Finding Love: Mary

advent-mary.jpg[This is the devotional I wrote for the fourth week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

“Love is blind.” At least, that is how the saying goes. The phrase means that when love is in play, a person is prone to overlook, or just plain fail to see, the problems within the person being loved. There is some truth to that, but the kind of love we all deeply desire is a love that truthfully sees everything about us and still loves us. Love that is blind – that turns away from reality – is false love, while love that sees – that leans into reality – is real love.

John 3:16 is such a well-known Scripture passage because it describes God’s love as real love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). In the midst of a world stuck in the cycle of death, Jesus the Son of God comes to bring liberating life. Even as the world could potentially be condemned because of evil and injustice, God takes a different route by sending Jesus to save the world. Jesus Himself echoes this later when He says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We see in Jesus the Messiah that God’s love is an eyes-open love, leaning into the reality of our world and our lives. Jesus shows us just how far God will go to hold us in His loving embrace.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing God’s plan to bring the Messiah to birth through her, Mary was astounded. Her question, “How will this be?”, was both a question about the manner of the Messianic birth since she was a virgin and simultaneously a question about the possibility that something like this could occur in human history. When Gabriel emphasized God’s decisive plan to intervene through Jesus as Messiah, such knowledge eventually leads Mary to erupt with praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-47, 50).

That little word ‘mercy’ is an echo of the Hebrew word hesed, which refers to God’s uniquely steady and faithful love. Mary grasps, and shares with us today, that God sees what is really there in the world and still chooses to love humanity from generation to generation throughout the earth. Mary becomes a picture not only of humble obedience to God’s call, but also boisterous praise of God’s love. As we draw close to Christmas Day, let us join Mary’s wondrous call to praise our God whose love is not blind, but rather eyes-open about us and our world. Let us draw near with anticipation to experience once again   the tenderly tenacious love of God found in Jesus the Messiah.

Reflect:

  • What difference does it make to you that God loves you—no matter what, just as you are?
  • Who in your life needs to hear that God loves them…absolutely and completely? How and when will you tell them?

A Prayer for the fourth Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

O God of Elizabeth and Mary,
you visited your servants with news of the world’s redemption
in the coming of the Savior.
Make our hearts leap with joy,
and fill our mouths with songs of praise,
that we may announce glad tidings of peace,
and welcome the Christ in our midst. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.

Finding Joy: John the Baptist

advent 3 - joy.jpg[This is the devotional I wrote for the third week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“You are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” (Luke 1:13-14)

“And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.” (Luke 2:18)

In the lead up to Jesus’ birth, John the Baptist is one of the most vital characters, promised as a forerunner to the Messiah and a source of many people’s rejoicing. As a preacher before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John preaches to the crowds outside of Jerusalem in rural spaces near the Jordan River. His outfit is eye-catching and his diet is more than a little interesting, but not in the socially acceptable ways: “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). His first recorded words at the start of a sermon were “You brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). If John is trying to live out the part of an outsider prophet, he is doing a good job. But how does that fit with the promise of rejoicing attached to him in the angel Gabriel’s prophetic message to his father, Zechariah?

Sometimes, real joy requires a wake-up call. A study of people who had breakthroughs to greater meaning and joy in their lives, sometimes called “awakening experiences,” showed that these breakthroughs were often triggered by some form of psychological turmoil, such as stress, loss, or bereavement. While the breakthrough was an overwhelmingly positive experience, the pathway to get there was intensely difficult. As C. S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Difficulty, even suffering, can serve as a wake-up call to joy.

And so, John the Baptist stands by the Jordan River’s edge, issuing a wake-up call to humanity. He refuses to mince words about what is distracting them from God’s best, whether it be specific sins or the pleasures of life. Even today, John’s words call us out of zombie-like distraction and back to attentive anticipation as we prepare for the joyful wonder of Christmas. All around us the frenzy of activity and acquisition ratchets up higher and higher in this holiday season. But do we hear the grating words of that camel-skin-wearing, locust-eating prophet cutting through the false promises of the sales pitch?

He tells us that there is another way to joy, a way that is found in Jesus the Messiah, who has come and will come again. John the Baptist reminds us that Jesus prayed we “may have the full measure of joy” (John 17:13), and that it is found in Him who is the bringer of “great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10).

Reflect:

  • Have you experienced a “wake-up call” that has led to greater joy in your life? If so, how did God turn it around into something to rejoice over?
  • How specifically has the arrival of Jesus in your life brought you joy? List as many ways as you can.

A Prayer for the third Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of timeless grace,
you fill us with joyful expectation.
Make us ready for the message that prepares the way,
that with uprightness of heart and holy joy
we may eagerly await the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.

Finding Hope: Elizabeth

finding hope elizabeth.jpg

[This is the devotional I wrote for the second week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old…Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’” (Luke 1:7, 24-25)

At the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel, we encounter Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older Jewish couple living during Herod’s reign in Judea. Of the few things we are told about them, Luke mentions that they live righteous lives before God but also that they have no children. Why does Luke tell us this? Certainly, it is at least to help us understand, in the midst of Zechariah fulfilling his priestly duties in the Jerusalem Temple, the significance of the angel Gabriel’s message of an unexpected miracle baby given to them in their later years. Perhaps it is also serves to remind us that righteous people do not always get what they desire. That theme lingers throughout the Bible from the book of Job through the Psalms and into the New Testament. Along with that, it is likely that Luke wants to emphasize how God often reveals Himself in a special way to those who have something missing from their lives. In fact, that is a special theme in the Gospel of Luke: God is close to those who seem on the outside, who carry a wound, or who only have the smallest thread of hope to which they cling.

In the midst of all the grand things God does in Scripture, and in the midst of the story God is writing in the human history, sometimes we may wonder if as human beings we remain too insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Even if we believe in God, we may wonder if we are simply hidden, unnoticed beings before the Divine Majesty.

The story of Elizabeth interrupts that strain of thinking like a hurricane. An angelic messenger blows in from the presence of God to say that hidden prayers have been heard and that God will indeed bring about their fiercest hopes for a child. Not only that, but the wild winds of the message will blow through human history as this miracle baby, John the Baptist, will come in the same untamable power of Elijah the prophet. He will speak words of hope to all people as a forerunner of the promised Messiah. You cannot cage that wind and, as it blows, Elizabeth sees the sails of her life refilled with the billowing winds of hope.

During Advent, Elizabeth’s story reminds us that the coming of Jesus brings hope to us. Jesus brings a “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) that serves as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). As we take the journey of Advent, reminded that God sees us and God enters into our world through Jesus Christ, may the sails of our lives be refilled again with the wild winds of living hope through Christ Jesus.

Reflect:

  • What is an area of your life where you are “clinging to a thread of hope” about what God can do?
  • How do you think you can “feed” the hope God has brought to you to increase your experience of it?

A Prayer for the second Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of hope, you call us home from the exile of selfish oppression
to the freedom of justice, the balm of healing, and the joy of sharing.
Make us strong to join you in your holy work,
as friends of strangers and victims,
companions of those whom others shun,
and as the happiness of those whose hearts are broken.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.

Prayer of Surrender: Mary

As we continued our Great Prayers of the Bible” series this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I spoke from Mary’s prayers of surrender to God in Luke 1. This weekend’s message explores what it means to pray into a place of surrender with God and why surrendering to God in prayer is one of the best things we can do. This was the second of two weekends of outdoor worship services for us, which explains why the video may look different.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Read More »

Prophet (discussion questions)

beginnings-series-gfx_app-squareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Prophet,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is part of our series, “Beginnings.” The text for this week is Luke 1:57-80.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have you experienced God’s goodness after a long time of waiting? What happened?
  2. This week we continue our “Beginnings” series from the Gospel of Luke by looking at Luke 1:57-80. Ask God to speak to you and then, whether you are with a group or on your own, read that passage aloud.
  3. Luke returns to the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah with the birth of their new son begun in Luke 1:5-25. One of the biggest moments in this story is the naming of the child. Why do you think this was a big deal? (You may also want to reread Luke 1:5-25.)
  4. As you read Luke 1:57-66 what do you notice about the response of those around Elizabeth and Zechariah? How do they respond to this new child?
  5. Zechariah’s obedience in naming John is a faith-filled response to God’s promise that he earlier disbelieved (Luke 1:18-20). Why do you think Zechariah changed in his time of waiting? Have you ever had an experience like Zechariah in your life with God?
  6. As Zechariah’s voice returns, he immediately speaks words of praise to God. The first half of Zechariah’s prophecy (1:67-75) focuses on God’s goodness, specifically referencing God’s promises to David (2 Samuel 7:12-16) and Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). Read those passages and reflect on what Zechariah is saying will come true in the days to come?
  7. The second part of Zechariah’s prophecy (Luke 1:76-79) looks toward the role that John will play in the work of the coming Messiah. What do you notice about John’s role and what that shows about the Messiah?
  8. What is one specific thing that God is speaking to you through this study? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

 

Daily Reading Plan

To encourage us together in our growth with God, we are arranging a weekday reading plan through this entire series with the Gospel of Luke. As you read each day, ask God to speak to you from His word.

Follow along with the reading plan below, through the Eastbrook app, or on social media.

  • November 7    Luke 1:57-66
  • November 8    1 Samuel 1:19-28
  • November 9    Luke 1:67-75
  • November 10  Genesis 12:1-3
  • November 11  Malachi 3:1; Luke 1:76-80

Prophet

beginnings-series-gfx_facebook

We returned to our “Beginnings” series this weekend at Eastbrook Church after a one-week pause with one of our good friends from the Middle East, Brother Victor. This series takes us through the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel and sets the stage for Jesus’ public appearing and ministry. This message, “Prophet,” looks at Luke 1:57-80 and builds upon the first message of the series, “Promise,” by looking at the birth and calling of John the Baptist.

You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Also, let me invite you to join in with the weekday reading plan for this series here.

“But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.’” (Luke 1:13)

 

The Miraculous Name of the Prophet (Luke 1:57-63)

They were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” (Luke 1:59-60)

 

The Infectious Joy Surrounding the Prophet (Luke 1:64-66)

All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. (Luke 1:65)

 

 

Fulfilled Promises and the Prophet (Luke 1:67-75)

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
     the oath he swore to our father Abraham. (Luke 1:68-73)

 

The Coming Messiah and the Prophet (Luke 1:76-80)

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him. (Luke 1:76)