Sunday, July 20, 2014

"The City Without a Church"

"I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb." (Rev. 21:22)

It is because to large masses of people Christianity has become synonymous with a temple service that other large masses of people decline to touch it. It is a mistake to suppose that (people) are opposed to Christianity: (they) would still follow Christ if He came among them.

- "The City Without a Church", Henry Drummond

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Covenant Devotional #7 - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

"Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." - (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ESV)

Home is the place where they keep the porch light on for you. Where, even when you roll in late after a long time away, you know you'll find a plate wrapped in tin foil on the kitchen counter garnished with a hand written note. While it's true that "The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.", that's the difference between a thief and a son: both may slip across the threshold well after midnight and as quietly as possible, but one has dinner waiting for him.

Jesus knows it's going to be quite a shock to creation when he finally returns - as the unveiled Lord of creation - to set things to rights. To a great many people, that moment couldn't come as more of a surprise. But he is not concerned about those whom he has called and whom he has known. Whenever it is that his journey brings him back across the threshold of our world, he knows that we'll be waiting, as we would for anyone whom we have loved and long expected.

Lord Jesus, we wait for you. May our lives be a table set in patient expectation for your coming.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Covenant Devotional #6 - Matthew 24:14-30

"... And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

(Matthew 24:14-30 ESV)

We wait neither in vain, nor eternally. As short-lived and generally short-sighted as we modern westerners tend to be, it is easy, I think, to only half believe the truths we speak. Particularly when it comes to the ultimate, impending termination of this present age as it is washed over and categorically subsumed by the age to come with the return of Christ.

We struggle with perspective and we struggle with “forever”. To my five year-old daughter, a two hour car ride is “forever”. We Americans tend to think that a couple hundred years as a nation and a breathtaking defense budget means that we’ll be around forever. But destinations are ultimately reached, empires rise and fall, and this age of creation will one day be brought to an end. Just because it’s been two thousand years since Jesus said, “I’ll be back”, that doesn’t mean he didn’t mean it. He did. And he does. “They will see the Son of Man coming…”, Jesus says; and we will. As surely as the night gives way to dawn itself, He comes.

And so we pray: Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Covenant Devotional #5 - Matthew 9:1-8

"And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men." - (Matthew 9:1-8 ESV)

What is it that you are waiting on Jesus for? A new job? Physical healing? A spouse? Emotional restoration? These things do matter to him. Jesus cares about any and all of our hurts and needs that we submit to his care, in fact. He invites us to cast our concerns upon him in order that he might make them his own. Jesus cares about our immediate and daily needs. But do you know what he cares about even more? That we would accept his forgiveness and embrace, and his restoration of us unto himself.

Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.“ This was not the paralyzed man’s most obvious and pressing concern. This was not the need his friends had in mind when they brought him to Jesus. But it was the chance to speak a word of forgiveness - even more than healing - that Jesus leapt upon with joy. More than anything, our savior longs that we would fall into his arms and receive HIM before receiving all else FROM him.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your forgiveness, in light of which all of our lesser needs dim by comparison.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Covenant Devotional #4 - Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. - (Matthew 25:1-13 ESV)

Inasmuch as what we wait for matters, HOW we wait matters, too. Children have much to teach us about what it looks like to live in a spirit of joyful (if often impatient) expectation. An upcoming birthday, a special outing, a visit from a loved one: we have to be careful how much advance notice we give our five year-old daughter about any occasion of note, because from that very moment, the countdown is on. “How many days NOW?” becomes the refrain, ad nauseam, until the time arrives. A test of patience and grace for us parents, to be sure, but there is something beautiful in her unfiltered longing. Adulthood tends to dim our expectations, doesn’t it?

(We) know neither the day nor the hour.” How will our Lord find us when he comes? On tiptoe, brimming with joyful expectation for his arrival, or dozing off in the darkness of apathy and unpreparedness? The Lord knows his own, and they are those whose hearts beat with childlike longing until they see his face.

Lord, grant us hearts of unfettered longing, that we may embrace the joy of your coming.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Covenant Devotional #3 - Psalm 123

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

(Psalm 123 ESV)

Waiting. How much of life is consumed with waiting? Waiting for the next season. Waiting for this one to pass. Waiting for the “to do” list to shrink, for the house to be clean, for the next vacation, next holiday, the next moment of reprieve. How much of life is just spent waiting for relief, in one form or another?

“Carpe Diem! Live for the moment!”; our motivational posters cry out, but the truth remains that we are rarely - if ever - fully present for the day or moment at hand. We are simply biding time: waiting. How might we ever learn what it means to stop waiting and begin to genuinely live?

What we wait for matters. As people created for another kind of world, it may be that we are hard-wired for longing, but it is in discovering the rightful center of our ultimate longing that we are set free to live richly and fully in the midst of all our lesser wants. It is in waiting upon the LORD that we learn to wait well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Covenant Devotional #2 - Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

(Matthew 23:1-12 ESV)

At every turn, Jesus wages war against the idol of self. Indeed, for the western world, this is perhaps his most troublesome characteristic. In a culture addicted to the exultation of self, the teachings of Jesus concerning self-regard are inescapably piercing. Thanks to the digitized and globalized projections of self enabled by the explosion of social media, I can’t even eat a sandwich without capturing, transmitting and caring what the whole world thinks about my gastro-existential experience. How, then, am I supposed to exercise the manner of self-regard that Jesus calls us into?  

The answer we are given is that idols are not simply laid down; they must be replaced. We do not achieve genuine humility by simply willing to regard ourselves less, but by regarding our Creator more. It is in the light of that preeminent glory that we are at once made laughably small AND eternally significant. This is the mystery of grace; that as we humble ourselves before the glory of the Lord, that very glory lifts and carries us Heavenward in Christ Jesus.