Keep Watch: the call to attentiveness in Advent

“Day after day, my Lord, I stand on the watchtower; every night I stay at my post.” (Isaiah 21:8)

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42)

To keep watch is a gospel command. We watch because we must look for our Lord.

To watch means we are attentive. We have learned to see, notice, and understand meaning. We have trained our senses and our spirits to attend to the Lord.

We have become aware of His character, discerning what is Him and not Him. We have learned to look in the right places for where He chooses to dwell and what He chooses to do.

We have attuned our awareness to find unexpected signs of His presence, not missing Him anywhere. We have turned away from what is not Him, letting go of false signs, false ways, and false Messiahs with their misdirected promises.

We keep watch day and night, like a night watchman looking for any sign of anyone or anything. Because we know our limitations, we are constantly vigilant for Him.

Lord, give us grace to look for You.
Keep us watchful and attentive to You.

What are 5 things you’re thankful for this year?

We all have reasons to be thankful. Throughout Scripture, we are encouraged to remember and rehearse together the reasons we have to give thanks to God. The Psalms reverberate with this charge:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. (Psalm 106:1)

The Apostle Paul encourages believers in local churches to do this together:

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

He also reminds us that our ultimate reason for giving thanks is found in Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose in victory over sin and death for us:

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Even though we should give thanks at any time, it helps to have a season of year where we give special attention to remembering and rehearsing with others the reasons we are thankful.

One of our practices as a family is to give thanks for five things everyday together. So, what are five things you are thankful for today or this year?

Jesus’ Harsh Words: The Grace of Rebuke

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In Luke 11, Jesus offers a series of rebukes to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. These leaders not only had the Word of God but held authority for the Word of God in the lives of others. This should stop us in our tracks as pastors, ministry leaders, elders, or anyone who has some role of authority in the lives of others.

There are certain things about us—things we do and things inside of us—that are distasteful to Jesus. We must hear this side of Jesus’ teaching. We must reconsider whether we only take in Jesus’ loving, gentle words or whether we hear the comprehensive breadth of Jesus’ words. We must open our ears and hear even the words of rebuke as if they were spoken to us.

If our first response to Jesus’ rebuke is to think of how they apply to someone else, then we are likely avoiding the word that Christ is speaking directly to us. We must receive the hard words of Christ with radical humility and openness to correction for our thorough transformation. The spotlight is upon us and we should not be quick to divert it toward another.

The piercing sword of rebuke is a grace and it is vital that we remember that fact. The first step toward healing is an accurate diagnosis. Jesus’ rebuke is the difficult diagnosis that leads to the Soul-physician’s surgical grace in removing sickness from us in order to make our souls whole.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees first of all because there is a different and better type of cleanness than what they are concerned about. They are concerned about external and superficial cleanliness but not the internal and deeper cleanliness. They are concealing deeper uncleanness of soul under the cover of superficial cleanness. They are like whitewashed graves that are clean and beautiful on the outside but hold death and decay inside.

The cure is found through Jesus the Life-giver who points the way through generosity to the poor (Luke 11:41), attention to justice, and practicing the love of God (11:42). Is this a salvation by works? No, it is the fruit of repentance as we turn toward God from self-seeking religion and hypocrisy. As we repent, Jesus leads us beyond ourselves into something stronger and more alive. It is the healing pathway out of soul-sickness.

Jesus secondly rebukes the experts in the Law because they have kept life from others. They weigh people down with religious burdens, locking the door to life by their mishandling of God’s Law. God’s Word intends to bring life but they wield it in such a way that life is snuffed out through incorrect usage.

The anger of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law reflects the reality that Jesus has touched upon a nerve with His rebuke. Do we feel angry or uncomfortable with the words of Jesus? Do we attempt to turn the attention of the difficult diagnosis toward someone else? Is it too painful to hear?

Linger in it. Do not flinch. Open your heart and mind to the rebuke of Jesus. Inside the rebuke is the grace of a loving and healing God.

10 Questions to Assess Your Spiritual Growth

There are many different means for evaluating our spiritual growth. Recently I have been working my way through and looking over a lot of different approaches to spiritual growth.

Donald Whitney, author and Associate Professor for Biblical Spirituality, put together a resource for assessing our spiritual health that is built around a series of ten questions.

As I look at the questions, I’d like your feedback on whether you think these questions are helpful, as well as which of the questions particularly hits home for you.

Here they are:

  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God’s word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
  5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the Bride of Christ?
  7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quick forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus?

So, do you think these are helpful questions for assessing spiritual health?

Also, which question hits home for you right now?

3 Transformational Ways to Read Scripture

This past weekend in my message, “The Messiah’s Call,” I emphasized the importance of regular, transformational reading of Scripture. If we are going to truly hear Jesus’ call toward discipleship, we need to put ourselves regularly before the Scripture, asking God to speak into our lives.

For some of us, this is an easy practice to develop. We have experience with reading the Bible and we may have figured out what works well for us. For others, this may seem overwhelming or hard to figure out. Because of that, let me suggest four ways we can read Scripture for transformation. Each of these approaches to reading Scripture are things I have written about previously, so I hope you don’t mind if I refer you to other blog posts about them.

First, let me encourage us to consider slowing down to read Scripture meditatively through the ancient practice of lectio divina, or divine reading. These three posts will help you familiarize yourself with this practice:

Second, if you have never read through the Bible in a year, let me encourage that practice. There are many Bible reading plans that you can access, such as Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan or the One Year Bible reading guide. Several years ago, I invited our entire church to read the Bible in a year and I have an introductory letter about that: “Guidance for Reading through the Bible in a Year”.

Third, while reading the entire Scripture through methodically can be powerful, I have found that a helpful balance to that is slowing down to memorize passages of Scripture for ongoing meditation and prayer during the day. Read this post for guidance on Scripture memory: “Tips and Tools for Memorizing Scripture.”

What have been some of the ways you have most transformationally engaged with reading Scripture?