’s people to continue to speak of God’s might. The earth still under God’s command and we do well to point to the knowledge that comes from observing the world and pointing back to the One who made it all. What is more, God has displayed His power in a more magnificent way in Jesus’ death in which He paid for our sins, and His resurrection.
Have you ever considered God’s power? The Bible regularly points to God’s creative work to say that He is the God among all gods. Nature declares His awesome nature. Yet today we often see nature apart from its Maker. We observe storms and seas, consider the smallest atom and the farthest star, ponder the cell and its genetic material, and often receive them as parts of the world without awe for the wisdom and power of the One who made them. We do well to observe creation as exactly that: creation. Something made, crafted, and designed. And we do well to give glory to the Creator for what He has made proves that He is indeed awesome and powerful.
O God, You are powerful above all gods. You are clothed in majesty and power. You are the maker of all that there is, and without You nothing has been established. As we think of the most fearful and powerful things in this world, none of them compare to You. You reign above all and make holy just decrees that bless and guide us.
Thank You for making us, O God. Thank You for placing us as one of the glorious pieces of all You have made. Thank You for the many ways that creation declares Your wisdom and power.
Forgive us for not being in awe of You and for failing to see Your hand in leaf and root, rock and river, and plant and animal. Forgive us for taking this world for granted, heedless of You its (and our!) Creator.
Lord, open our eyes to see all You have made and let us be in awe of You. Grant that we would hear and obey Your trustworthy decrees and worship You in all holiness as Your created and redeemed people. Amen.