Devotions

Elvis Left the Building. Jesus did what?

Advent 1

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. – John 1:11

“Elvis has left the building!”

This phrase, you probably know, was uttered at the end of many of Elvis Pressley’s concerts to disperse frenetic crowds. It was first uttered sixty-two years ago this week in the middle of a concert in Shreveport, Louisiana. Elvis was an act at the center of the show, and after he left the stage, fans were roaring so loudly that the next performers couldn’t be heard. So concert promoter Horace Logan took the stage to calm the crowd: All right, all right, Elvis has left the building. I’ve told you absolutely straight up to this point. You know that. He has left the building. He left the stage and went out the back with the policemen and he is now gone from the building.

HE LEFT … that became a signature phrase for a fabled performer.

HE CAME … that’s should be the signature phrase for Jesus Christ … at Christmas … at Advent … and in all Christian theology.

He came. He came! Almighty God stepped off the throne of heaven, took off the robes of light, put on human flesh, came to live among sinful creatures, and died to save us from our sins.

There are many theological, Christological points that we could call “most important.” But none of them would matter much if it weren’t for those two little words: He came.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’d rather

celebrate the one

who came rather

than the one

who left

Walking in the Footsteps of the Prophets

Advent 1

the Old Testament came alive in Christ.  It was as if Moses and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and all the minor prophets hovered around Him, guiding His footsteps into the way of the prophetic scriptures. – A.W.Tozer

This passage leapt off the page when Mary Louise and I were reading A.W. Tozer’s Advent devotional From Heaven.

There are 300-plus Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. They were made, indeed, by the likes of “Moses and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and all the minor prophets.” Many were – and still are – blind to coming of the Messiah and promises fulfilled. But those who were looking thrilled as they watched Scripture be fulfilled before their very eyes.

It’s still thrilling. The enduring Christian message is that God had a plan from beginning of history. Therefore, he wove hundreds of promises throughout the pages of Scripture. At Christmas, we ponder the specificity of things like … born of a virgin … in Bethlehem … of the line of David. At the cross, we marvel at how Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 – just two of scores of prophecies – describe with specificity the events of the crucifixion (hundreds of years before crucifixion was even invented).

It’s thrilling, and I love Tozer’s image of Moses, David, and Isaiah virtually walking with Jesus through his days and through all these fulfillments. As Mary and Joseph made their way to the Bethlehem, can’t you almost imagine the ancient prophet Micah (who once prophesied this part of the story) leading the donkey up the final mile to Bethlehem, while Joseph climbed up on the donkey to hold his laboring wife in the saddle. That’s imagination rather than fact, of course. But can’t you imagine heaven touching earth as Jesus, in Luke 4:18, opened the Isaiah scroll? As he proclaimed that he was the Messiah, come to proclaim release to the captives, can’t you imagine Isaiah standing there beside him, speaking with him in a kind of heavenly stereo?

Okay, maybe it’s the words of the prophets – the Word of God – that guided the holy family’s footsteps and echoed as Jesus spoke, but can’t you see the pages of Scripture coming alive as Jesus walked the paths of Galilee and spoke in the Temple.  “The Old Testament came alive in Christ,” said Tozer, “It was as if Moses and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and all the minor prophets hovered around Him, guiding His footsteps into the way of the prophetic scriptures.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who loves

the Living Word

 

 

Advent Perspective

Advent 1

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7

Mary Louise and I headed to the doctor just the other day … another step on her miraculous journey of healing. As I drove, she read from our Advent devotional, A. W. Tozer’s From Heaven. Part of the theme was grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.

And the question became, “Was this a day of grace?!”

Let me set the scene … This was a Wednesday afternoon. Tuesday night I’d slept at the hospital with Mary Louise’s father – heart cath, two stents. Then I’d spent Wednesday morning running uptown to court to help with an unresolving custody case. Then I hurried back to the hospital to help my father-in-law get home. Then I rushed to my house to pick up Mary Louise for her doctor’s appointment. On the way uptown, we hustled first to the pharmacy to bring medications to her dad.

And we had a sudden choice: Do we focus on the busyness, craziness, exhaustion, and worry? Exhausted? Yes. Mary Louise’ body is exhausted from major surgery, and I’d just slept fitfully on a hospital couch. And worried? Sure. Though Mary Louise’s father’s heart cath went well, we’re legitimately worried about him. So … do we focus on the busyness and craziness? Or on the grace upon grace? (In fact, have you ever had a season when it’s hard to see the grace?)

Can I tell you the truth, as we drove downtown busyness, worry, and exhaustion were the furthest things from our minds. We were reading about God’s provision through Jesus Christ – grace – and we started thinking about what we’re thankful for.

  • Thanksgiving festivities – just the week before.
  • Three boys, two daughters-in-law, and three grandkids.
  • Our church family (including all the recent kindnesses bestowed).
  • The beauty of that fall day.
  • The privilege to worship God in this season.

And suddenly busyness, surgery pain, and worry weren’t even on the radar.

And that’s the precise prescription from today’s passage in Philippians. Circumstances can obviously rock our boats and threaten to overwhelm us. And that’s why God’s Word calls us to learn daily survival tactics before the real trials come. To conquer the worries of the world, God advises us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Rejoice. Pray. Give Thanks. Rejoice. Pray. Give Thanks. When we do that, and in spite of occasional circumstances, we begin to find a peace that passes all understanding. And we see God’s grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who spent the end

of the day, eating a

home cooked meal

provided by a friend,

and going to church

to pray with our

church family

(It was a great day.

God was present.)

 

Who’s Really Creative? Who’s Derivative?

Advent 1

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands – Acts 17:24

There are two kinds of things in the universe – that which is made and that which is not made. There is only one thing not made: God! Everything else is made. God created stars and planets, elements and minerals. God created and still sustains life and breath. Angels, archangels, cherubim, and seraphim are created. And while humans can “invent” and “create,” all that we do – at best – is merely derivative. God gives us knowledge. God graces us with talents. Indeed, God ultimately creates the atoms and protons which form the elements with which we supposedly “create.”

Let’s say this another way … There are two kinds of things in the universe – that which is limited and that which is unlimited. We’re finite; God is infinite. We’re mortal; God is eternal. There are limits to our power; God is omnipotent. We know bits; God is omniscient. We’re bound to time; God transcends it.

And the miracle of Christmas – of the incarnation – is that the infinite God willingly chose to limit himself. Philippians 2:6-8 records it like this: “though he was in the form of God, [Jesus-the-Son] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” That, indeed, is what “being born in human likeness” would have been like: slavery, confinement, limits, finitude. Philippians continues to explain this humble self-limiting, saying, “And being found in human form, he [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

The incarnation is God’s humble self-limiting. Our brains can process the concept, but I don’t think they can comprehend the magnitude of this condescension.

And it was done because of … love.

In Christ’s Love,

a liar

(a guy who likes to

say he’s creative,

but is really just

derivative)

 

 

God (Re)Unites Us

Advent 1

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:22-23

God used to walk with Adam in the Garden.

Then came the Fall. Sin separated us from God. It was (and still is) a great divide.

But Advent is our hope!

For century upon century, God’s people rebelled. Sin separated them again and again from God. Nevertheless, for century upon century, God (like a good parent) would repeatedly discipline … and then repeatedly forgive.

And while this cycle of rebellion-reproof-and-reconciliation played over and over, God’s prophets kept proclaiming that a Savior – the Messiah – would come.

And then it happened. First came an angel. Nine short months before Messiah’s birth, Gabriel proclaimed a name and title for this coming Savior: Emmanuel. It means, “God is with us.”

God used to walk with Adam in the Garden. Now God was walking again with his people … along the shores of Galilee …  amid the streets of Jerusalem … in the midst of infected lepers … to the dinner tables of tax collectors and sinners.

Sin separates us. But God (re)unites us.

That’s the message of Advent. God’s presence is here. It’s a present reality. Christ is come. And yet … it’s not fully here, is it? We just get glimpses. We still see through that mirror dimly. But … we now have hope. God used to walk with us in the garden. Our sin pushed and continually pushes him away. Yet advent is promise that God comes down from heaven to dwell among us (see John 1:14). And for those who hope and believe, his presence will be without end.

That’s the hope. That’s the promise.  That’s Advent.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who could fit

into a Bible story

(when Christ comes

tonight to the table of

this tax collector and

sinner, I’ll have my

Advent candles lit)

 

What is Advent?

Advent 1

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

What is Advent?

Advent is our hope!

Advent, you probably know, is the inaugural season of the church year celebrated as the four Sundays (plus intervening days) leading up to Christmas.

This season is often marked with an Advent wreath. Four candles crown this evergreen circle, and for each week – whenever we gather prayerfully around the wreath – a new candle is lit. Therefore, as the days outside grow shorter and shorter, the light of the wreath (and the light of our hope) grows brighter and brighter.

This candlelit wreath is a powerful symbol. It reminds us that Advent is a season of bright anticipation. This season first throws us backward in time. Our hearts join with God’s people of old as we anticipate the first coming of the Messiah. We still celebrate that first coming – Christmas – with great anticipation, and as we wait, old Messianic prophecies are proclaimed. Therefore, with the ancients, we hunger for the incarnation of Jesus – God’s Son coming in flesh – and Advent helps us pray for Christ’s life to born in us anew.

As moderns, Advent helps us live in the bold confidence that God’s ancient promises have been fulfilled. God is alive and active. We can trust in his Word, even across centuries. And this confidence propels us now forward in time!

Christ himself repeatedly proclaimed that he would come again. The promise of Christ’s future return grounded the early church in great hope. Often in the face of great persecution, early Christians (and hard-pressed followers throughout the generations) knew that God would make all things whole and right and new. And looking backward at all the promises fulfilled at Christmas gave them the rich confidence that God’s saving work – including his return in glory – will come to us again.

I heard a pastor say once that as Advent dawned, he saw a sign in a local restaurant. It said, “Waiters wanted.” That’s what Advent is about. With the ancients, we anticipate the coming of Christ at Christmas. With the persecuted Christians throughout the ages … and with the sick and dying … we wait for the pains of this broken world to end and for Christ to return in glory.

That’s what Advent is all about. And that’s why Advent is our hope!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wants

to be a waiter

 

Why Didn’t They Arrest Jesus that Day?

John 7

Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you?” – John 7:45-47

In John 7, Jesus is again in Jerusalem, celebrating one of the Jewish festival. In verse 32, after he’s been inspiring many of the people – and thus, offending most of the leaders – the Pharisees sent the temple police to arrest him. I love how in today’s verse, the arresting officials came back empty handed. Why?

First, they came back empty handed because it wasn’t yet Jesus’ time. In fact, he says precisely this in verse 6, and all through the Gospels, no human was going to upend God’s timing for betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. (There were times, for example, when angry crowds were going to push Jesus off a cliff – Luke 4 – yet when they went to push, Jesus had disappeared! It wasn’t yet his time.) Thus, when the Pharisees sent the temple police to arrest Jesus, it wasn’t going to happen … yet. And that’s the first reason the Jesus wasn’t arrested in John 7 – “6 My time has not yet come.”

But there’s a second reason. The big tough soldiers from the temple went out. They probably watched him for while. They probably kept looking for an opportunity to arrest Jesus without too much of a commotion. Yet, as they waited, they were surely listening in – at least passively – and suddenly something changed within them! “Never has anyone spoken like this!” they would report. And the fear of the Lord (in the good sense of the term) became greater in them than their fear of their earthly masters … and so they came back empty handed.

In our lives, we’re called to many things in the name of the Lord. How many of us don’t do some things sometimes because we’re afraid of what the world will think? We’re afraid for our reputation. We’re uncomfortable. We don’t want to be thought strange. What will it take to increase your fear of the Lord (in a good sense) so that you’re more inspired by God than worried about the world?