Devotions

A Watched Pot Never … Wait! … Watch It!

Advent 3Jesus said, “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” – Matthew 25:13

Have you ever heard the phrase, “A watched pot never boils”?

The earthly logic is clear: If you’re just sitting there waiting for something to occur, things seem to just drag on and on, and it never seems to never happen. Meaning: you might as well keep busy doing other things and while you’re busy with the rest of life, the pot will soon boil anyway.

In terms of the second coming of Christ, most of us are don’t-watch-the-pot kind of people. We busy ourselves with the busyness of life, and ignore what Christ says is on the urgently bubbling stove. (“Urgently bubbling?” we say. “Ha, it’s been two thousand years. What’s the odds of it happening while I’m busy with my life?)

But actually that’s Christ’s very warning. As few verses before today’s keep watch (v 38-39), Jesus said, “as in those days before the flood [normal everyday people] were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Urgency! That was Christ’s clear warning.

And it could happen tomorrow … even if Christ doesn’t return on tomorrow’s clouds, any of us could have a heart attack or get hit by a bus; therefore, Jesus warns us to, “keep watch” and be ready.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who occasionally

finds it useful to remind

himself to straighten up,

because what would

Christ think if he came

and I was caught

living a little crooked?

 

The Foolish Pride of a King

Advent 3

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 11:16

A.W.Tozer tells the story of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. Shortly before the Kaiser himself helped drag Europe into World War I, he attended a church service. A faithful pastor preached on Christ’s coming again. He spoke of God’s promised kingdom of eternal righteousness and peace.

“I never want to hear that kind of sermon again,” cried the Kaiser, greatly offended. “Such an event is not at all in keeping with the plans we have for the future and the glory of our fatherland.”

Few kings were humbled a dramatically as those of Babylon. In Daniel 4, God made proud Nebuchadnezzar crawl on all fours and eat grass like a cow, and in Daniel 5:20, it says of Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, Belshazzar, that “he acted proudly [and] was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him.”

That could have been the epithet on Kaiser Wilhelm’s reign – and most other kings of history too. Wilhelm’s dreams of earthly glory were destroyed along with Germany’s crushing defeat in WWI.

And it’s not just kings who are proud and have hopes for personal glory. Most of us, in one way or another, make our own plans, chase our own agendas, and seek our own glory. In many and various ways, we say like the Kaiser, “[God’s agenda is] not at all in keeping with the plans we have for [our] future and the glory of our [family, career, retirement, etc.].”

We tell God our plans and expect him to join us … and are frustrated (and sometimes bitter) when life doesn’t go as we plan. Freedom comes when we trust that God has a bigger plan than we could ever hope for or dream of. And it will bring true glory … and be eternal!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s own dreams

didn’t come true early

… and has been blessed

more than if they did!

And will be blessed

even more in the future

(eternity)

 

 

How many States of Being are there Really?

Advent 2

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

There are three states of being, science tells us – solid, liquid, and gas. In water, for example, ice is solid, steam is gas, and then we swim in, wash in, and drink of the liquid. Three states, right?

As far as that goes, that’s surely true. But I’d like you consider something deeper and much more important. Basically there are only two types of being – there is God and “not God”! There is the Creator … and everything else is created. Things as massive and distant as stars are created. This as microscopically tiny as atoms, protons, and quarks are created. Living beings like fish, birds, mammals, people … seraphim, cherubim, and angels are created.

There are only two types of being: There is God and “not God.” There is finite vs. infinite. Limited vs. limitless. Holy vs. corruptible. Unique vs. derivative.

So, how do we explain the incarnation?  How is it possible the limitless takes on finite, limited, corruptible, perishable human form? How? The simple (and complex) answer: Without compromise! Jesus remained fully God. And without dividing himself became fully man. How?

A.W. Tozer explains it like this, “So … the incarnation – this deep, dark, yawning mystery – was wrought and accomplished without any compromise of the Deity. God did not degrade Himself by this condescension. He did not in any sense make Himself to be less than God. He remained God, and everything else remained not God.” And here’s the really awesome and wondrous part, “When He became man … he did not degrade Himself [i.e. did not degrade his majesty]. He remained God [and] by the act of incarnation elevated mankind to Himself.”

Wow! That’s enough to ponder for a whole season.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who doesn’t just worship

the One who “came down,”

but the One who lifts us up

 

 

How did God become Flesh?

Advent 2

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity – Hebrews 2:14

How?

Read that verse again. How did the King of Creation, God-the-Son, “share in our humanity”? What was the mechanism by which our eternal and limitless deity took on temporal, limited form?

In some people’s faith, this is a big issue. They have to have every question answered – scientifically, intellectually, psychologically, personally – before they will believe. I understand that, of course, but that’s not what faith is all about. Hebrews 11:1 famously says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” God is so far above and beyond our comprehension, that part of faith is acknowledging the mystery – a common New Testament word – and still trusting God in the midst of it.

I know from my own faith journey that I couldn’t make human sense of every detail. For example, how could I honor my teachers who taught me evolution and trust simultaneously in the Genesis account. I had to come to point of saying, “I don’t fully understand. I’m just going to believe Genesis as true … because He’s God and this is what he’s revealed to us.” And something amazing happened. As soon as I said, “I trust. I will believe it’s true,” everything mysterious suddenly became clearer.

The incarnation is like that. A. W. Tozer writes, “John Wesley [as far back as the 1700s] pointed out that it is a dark mystery how God could swoop down and become man and bridge the yawning gulf and join Himself to flesh and limit the limitless.” Answer? He’s God! As Wesley said, “We should distinguish the act from the method … and not reject [the act and the] fact because we do not know how it was done.”

It’s mystery. It’s awe. It’s trust. It’s faith. It’s seeing before believing … and yet, through faith, everything starts to become clear.

Now, Tozer reflected on this probably in 1940s. And he was way ahead of his time … at least in the cultural vernacular. Listen to his conclusion: “We should enter the presence of God, reverently bowing our heads, and … saying, “That … is so God, but we don’t know how.”

“That … is sooo God [and] we will not reject the fact because we do not know the operation by which it was brought to pass.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who believes

in spite of not “seeing,”

and sees all the better

because he simply believes

Is the “Blessed Hope” your true hope?

Advent 2

we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. – Titus 2:13

Last Sunday Mary Louise and I used our computers and tuned into an Advent worship service. First Sunday of Advent, it was a late afternoon service of lessons and carols. (My son was the organist and choirmaster. But that’s not the point. The point today is that …) At a key moment, Mary Louise said, “Oh! Paul promised me that he’d play that. It’s my favorite!”

The hymn was, “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.” It’s a soaring hymn. It speaks of the promised return of Christ – descending from heaven as if riding upon the clouds.

And here’s the question: If you were to hear that hymn, would you thrill at the soaring melody … or would you thrill at the actual promise of Christ’s return?

The earliest Christians called the return of Christ, “the blessed hope.” Look at that phrase. Is Christ’s return the true grounding of your faith and truly your blessed hope? Or do you just sing about Christ’s return whenever hymns happen to be played? Do you just check the second coming off as a doctrine that you’re “supposed” to believe? Do you live, indeed, as if Christ is returning to rescue Christians and judge the world … perhaps soon?

For Advent, Mary Louise and I are reading from A. W. Tozer. As you contemplate your level of anticipation for the Second Coming, I invite you to contemplate Tozer’s words from a generation ago:

The return of Christ as a blessed hope is … all but dead among us. The longing to see Christ that burned in the breasts of those first Christians seems to have burned itself out. … Mere acquaintance with correct doctrine is a poor substitute for … a love-inflamed desire to look on [Christ’s] face. … The absence of real yearning for Christ’s return is that Christians are so comfortable in this world that they have little desire to leave it. … History reveals that times of suffering for the Church have also been times of looking upward. Tribulation has always sobered God’s people and encouraged them to look for and yearn after the return of their Lord. Our present occupation with this world may be a warning of bitter days to come. God will wean us from the earth some way – the easy way if possible, the hard way if necessary. It is up to us. – A.W. Tozer

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who finds this world

increasingly painful –

I hope (blessedly) for

the joy of Christ’s return

 

Is This Your Dancing Day?

Advent 2

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;

I would my true love did so chance

To see the legend of my play,

To call my true love to my dance.

(Traditional English Carol, William Sandys)

Yesterday, I told you that I set up one of my two Christmas playlists on Pandora around an obscure English carol, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day. (Ever heard it? Take a moment to listen here!)

Anyway, I know it because my kids once sang it in choir. It’s bright and lively. But I never looked at the lyrics … until yesterday when I was telling you about it! I never thought to ask, “Who’s ‘dancing day’ are we singing about?” And when I read line two, “my true love did so chance,” I thought, “Uh-oh! Chorale or not, did I accidently create a second secular station.” So today I want to ask, who’s ‘dancing day’ does this choir anthem sing about, and who’s his ‘true love’?

Someone is inviting his ‘true love’ to ‘the legend of [his] play.’ Who’s play? What great drama will this choral story unfold?

The second verse answers the question … and again my heart can soar …

Then was I born of a virgin pure,

Of her I took fleshly substance

Thus was I knit to man’s nature

To call my true love to my dance.

This is Christ’s story! We are our Lord’s ‘true love,’ and this carol invites us to his dance! The incarnation invites us into Christ’s divine drama.

The full version of the carol – which isn’t always sung – is a many versed telling of Christ’s life and ministry on earth:

  • “Baptized [beneath] the Holy Ghost[‘s] glance” (verse 4).
  • “Into the desert … led” (verse 5).
  • “The Jew[ish leaders] loved darkness rather than light” (verse 6)
  • “For thirty pence Judas me sold” (verse 7).
  • “Before Pilate [I was] brought … They scourged me and … judged me to die” (verse 8).
  • “Then on the cross hanged I was … then down to hell I took my way” (verses 9 and 10).
  • “Then up to heaven I did ascend … on the right hand of God, that man may come unto the … dance” (verse 11).

“Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love, This have I done for my true love,” sings the chorus. (Yes, if you haven’t listened yet, rejoice here.)

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s loved

by the Dancing King

(who is divinely different

than Abba’s Dancing Queen)

 

What’s on Your Christmas Playlist?

Advent 2

A half dozen doctrinally sound carols serve to keep alive the great deep truth of the incarnation, but aside from these, popular Christmas music is void of any real lasting truth. – A.W. Tozer

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

That’s in this year’s iTunes list of top ten Christmas songs. And I joyfully confess that I grew up with the Andy Williams Christmas specials, and people (perhaps lots of people like me) enjoy singing along to old familiar songs at Christmas. It’s wonderfully nostalgic. Therefore, one of my playlists is a mix of the secular (the classic crooners like Andy Williams and Bing Crosby) and religious (classic crooners like Nat King Cole, singing classic carols).

Well, if you dive deeper into iTunes top ten, many clearly enjoy “rocking out” to staples like “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” (Those definitely aren’t my choice!)

Others – as evidenced by the popularity of Hallmark’s Christmas movies – enjoy a little romance at Christmas too. Indeed, several of the top Christmas songs reflect this theme. Wham’s “Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” top the top ten. And Dean Martin, also near the top of the list, keep trying to extend an evening of romance, singing, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

I freely admit that I have a few of these on my playlist! Nevertheless, it’s worth pondering, where do these secular songs point us? Like the other eleven months of the year, the secular points us to the things of this earth. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” “Silver Bells … it’s Christmas time in the city.” “In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend he’s Parson Brown.”

God cares about the things of this earth! Christmas is fully about the incarnation. Christ coming in human form. But part of the goal of his coming was to point us above this world, beyond it’s worries, concerns, excesses, and pain. A. W. Tozer says, “A half dozen doctrinally sound carols serve to keep alive the great deep truth of the incarnation, but aside from these, popular Christmas music is void of any real lasting truth.”

So what’s on your Christmas playlist?

I have two. One is a mix – old carols, plus a little secular Christmas nostalgia. Nevertheless, I try to stay mostly away from lyrics like Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas (is You),” with an ultimate emphasis on me, myself, and “I” wanting. So I created a second Pandora station based on an obscure Christmas Carol: Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day. Creating a station around an obscure Christian hymn guarantees that pretty much only Christian hymns are triumphantly sung as I tune into the wonder of God’s love at Christmas. And my heart needs this as much (and truly more) than the nostalgia.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who was listening

to his “half-secular” playlist

while writing this.

The last one I heard …

Mary’s Little Boy Child

(Andy Williams)

Hark now hear the angels sing
A new king born today
And man will live forevermore
Because of Christmas day