Week 4 Devotional Blog (Jan. 21-27)

Day 1

Luke 5:33-6:5

"And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Luke 6:5)

Jesus addresses two aspects of normative religious practice in Judaism, from which He and his followers were diverting, and for which they were drawing the ire of the Pharisees. The Jews were unsettled by their neglect of fasting and the Sabbath. And Jesus is speaking to the reinterpretation and reapplication of the law in light of himself.

First, on fasting… Jesus isn’t discouraging the practice. In fact, he is reinforcing it’s legitimate place in our personal worship. However, the Pharisees, as we will see them do consistently, are thinking in the wrong categories. Their tradition of fasting was obligatory. They entered into this as a way of garnering favor from God. It was a sobering reminder of their inadequacy and guilt. Fasting, in the old paradigm, was a way And Jesus says that his followers don’t need to fast while he’s here because the connection fasting is supposed to nurture with God is being enjoyed personally, through Christ. But, following his death, resurrection and ascension, they will need to recover this practice. Only under the new paradigm of God’s Kingdom, fasting will no longer be a somber and heavy expression of their sin, but it will celebrate the lifting of their burden of sin. Rather than lamenting their need, they will be rejoicing in God’s provision for their need. Rather than a countenance that reflects the misery of their guilt, they will gladly fast as a way of feasting on God’s grace and entering into the fellowship made possible with Him through Jesus.

Whereas the old way of fasting highlighted sin, the new way of fasting highlights salvation. Jesus’ followers are not to be sad and overly serious people as much as they are to be a satisfied and celebratory people. And that’s what true fasting is… an acknowledgment and celebration of God’s grace in Jesus, who is the bread of life, and the One who satisfies the true hunger of our souls. Fasting is a physical reminder of God’s enoughness.

Second, on the Sabbath… Jesus, again, is not dispensing with the Sabbath, but he is correcting their restrictive traditions related to the Sabbath. He’s not going into a lot of detail at this point, or in this particular text, but when he says, “The son of man is Lord over the Sabbath,” he is claiming the authority to reinterpret and reapply what they think they know about the Sabbath. He’s letting the Pharisees know that their understanding of the Law, and how they use the Law needs correcting.

And I guess the important question for us is whether we’re clinging tightly to our preferences, traditions, religious understandings, things we’re comfortable with, or the way we’ve always done things, when Jesus came to show us a better way? I wonder if Jesus has the authority in our lives to correct what our church taught us, what our parents taught us, what our youth pastor taught us, or what culture is teaching us. That Jesus says he is Lord over the Sabbath is specific… but we must realize that Jesus is Lord over everything… our time, resources, talent, skill, relationships, stewardship, sexuality, vocation, free time, entertainment choices, eating and drinking, self-care, ministry involvement… he is Lord over our past, present and future. Are you living under that Lordship or are you compartmentalizing Jesus’ influence and authority to the areas where you are comfortable yielding it, while maintaining autonomy over parts of your life which you want to protect from Jesus?

A Prayer for the Lordship of Jesus:

King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, forgive my pride and arrogance that presumes authority and ownership over my life. I confess that I want to rule my life and make my own choices. I even want you to be a factor in my life and choices, I just don't want you to be Lord over it. I resist that. I feel my impulse to guard my life from your Lordship rather than to gladly submit to your Lordship. Please forgive me that rebellion and distrust. Heal my self-destructive and sinful inclination to restrict you to the margins and periphery of my life. Holy Spirit, produce in me a desire to live under the Lordship of Jesus. Give me the wisdom and humility to want his authority, rather than to resent it. And help me diligently seek the wisdom only you can give for alignment with your ways, that I might find the joy of living under the gracious and good rule of the Lord Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.

Day 2

Luke 6:6-19

"... so that they might find a reason to accuse him… who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases." (Luke 6:7, 18)

There are those who are fixated with the law and those who are fixated on Jesus. There are those who want to confine Jesus to their narrowly defined categories, and those who just want to be close to Jesus. There are those who want to accuse him and judge him, and those who want to receive from him all that he has to offer. There are those looking for any reason to reject and discredit Jesus, and those who are looking for any reason to follow Jesus because they recognize his ultimate credibility.

The difference is our hearts. Could the posture of your heart be accurately characterized a wide open to Jesus? That’s the key to finding life in him.

A Prayer for Openness:

Father, I admit that I’m way to self-assured in my cynicism and skepticism. I feel strongly about my doubts regarding Jesus, the gospel and the genuineness of my faith and salvation. I place so many limitations on you, and set so many boundaries to protect myself from you. I naturally resist what I can’t see and touch and taste physically. And because of these things, I close myself off from so much of the life Jesus came to give me. I repent of a hardened posture of the heart that presumes to determine what you can and can’t do, or what you will and won’t do. And right now, where I sit, I ask you to open my heart to the fullness of Jesus… I don’t want a part of him and his grace and his truth… I want the fullness of Him and all that he brings. Give me an open-hearted embrace of Jesus, that I might receive the healing I need, at the all the levels I need it. Amen.

Day 3

Luke 6:20-26

Blessed are you... Woe to you...

These 7 verses contrast those who receive Jesus and all that he has to offer and those who miss out on Jesus and all he has to offer. He is not ascribing moral value to material poverty, physical hunger or emotional grief over material wealth, stuffed bellies, and emotional satisfaction. Jesus came to sufficiently and even abundantly provide for all of our need, But those who have no lack in and of themselves, have no need for him. And that’s the difference Jesus is juxtaposing: Need.

Jesus meets the needy where they are to supply for them what they cannot manufacture or produce on their own. To embrace our weakness and inability to provide for ourselves - spiritually and internally as well as materially and physically - is the necessary prerequisite for coming to Jesus. He isn’t looking for you to do for yourself what he came to do for you. He’s waiting for you to acknowledge you can’t do for yourself what only he can, and was meant to do, for you.

Will you stop trying to have your need met by earthly things, and look to have your needs, which are many, met in and through Jesus?

A Prayer for Need:

Lord God, help me to know and feel the deep need in my soul, for you. Cause me to distrust my own sense of okayness rooted in anything other than Christ. Let my heart feel, my mind know, and my mouth confess, as the song says, “Lord, I need you, oh I need you. Every hour I need you. My one defense, my righteousness. Oh God, how I need you.” Let that reality sink in deep so that I will come always to you in weakness, and not to try to live detached from the sufficiency, satisfaction and joy that your grace provides. Amen.

Day 4

Luke 6:27-36

"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

Jesus’ instructions are basically to resist every natural impulse you have in reacting to sinful and selfish people, and instead respond in the opposite spirit. Jesus came to give us glimpse of and invite us into the Kingdom of God, which has altogether different operating principles than those in the fallen world. But Jesus also recognizes his Kingdom has to infiltrate earthly Kingdoms and the structures they’ve produced. So he prepares us for oppression, injustice, exploitation, abuse, violence, poverty and all of these broken realities. He’s inviting us to combat the personal, systemic and cultural brokenness around us, by embodying a different ethic and an alternative approach.

In all that he’s saying not to day, he’s acknowledging the instincts which arise within each of us. He’s being honest about the temptation to respond to people and situations in normal and natural ways. But he’s also helping us to see how our normal and natural instincts are sinful and they perpetuate the cycles of chaos and dysfunction which are costing us our humanity. So, he’s telling us not to trust or follow our impulses and emotions. Instead, he’s saying let God’s mercy toward us, which is ultimately displayed in and through the finished work of Christ, reorder our thoughts and feelings and instincts so that we respond in an unnatural way… indeed, in a supernatural way.

Our natural and normal ways of interacting with and relating to people are chronically and compulsively self-centered, and that’s the cause of the brokenness in the world which we lament. The only way out of that is to reject what comes easiest to us, no matter how powerfully those urges come.

But Jesus’ way of change isn’t behavior modification. The various instructions he gives here in how to respond are powerless to produce the behaviors he’s advocating. We simply aren’t merciful. We can possibly act merciful for a time or in isolated scenarios, but we aren’t merciful, so we won’t consistently treat people mercifully.

Jesus doesn’t leave us to white knuckle it on our own. He grounds the command in the gospel. Behavior modification won’t work. We need heart transformation and an overall internal reorientation. That’s why he doesn’t stop at “Be Merciful.” He continues on with “even as your Father is merciful.” Mercy extended flows from mercy received. The only way we’ll even desire to fulfill Jesus’ commands here, much less have the power to obey them, is if we live with conscious of the mercy we’ve been given by God.

As we nurture a mindfulness and gratitude for the mercy we’ve been given in Christ, our capacity to give mercy to those who sin against us will increase. The world we all want, where oppression and injustice and evil and violence cease, is a world that can only be recreated by Jesus’ mercy landing on us, so it can emanate from us. We can’t and won’t see that fully until Jesus returns and ushers in a reign of mercy, but we can, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, provide glimpses of the world we long for and the reality which Christ died to unleash.

A Prayer for Mercy:

God, you have been merciful beyond my imagination. I have deserved nothing but your judgment and wrath and yet i’ve received nothing but your forgiveness and love. That’s a miracle. Please forgive me for growing callous to that. Forgive me for diminishing your mercy by my pride and self-righteousness and thoughts of how I deserve more and better from you and from people. Rather than clamoring for what I think or feel I deserve, would you help me feel my desperate need for mercy. And would you let me live inside the felt reality of your mercy, so that mercy might flow out of me. Give me the self-awareness and maturity to take my thoughts captive, to arrest my emotional reactions, and your mercy toward me to consciously reorder my responses to others. Amen.

Day 5

Luke 6:37-45

"...for each tree is known by its own fruit." (Luke 6:44)

There’s a lot in this text. We all know deep down that we need to change, but the only way we’ll ever truly be able to change is if we recognize who we truly are and what truly needs to change. Jesus is giving us some insight into how to do that.

Jesus is teaching us to be self-reflective, understanding that we are responsible for our words and actions. The character and quality of our lives are the fruit of our inner life. How we relate and respond to others is evidence of our desires and attitudes. We can’t blame these things on other people or the circumstances surrounding us. We are responsible for ourselves. And Jesus is telling us that we can trace the tone of our relationships, the use of our words, the health of our emotions, the character of our lives back to the true condition of our hearts where we find unmet longings, disappointed expectations, retained bitterness, stubborn self-defense, low grade hatred, and a pathological need to distract from my own brokenness and contribution to dysfunction. Jesus is inviting us to know ourselves as we really are so that we can come to know him as he really is… to see the pervasiveness of our guilt, so we can receive the comprehensiveness of his grace.

We have to be willing, however, to take the time to self-reflect without self-justifying. We have to self-critique without self-loathing. We need to see beneath our best intentions, to the worst motivations. We have to stop being so skeptical of others hearts while giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, and instead give others the benefit of the doubt while being skeptical of ourselves.

That takes time, solitude, humility, honesty, and objectivity. But it’s worth it. Growing in self-awareness with Jesus in full view is the most freeing thing you can do. This is what it means to come to Jesus and follow Jesus. To grow in our knowledge of ourselves while growing in our knowledge of God through Christ, so that we might walk in repentance and faith. Repentance for who we are and faith in who he is, so we can die, and Christ can live in and through us.

A Prayer for Self-Understanding:

Father, in your kindness, give me the discipline of silence and solitude, to prayerfully consider my life before you. Give me insight into my own heart, and the humility and wisdom to see myself as I really am, with all my competing desires and affections, many of them selfish and fleshly. Help me to see my own longings for sinful things as well as my inordinant desires for good things that elevate them beyond their designed place in my life. And give me eyes to see your beauty, your transcendence, and the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, that I might have controlling desires for you and to please you. I need your insight into my own heart to truly connect to your heart. And that is my deep desire. Amen.



Week 3 Devotional Blog (Jan. 14-20)

Day 1

Luke 4:1-15

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil... And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee... (v. 1-2, 14)

I am struck, today, more by the bookends on either side of Jesus' temptation, than by the temptation itself. Jesus was filled with the Spirit at his baptism, and immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he was tempted. This confronts and deconstructs some huge assumptions in my own heart and mind.

My instinct is to think that being filled with the Spirit removes temptation from me. Being filled with the Spirit, I assume, should free me from any sinful desire or fleshly distraction and it should empower me to be singularly focused on godly activity and consumed by godly impulses. Luke 4 dispels that silly mythology. Not only was Jesus filled with Spirit and tempted. But he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness surrounding where temptation would come for him.

That is not to say he was tempted by the Spirit. Scripture is clear God doesn't tempt anybody. But God does send us into wilderness settings and realities which always present temptations. And Jesus overcame temptation and lived sinlessly, so being tempted in such environments should not discourage us or defeat us. Temptation is normative for life in the wilderness. And what temptation presents us with is an opportunity to sin, and an opportunity to worship by depending upon God, leaning into his power, and trusting in His word.

And v. 14 tells us that Jesus emerged from the wildnerness empowered by the Spirit. So Jesus was filled with Spirit, not to live outside of difficult earthly realities or above spiritual darkness and attacks, but rather to live within them while holding fast to the presence and power of God. And when, by His Spirit, we overcome temptation, we emerge from those situations stronger in the Spirit.

Moment by moment, as we walk by the Spirit, we are confronted with temptations that will quench the Spirit's work and drown out the voice of the Spirit, or which will nurture the Spirit's work and tune in more attentively to the voice of the Spirit. Whenever we step into new interactions, new social environments, new work demands, new wilderness settings that prey on our weaknesses, we have the opportunity to return from them in the power of the Spirit.

Jesus succeeded in his 40 days in the wilderness, where we so often fail. But because he overcame, we can overcome by following Jesus in our reliance upon the Spirit. What's perhaps even more encouraging is that we can overcome even when we fail. Because even when we fail we have the chance to confess, repent, and to be cleansed by the Spirit, and filled again to walk by the Spirit.

So let's go walk by the Spirit... but let's also be quick to admit when we operate in the flesh so we be reconciled again, to live Spirit empowered lives, even in the midst of wilderness realities.

Day 2

Luke 4:16-30

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up... And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. (v. 16, 29)

Reading this text, I can't escape from this fact... the people closest to Jesus, most familiar with Jesus, most exposed to Jesus, most connected to Jesus, were also those most hardened to Jesus and most numb to Jesus. Those people who had the most personal connection to Jesus were those so angry with him that they drove him out of town and wanted throw him off a cliff.

That's a jolt for someone like me who has been immersed in church, the Bible, Christian community and ministry environments from childhood. That stuff doesn't ensure my immunity to drift or resistance, it actually might make me more vulnerable to drift and resistance. Because nearness to Jesus and familiarity with Jesus, when it's void of intimacy with Jesus and surrender to Jesus, can make my diminished view of Jesus seem credible. That's what happened to so many in Nazareth.

In knowing Jesus personally, they didn't know Jesus at all. In seeing Jesus up close, they didn't see Jesus at all. In listening to Jesus, they never heard his voice. Because they made assumptions about Joseph's oldest son, they never had room to encounter God's only Son. In our exposure to Jesus and nearness to Jesus, it's easy to think we know Jesus better than we actually do. And before you know it, the real Jesus has little resemblance to the Jesus we're following.

We have to be vigilant in guarding our hearts from boredom and disenchantment with what is extraordinary. We must war against the impulse to think that we know Jesus better than we do. We will either take Jesus for granted and distance ourselves from him, pushing him away. Or, we will be constantly rediscovering the real Jesus in all his beauty and varied grace, so that we constantly reattach ourselves to him as he really is, and not as presume him to be.

Day 3

Luke 4:31-44

“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (v. 43)

In this passage, Jesus demonstrates his power over demons and disease, confirming that his authority extends over both the natural and the supernatural realms. And yet, in v. 43, Jesus declares explicitly the purpose for which he came to be the ministry of preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.

There are a few other times during his ministry where he specifically states the purpose for which he came, but healing is never among those purposes. In other words, Jesus' healing ministry was a supplemental part of his ministry. It served to authenticate the primary ministry which the proclamation of the gospel. The power Jesus demonstrates in his preaching and teaching, which was broadly recognized, drew credibility and confirmation through the signs and wonders he performed.

It is important to understand that people in 1st century Galilee, just like people in 21st century across the globe, get caught up in the sensational and supernatural manifestations of power. We start to seek signs and elevate miracles as an end in themself, which was never their purpose. Jesus' miracles were intended to draw attention to the message of the gospel. The signs Jesus performed were about persuading people of the salvation he came to provide.

We need the categories of signs and wonders, and of miraculous healing and deliverance. These are a real part of the ministry of Jesus then and now. But the larger purpose of his earthly ministry was gospel proclamation, and the larger purpose of the ministry of his people today is also gospel proclamation. God's miraculous intervention in the natural world is ultimately about God's miraculous redemption of natural men, so that they might become partakers of the divine nature.

A Prayer for Gospel Prioritization:

Father, I want to see the demonstration of your power through miracles of healing and deliverance. And I believe your Spirit is able to operate that way today. I ask you for an ongoing openness to that kind of ministry. But, I also confess that the gospel message is not always enough to capture my heart and mind. I sometimes get bored with the simplicity of the gospel. I want to see signs and wonders... I even think sometimes I need them to believe the gospel. I admit that what is primary to you sometimes becomes insufficient in my own estimation. Forgive me for the equal and opposite errors of dismissing signs and wonders as impossibilities, and for overemphasizing the need for signs and wonders necessities. Keep me open to and not cynical about signs and wonders, while granting me faith to believe and rejoice in the foolishness of the gospel as the reality to which signs and wonders are meant to point us. Strengthen my faith in the gospel and devotion to the gospel with or without accompanying signs and wonders. And keep me alert to notice the more ordinary subtle, yet supernatural, work of your Spirit in and around me. Let Jesus' purpose of proclaiming the gospel be my own joy and purpose. Amen.

Day 4

Luke 5:1-16

"...they left everything and followed him." (v. 11)

Peter, Andrew, James and John have this incredible personal experience in the presence of Jesus and encounter with the power of Jesus. That experience was actually not unique to them. We've read already of so many people having personal powerful experiences with Jesus, where healing and deliverance had taken place. What is unique to these 4 men, and the other disciples that would come behind them soon enough, was their response to Jesus.

"They left everything and followed him." Plenty of people enjoy the emotional uplift of Jesus' presence, and the sense of invincibility that comes from his power. Plenty of people delight in the blessing and good things that Jesus gives, but far fewer people delight in Jesus himself.

Peter's response to Jesus' miraculous provision for their economic need, wasn't to bask in the abundance, or to start rebranding his business or to develop a new marketing strategy to increase demand for their sudden and dramatic increase in in their supply chain. Peter experienced the power and presence of God in a tangible and material way and he responded by repenting of his sin and trusting in Jesus.

I wonder how many of us would see Jesus' provision of so many widgets as an endorsement of our lives rather than as a reason to confess our guilt and need before him. I tend to see visible success as reward for my life, rather than as grace despite my life. For all his impulsivity and insecurity that will be obvious in other moments, Peter's view of himself and Jesus in this moment is counterintuitive, unnatural and exactly right.

In what ways are you tempted today to see God's undeserved grace to you as God's earned payment to you? What kindnesses and gifts of God are tempted to fixate in to the neglect of their giver?

These first disciples didn't see God's abundant provision as something to be cherished, preserved or reproduced. They actually saw his blessing as something to be disregarded and surrendered to pursue closeness to Jesus himself... their hearts looked past the earthly comfort and success to the greater joy of intimacy with Christ.

As a disciple of Jesus, what possession, status or relationship might you be protecting and clinging tightly to under the pretense or assumption that it's God's provision, when it's actually keeping you from his call to follow him?

A Prayer for Relinquishing:

Heavenly Father, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, the one from whom all blessing flows, give me wisdom to distinguish between the wonderful gifts you lavish on me, and the ultimate gift of yourself given for me. Forgive me for the tunnel vision of my heart, that too often values things that flow from your hand more highly than you. Forgive my contentment with building my life on relationships, success, status and stuff detached from you. By your Spirit, would you help me to recognize those things which substitute for you, and would you help me relinquish their hold on my heart, that I might gladly give up any earthly gain or personal pleasure that I might gain Christ and follow him into eternal satisfaction. Amen.

Day 5

Luke 5:17-32

And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus performs 2 miracles in the first part of this passage... he heals the paralytic and he justifies the paralytic... To categorize supernatural healing for a natural ailment as a miracle elevated above divine forgiveness for human sin shows how small a view we have of our sin and of God's grace to us.

We're super impressed with physical healing but Jesus seems to regard pardon for the guilty as the greater work. It's just another example of how mixed up our categories are. We aren't even aware of our own real need... our deepest need, and so we miss Jesus' greatest provision.

That's what Jesus clarifies for the Pharisees and us in v. 31-32. The Pharisees didn't like the people Jesus associated with, because of they're obviously immoral lifestyles. They were broken and socially unsavory, which nurtured the self-righteousness of the religiously devout and morally upstanding elites. But Jesus tells us that their moral uprightness was a disadvantage to the Pharisees, because it masked their need and diminished any sense of their personal guilt before the Lord.

Jesus gets us thinking in the right categories though... telling us that he didn't come for the self-sufficient and self-reliant. He's a Savior, so the independent have no use for him. The point Jesus is making is not that anyone is healthy or righteous apart from Christ, but that those who can't see or won't admit the condition of their sin sick hearts have no part with Jesus. Jesus came to forgiven sinners, to cleanse the guilty, to free those in bondage, to raise the dead... and you can't receive what Jesus offers to you if you don't see your need for what he provides.

Jesus invites us to receive his mercy and grace, but not as those who are beyond the help and healing he brings. The key to life in Christ and with Christ is to recognize our moment by moment need for his grace toward our sinful condition, self-reliance, and willful resistance to him. To keep moving forward in Christ, we must keep admitting our total dependence on him... our need for grace is never less at any point in our walk with Jesus than it was when we first came to Jesus.

A Prayer for Dependence:

Lord, thank you that you have made my own inadequacies and sinfulness so obvious. Thank you for exposing the delusion and futility of my self-sufficiency. In your mercy, make it more obvious still. Keep me from ever believing I need you less than at any other point in my life, or less than anyone else in my life. Be my physician because I am sick and sinful and my condition is chronic. Keep me conscious of my utter dependence upon you so that I might never try to establish a life or identity independent of you. Amen.



Week 2 Devotional Blog (Jan. 7-13)

Day 1

Luke 2:1-21

"And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen..."

Jesus is born at an unremarkable time, in an unimpressive setting, visited by unimportant people... this is the humility God writ large. This is why we must feel our unworthiness to come to him, but never doubt his willingness to welcome us.

And when he does welcome us, as he did the shepherds in all their ordinariness, we do not leave our normal lives behind, but we live as those who return to normal life, in unseen places, among unknown people doing unnoticed work. But we do so also as those glorifying and praising God for what we have seen and heard.

This is real, biblical Christianity. We encounter Jesus personally, enter into life with God through identification with him, and then we return to life as those who bear witness to the glories and beauties of Jesus. We continually enter and re-enter his presence, connecting with him, sitting with him, drawing close to him, to be strengthened and nourished by him, while faithfully and boldly speaking of Jesus and the life we've found in and through him to those we're surrounded by.

A Prayer for Boldness:

Father, thank you for welcoming me into your arms and into your heart. Thank you for making a way for me to enter your presence and enjoy relationship with you. Show yourself and your love more fully to me today. Let me see and know you more deeply and more personally. And give me boldness and courage to speak naturally about the super-reality of the gospel and your grace revealed in Jesus.

Day 2

Luke 2:22-40

"Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Jesus is the great longing of Simeon's heart and Anna's heart as we see in this text. They are longing for him, open to him, excited about him, and instantly love him. But Simeon's words to Mary in v. 34-35 give us a fuller picture of Jesus' impact. Yes there are those who open themselves to Jesus and embrace him, but there are also many, like the religious leaders, who are hostile toward Jesus. The polarizing nature of Jesus could not be more strongly previewed.

Since the days which Luke writes about, the response of anyone to Jesus determines the trajectory of their life. Our lives rise and fall with our embrace or rejection of Jesus.

Paul will later speak of the foolishness of the cross and the weakness of the gospel. We crave strength of our own and we're drawn to displays of strength and power. Weakness doesn't excite us. Yet here's Jesus assuming a posture of vulnerability as a means of securing victory. And we resist the upside down nature of God's Kingdom because we want a kingdom that reinforces our agenda and our values and our ways of thinking.

But Luke says the backwards nature of our hearts and minds would be revealed in our responses to Jesus. Jesus clarifies everything about how we see the world and ourselves. Jesus exposes our self-reliance, self-gratification, self-protection and self-importance for what it is. And he calls us to lay it all down so we can experience life as it was meant to be in Jesus... and our response dictates the trajectory of our lives. Either we lean into him and, day-by-day, get caught up in life with God. Or, we lean on our own understanding and, day-by-day, disinegrate as we live detached from the only true source of real life.

A Prayer for Self-Awareness:

Merciful Lord, reveal my heart to me. Let me see the places of pride, self, sin, and the world, even the good things in my life which distract me from you and rob me of connection with you. Let me see my inner thoughts, feelings, desires and motivations for the darkness they are... let know well those things internal to me that obscure the fullness of Jesus. And do this, Father, not that I would despair in my helpless state, but that I would be all the more driven to repentance and cling all the more desperately to Jesus. Amen.

Day 3

Luke 2:41-52

"And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them."

I'm quite struck by Jesus' casual reply to his freaked out mom. I've seen this sort of dismissiveness out of 12-year-old boys in my own household, and it feels so disrespectful. Yet, Jesus is the sinless one. He is without sin and yet seemingly unconcerned about his mother's understandable and justified anxiety. I can only imagine how annoyed or angry she might have gotten with her son when he blamed her for not knowing where he was.

I guess my take away here is that we parents experience our kids at certain stages in life as utterly horrible when they may just be growing up. Of course your kids and mine are sinful, but Jesus seems scarily typical in his adolescent reaction here. I'm just convicted that I need to take less personally, respond more patiently and understand the appropriateness of teenage differentiation.

What's amazing here is Jesus' humility. He's God. He's clearly somewhat impressive at this stage to. His knowldge and wisdom are noticed as extraordinary. And not only did he submit himself to the Father in heaven by entering human history to live and die in our place. Not only did take on vulnerability and weakness as an infant and receive the loving care and nurture of human parents. But at the most difficult time in a kids life, with hormones raging within us, independence calling out to us, and rebellion tempting us, Jesus chose to submit to sinful parents.

That's stunning. And it poses two questions to me... 1) Who are we to think we shouldn't submit to God or human authority figures? 2) Who are we to think submission is not a primary thing we must teach our children to do if they are to walk with God?

God submits within himself, Son to Father, and Spirit to Son and Father. God also chose to submit to human authority figures and structures. Jesus submitted to those who were beneath him. Surely it is right that as his followers we learn to submit ourselves to earthly authority as an extension of our submission to His divine authority.

A Prayer for a Submissive Heart:

Sovereign Lord, forgive my chronic impulse for self-rule. I confess that I am a totally illegimate authority over my own life and I ask for the wisdom and humility to submit to your legitimate and gracious authority over my life. And as a part of that, Father, I ask for a submissive spirit toward all authority in my life which is delegated by you. I ask for a willingness to submit even my will to those I serve and lead where it is appropriate to die to myself. Heal my rebellious heart so that I love your authority and rejoice in the safety that you give. Amen.

Day 4

Luke 3:1-22

"Bear fruits in keeping with repentance."

This is the essence of John's message, preparing the hearts of people for the coming of Jesus. Even before they fully understand all that would be attached to Christ's coming, John is creating this foundation: that their (and our) natural instincts, thoughts, feelings, conclusions and understandings about life and God and self, were all wrong. The one thing that was certain prior to Jesus' Spirit-Empowered ministry, which was commenced in v. 22, is that we had to admit life isn't working on our terms and we have to open our hearts and minds to some new possibilities.

The same is true today for us. The life God intends for us cannot be enjoyed without repentance. There is no receptivity to Jesus, acceptance of Jesus, union with Jesus, belief in Jesus, love for Jesus, surrenderedness to Jesus, without repentance. We need a heart that humbly, honestly admits our weakness, brokenness, corruption, confusion, helplessness, and inflated self-importance. That's a heart that will surely crack open to Jesus and at least give him real consideration for our real need.

And John says that repentance is about action. Genuine repentance is recognized by the fruit of repentance. Repenting is literally "to turn". To bear fruit in keeping with repentance, then, is to stop giving ourselves to one thing and to instead give ourselves to another thing... and not just anything, but something in the opposite direction. In the sense John is calling people to, it's to turn from our responsiveness to our own desires and impulses, and to instead respond to God's strategies for finding life in him and living life for him.

You probably have specific questions about what repentance looks like for you. John's hearers did. That's why v. 10-14 are in the Bible... So that you feel safe to ask your questions about you, and so you can see the kind of thing he's talking about even if it doesn't address your exact situation. Repentance for all of us means that there are things we're doing that that diminish the worth of others, take advantage of others or exploit them more cruelly. Sin is not limited to our relational spheres, but it is most identifiable in the context of relationships. And if there are patterns in us of these things, we must repent.

Repentance is a gift of grace whereby God gives us a safe means of admitting our distortion of his design for us and others, and realigning with how he created things to work. We all have things we need repent for daily... not the least of which is the thought that I might not have anything to repent for at all. This is the duty of every Christian... to nurture a heart of repentance faithfully, so that we might embrace Jesus personally and more deeply all the time.

A Prayer for Repentance:

Forgiving and patient Father, thank you for your kindness that leads me to repentance. Please forgive my earnest exoneration of myself; the ease with which I justify my thoughts and actions and words; the seamlessness with which I defend myself both internally and outwardly. Give me eyes to see how backwards my natural instincts are. Give me a deep longing for repentance and cement my heart in a posture of repentance that I might continually walk before you with a sense of my obvious need. Weaken my stubborness and erode my ego that I might cultivate the soil of my heart to be always ready to receive the Lord Jesus and the truth of the gospel with a glad heart, and to respond obediently when it is sown.

Day 5

Luke 3:23-38

I preached recently on the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew's gospel, which differs in some ways from Luke's record. Whereas Matthew's line focuses on Jesus' Jewish ethnicity because he's writing to a Jewish audience, Luke seems to emphasize Jesus' humanity while writing to a broader and more Gentile audience. He's connecting those who Jews would have defined out of the saving work of the Messiah, directly to Christ.

In other words, Luke is reminding us that the story of Jesus, is relevant for everyone. He's hinting at the expansiveness of GOd's redemption which unfolds in Jesus' life and ministry. He's saying that if you are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, to borrow Lewis' language from the Chronicles of Narnia, then Jesus' life matters for you.

Geneaologies are usually used to connect a certain event or time period to a new time period. It's a way of beginning a new story but attaching to an old story. Geneealogies are about context. And Luke is doing that here. He's telling us that Jesus' life is connected all the way back to the Garden. His life finds is roots all the way back in the beginning. He is the new Adam. He is the one who is coming to set right all that Adam forfetied in Eden when he tried to enjoy life outside of God and his good design. Jesus' story is not just resolving Israel's story (though he is doing that too). The story of Jesus is also resolving humanity's story. He is entering into the realm of fallenness and brokenness to reclaim for us what our sinfulness has lost.

Jesus is coming to address the problems that Adam introduced. He's the one who would crush the head of the serpent according to Genesis 3:15. And even this far into the future, this distant from Luke's research and writing about Jesus, he's inviting for us to find resolution for our lives and our sin in Jesus. Just as we're all sinful in Adam, we can all be redeemed in Jesus. He's inviting us, 2,000 years removed, to look more closely and find our own connectedness to Jesus... to find our place in his story.

A Prayer for Connection:

Lord, it's so easy for me to live each day as if it stands alone with no connection to anything bigger or any other day. It's easy for me to be a prisoner of the moment and lose sight of you and your involvement in the here and now. But by faith you have made me your own. You claim me and have united me to your own Son. Help me to live today with a consciousness and delight that my choices, my actions, my relationships, my moments, are directly tied to Jesus and to the story of redemption that is unfolding in and through him. Help me to live in that reality today.



Week 1 Devotional Blog (Jan. 1-6)

Introduction to Luke

Luke 1:1-4

First off, I love the personality of Luke that comes through just in the opening. He is a very detail oriented, research-minded, fact-based, objective reporter on the life and ministry of Jesus. He isn’t coming at this from an emotionally charged, feelings centric perspective. He is interested in what is true and reliable based on verifiable evidence. In short, he’s writing as a natural skeptic to supernatural ideas. Luke is cognitive in his orientation and his narrative should be read and understood with that in mind.

Furthermore, I really appreciate his clarity of purpose in v. 4. He is writing an account of Jesus’ life and ministry in order to substantiate apostolic teaching and eye-witness testimony to the truth of the gospel. Luke knows that there are doubters and skeptics who struggle to believe and live in light of the claims of the biblical gospel, and so he’s writing as a predisposed doubter to doubters in order to alleviate their doubts. He wants them convinced of the gospel as ultimate reality, but only because he himself, against all odds has become convinced of gospel realities. The defined purpose of Luke’s account of Jesus’ life is so that we may be certain of the real Jesus and the true gospel as the surest footing for our whole lives.

And that’s why I keep reading the Bible diligently as I do… and it’s why I hope you’ll commit yourself to reading the Bible personally too… to grow in your understanding of the gospel, your trust in Jesus, and your certainty that he is worth reordering all of life around.

Day 1

Luke 1:5-25

Right out of the gate, Luke sets the stage with the difficult-to-resolve tension of a godly and righteous couple who were suffering the anguish and pain of childlessness into their advanced age. This deep desire of their heart, in spite of their devotion to God, had been withheld from them. And their hearts did not waver from the Lord in their suffering. Zechariah remains faithful to the Lord, and while serving as a priest, Luke, the medical doctor, oriented toward scientifically rooted causes and natural explanations for the things we experience, says something utterly supernatural occurred.

An angel appeared to Zechariah while he in the temple. Right away, Luke is telling us that we don’t even have the right categories and our worldview needs to be expanded to include spiritual realities which certainly influence and may actually physically manifest even within the material world we inhabit. He’s telling us our thoughts and ideas are too low, too small, too narrow, too limited, too restrictive, and if you want to understand truth, you have to willfully open your heart and mind to some new possibilities.

That message underlies the narrative here, and it’s threaded and reinforced throughout Luke’s gospel. Now, the message the angel delivers itself is super uplifting news, if not unbelievable, for Zechariah. Their dreams are coming true… their prayers are being answered. They’re going to have a son. And attached to this son is all kinds of breathtaking stuff about his impact on others, his purpose in the world, his calling before the Lord, and the direct connection to generationally anticipated promises God has made to Israel.

And Zechariah, as if it’s too good to be true, like many of us probably would, wants a way to know this isn’t some joke, or hallucination. And so the angel introduces himself personally, says he stands in the presence of God and has been sent by God himself with this news, and the confirmation of its authenticity will be that he won’t be able to speak until the child is born. God will bolster Zechariah’s belief with a constant and nagging reminder of his unbelief. God will strengthen his faith by keeping him aware of his natural bent toward faithlessness. These supernatural things are taking place in a ruggedly human space. There’s weakness, struggle, disbelief, doubt, confusion, anxiety, hope, and astonishment all swirling here.

I wonder how much of my own frustrations in life are God’s response to my lack of faith… I wonder if my grinding, groundhog day-esque struggles aren’t His gracious and obvious reminders that I’m dependent on Something and Someone outside of myself… that I’m living under the governing and authority of God and apart from his involvement, total dysfunction invades every part of my life. In Zechariah’s case, he had to compensate for his loss of speech and learn to live for some months with crippled communication, as if being a man wasn’t enough in that regard. But this is symbolic of how unbelief in God causes such disintegration.

But God delivers on his promise. Elizabeth, even in her old age, does conceive. Though it seemed so improbable and unbelievable, God’s word had merit. It was true. It was reliable. And it came to pass. God’s word spoke of a reality that was not yet and which seemed as though it never could be and yet all things were eventually conforming to His word and aligning to His purposes. That is the trajectory of all things… inevitable alignment with God’s declared word. Good for unto get on board.

A Prayer for Awareness:

Father, heighten my awareness of you moment by moment. Let every breath be drawn with mindfulness of your involved, not just generally in this world, but personally in my life. Deepen faith in my heart, even if you must use earthly frustrations to make me aware of my desperate, even if foolish, attempts at self-sufficiency. Give me confidence in your word over and above my own wisdom and the ways of this vain world. Let my thoughts, emotions and will converge on Christ today and every day, with full assurance of the emptiness of any alternative. Let me be persuaded of the truth of the gospel and all it’s implications for me and the world you’ve sent me into.

Day 2

Luke 1:26-38

Again today, we read Luke’s reporting of altogether remarkable and otherworldly developments. But how could it be otherwise? Redemption was lacing up it’s boots. God was coming to earth. The longing of every heart, and the yearning of all creation was being met. The reign of sin and death was coming to an end. The old world was beginning to deteriorate before us as the new world started its descent upon us. Of course God was using extraordinary means for this extraordinary event. Any eye roll from us at the thought of the divine activity around the Jesus’ birth should be distrusted and interrogated. That response from me and you is testifies to our efforts to shrink the world and our existence to a size and space that we can comfortably control. We reserve judgement over whether God chose reasonable means to come to our world or if he actually came to our world at all. But make no mistake… the Christmas story corrects our backwards thoughts… the truth is that we’ve parachuted into God’s world.

And whereas we mostly respond like Zechariah, thinking God should involve himself with us on our terms, Mary gives us an alternative and exemplary response of surrendered willingness to receive God on his terms. “I am a servant of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.” That’s the reply of one who knows who they are and whose world they’re in.

Mary’s response to the Angel, Gabriel, is not one of simple minded adolescence either. It’s not that Zechariah was just more experienced and wise so he had better questions. Luke says about both that they were “troubled”. It’s worth acknowledging that God’s presence with us and his speaking to us is just as likely to be unsettling as it is comforting. Maybe more likely. She wasn’t any more expecting this new development or ready for what was coming than was Zechariah. But she was more quickly and gladly ready to rearrange her life based on the reality of God showing up and doing something unexpected.

I must confess that I not only more rigid and closed off like Zechariah, but that I also don’t have much desire to be so flexible like Mary. My natural instinct is to be set in my ways, to resist change of direction, and to find reasons to keep the status quo. Truthfully, my gut tells me the Holy Spirit is too much of a “free spirit” and to adjust my life to His leading would allow for too much upheaval in my life. But the Scriptures say that God is a God of order… so what if the free-spirited nature that I perceive in the Holy Spirit is actually just a higher order that is for me good and the glory of God.

A Prayer of Surrender:

Lord, I confess my own desire to rule my own life and determine my own path, but I acknowledge that is a sinful and self-reliant impulse that robs me of your presence and power in my life. And though I don’t always, or even often, want to be surrendered to your whims, I do want to want a heart surrendered to your whims. I definitely fear that your whims will take me to crazy places like the mood swings and fickle felt needs of men, women, and children, but in that same breath I know you better than that, and that your whims are not silly or fanciful or wasteful… but they are life-giving and soul-enriching. Would you teach me to say with Jesus’ mother, Mary, “I am your servant. Let it be to me according to your word.”

Day 3

Luke 1:39-56

I love the beautiful and succinct way that Luke captures the energy and expectation in both Mary and Elizabeth which is so real and normal for pregnant women. Even the nervousness and uncertainty they might feel individually that gets settled and then transitions to sheer excitement and giddiness when 2 new moms are sharing their experiences of pregnancy. There is just so much humanity that jumps off the pages of Scripture in these brief little windows into the lives of these people. It reminds us they are not characters imagined and contrived for a story… they are real people going through real life and real moments with real reactions and emotions. v. 29-35 draw us in to the personal nature of Jesus coming into our lives… there’s something about this passage that serves as a microcosm of what Jesus wants for each of us as he enters into our lives…

I wonder if there’s excitement, expectation, uncertainty, and energy in your life surrounding the reality of Jesus and the gospel… I wonder if there’s fear and doubt in you, as would have crept in most certainly for both Mary and Elizabeth. There is something about sharing that raw and vulnerable stuff internal to us, with others, that serves to help resolve the tensions and actually free us to enjoy the reality that God has brought us into… I wonder if you are willing to open your internal world and the mixed emotions and thoughts that you wrestle with, in relationship with others who likely share them. The honest opening of our deepest selves with each other is one means God has given to us of actually maturing our faith and deepening our connection to Him and His purposes for our lives and our involvement in His greater story… I wonder if you’re sharing life that way with people. I wonder if your a safe enough, real enough and honest person that others are sharing their life with you that way… surely the openness and encouragement shared by Mary and Elizabeth is a indicative of the kind of relationships God intends His people to risk and enjoy with one another.

If this is not your experience, maybe this is the year you step out and take risks to nurture this kind of friendship. If you have this experience, maybe this is the year you invite others in and create space for those who have never had that to join in with you. This kind of spiritual friendship is a needed part of our discipleship.

A Prayer for Spiritual Friendship:

Heavenly Father, as you gave Mary and Elizabeth to one another to share such personal experiences with each other, I ask for you to give me safe, life-giving friendships to me. I acknowledge my deep need for such friendships, and that my fears, insecurities, anxieties and hurts have kept me from them. Give me the courage to risk more and trust more so that I might experience more. Help me be friend to others that gives encouragement and strength, and help me to in my own willingness to be more vulnerable, draw the strength and encouragement I need to keep drawing closer to you and being more fruitful for you.

Day 4

Luke 1:57-66

What really strikes me in this passage is Zechariah’s response to finally being able to speak. We don’t know how quickly Elizabeth got pregnant after the angel originally appeared to Zechariah, but even if it was that same day, he would have been mute for 9 months. Nine months with that frustration of not being able to communicate, the uncertainty of this lasting forever, the guilt of knowing it his own distrust that caused this, not to mention the joy of a son born to them… his response, in v. 64, is “blessing God”. This is a verbal praise of the favor of God.

Zechariah has had personal and painful consequences for his unbelief which have complicated life and work at a really pivotal time, but he doesn’t dwell on those things. At his first opportunity, he doesn’t complain or go self-pity… he praises God for his goodness and what he was doing in the midst of the struggle. And the result is that his public testimony of God’s faithfulness and grace in response to his personal struggle travels broadly through the witness of others… Zechariah’s joy and praise to the Lord arrested the attention of others and gave credibility to their testimony of all that God had spoken and accomplished.

When God’s people praise him and retain joy in the midst of confusing and difficult times, it always provokes attentiveness to our testimony and makes our witness to God’s grace more believable.

A Prayer for Joy:

Gracious and generous God, give me eyes to see your many kindnesses, and a heart to acknowledge them at every opportunity. When circumstances darken my thoughts and emotions, help my heart to remember my own weakness and to trust your goodness, so that joy might live even there, because of the knowledge that you are at work to achieve your gracious ends in my life. Give me the supernatural ability to praise you fully at the least obvious moments, both internally and outwardly. Keep my joy in you and praise of you from wavering with the desirability of my circumstances. Let it be said of me, by others, that I blessed God even when it didn’t make sense to them.

Day 5

Luke 1:67-80

Zechariah had a very clear word from God about his son’s life and purpose and place in God’s story. We don’t all have an angelic visit to go back to for such insight regarding our own calling or the destinies of our children. But still, this prophecy of Zechariah’s ministers to me as a parent and pastor concerned for the next generation and our calling and positioning to speak a sense of belonging and destiny into and over the children in our lives.

First, do we believe God has created each of them for a purpose? Do we believe they have a part to play in God’s story of redemption and renewal? My kids are not John the Baptizer. Neither are yours or any of the kids you know. But they are known to God. He has imagined them from before their conception; he created them in his own image; he placed them according to his own will; he wired them with particular aptitudes and for certain impact; all of this for his own glory and their highest good. Do we see our children and the children in our lives as intentionally made by God for real usefulness to his purposes above all other things?

Secondly, are we praying for them in accordance with that belief? If we pray for them this way, than our own hearts and minds will be more conscious moment by moment of their development to these ends, rather than as barriers to our comforts and ease of life. I get very impatient with my children and others when they inconvenience me and interrupt my plans… but rightly ordered prayers for them is likely to rightly reorder my heart toward them.

Thirdly, are we speaking this vision into their lives? Are we giving them, by our words, a sense of their place in God’s story? What a privilege it is to have children look to us for the shaping of their identities. Kids will always have a self-understanding shaped by their own thoughts, the words of their parents and families, and what peers and other influential people say and communicate to them and about them.

I’m convicted today that my kids will be fathered by lies or fathered by the gospel. They will either be alive to God’s glory and glorious purposes for them, or they will be alive to a diminished view of God’s glory and a deflated view of their lives. I can’t control outcomes by any means, but my own understanding of God’s purposes for my life persuades me that I do have a shaping influence over how my kids see themselves and their lives. One of those is real and one of them is contrived. So I will either let the lying voices of insanity shape their identity and sense of destiny? Or will I give my voice to silencing those lies?

I want to be a voice of sanity in their lives, grounding them in ultimate reality. Zechariah’s prophetic word about his own son is profoundly connected to John’s place in God’s story. It seems to me that’s a good place to start.

A Prayer for the Next Generation:

Father, you have had a meaningful role for me to play in your story. That’s astonishing and humbling. I am so thankful for the gift of purpose. And I now ask you for the wisdom and clarity to see my children and the children who you have put in my life as those integrally connected to your eternal purposes. Give me resolve in my own heart, and the grace and power, by your Spirit, to with my words and tone and attitude, help the kids in my life to fulfill the purposes of God in their generation, by grounding their identity and destiny firmly in God’s story. Help me to see how integral they are to your redemptive work in the world. And as the world, their flesh and Satan try to sabotage their lives, let my voice be of strategic value, connecting and reconnecting them to your love and grace and purposes.



Week 43 Devotional Blog (October 22-28)

Day 1

2 Samuel 13:23-39

Whatever dysfunction you had in your family of origin or which exists in your family today is really nothing compared to David's family in 2 Samuel 13. This is King David's sons. The man after God's own heart... his boys. His legacy. Nathan prophecied after David's grievous sin of adultery and murder, that the sword would not depart from his house and that he would raise up evil against him within his home household. We are seeing the beginnings of that coming true.

A brother lusting after his sister to the point of sexually assaulting her. Another brother rightly despising that act but rather than dealing with it directly and justly, he uses his position of authority to get other brothers to kill Amnon. David's whole house is in utter chaos perpetrating all manner of evil against each other. And at least some of this is connected to the sins of the father. It's a very stark warning for us regarding what sinful, demonic, and destructive forces we allow in our families through our "personal, private sin."

By the end of this chapter David's family is completely falling apart. I guess I can't help but imagine what it must feel like to have these ravage your family. I get so frustrated with disrespectful attitudes or bickering between by kids. David is dealing with the most violent and destructive acts between his children. And because it all, he's estranged from all of them at this time. I wonder what that must feel like to be King of a prosperous nation, but unable to have an in tact family.

I guess I'm just thinking about how everything has a cost in life and how we need to be honest about that. When we choose to give ourselves or our time or our energies or attention to something, we are necessarily withholding it from everything else. There's nothing in the text explicitly about this, but it just leaves me wondering if David wished he would've done some things differently. He mourned "day after day" the text says so this was clearly impacting him.

David failed in a lot of ways it seems as a dad. I suspect he failed in some worse ways than yours and mine, and in some worse ways than us too. But he lived under the grace of God with a prominent role in redemptive history. I guess that means that the failures of our parents, and our own failures can be forgiven and the wounds we've suffered and inflicted can be healed. That gives me hope.

Day 2

2 Samuel 14

For the second time, we see a close friend and confidant of David's approach a sensitive issue that he needed to be confronted on, by making up a story. In both instances, David is presented with issues of justice intended to expose how he was being unjust. In both made up scenarios, David judges the behavior of supposed actors in the exact opposite way he judges his own behavior. In other words, he is acting in ways that he would never support another person act.

But we do this... we tend to have objective wisdom into other people's situations and conflicts. But when our own emotions and relationships are involved, we lose objectivity and sound judgement. We react impulsively... and often unwisely. In a much more intense way, David is the coach of a team where he is far more hard on his own kid than any other team member. How strange it is that we tend to be more gracious and understanding toward strangers than sons. I regret this is true in my life.

To David's credit, he listens to his friends in these instances and takes immediate steps to correct his posture and behavior. However, in this case, I think about the distinction between the prodigal son returning home and Absalom's return home. The prodigal was welcomed back wholeheartedly and to a celebration and he was restored to full status as the Father's loved son. In David's case, he welcomes Absalom back only halfway, and not with gladness of heart, but with reservation. Absalom returns to Jerusalem but doesn't see his dad, the king, for two years.

This is the kind of scenario that incites bitterness and hurt. Rather than being banished and far away, Absalom is brought near but kept isolated. Rather than being restored to his status as son, he is relegated to the status of a servant. I'm struck by David's treatment of his son, and how a father's stiffness can harden a sons heart. I can only imagine the sense of abandonment building in Absalom. This doesn't justify any of what he will later do... but it is to say that angry, bitter, wounded, isolated men are always dangerous men.

One quick note on God's grace in this text... catch v. 14 when the woman says to David that God devises means so that the banished will not remain an outcast. That's our Lord and Savior. By the means of the cross, Jesus has brought the prodigal home with full restoration. We were banished from the presence of God because of our guilt and sin and rebellion, but he has by no means left us to that fate... he has come to the other side of the tracks and invited us home, to live as loved sons of God. That's the glorious reality of the gospel... he doesn't draw us near to make us feel shame and guilt... he draws us near to cover our guilt and shame.

Day 3

2 Samuel 15:1-12

And now we start to see that danger play out... Absalaom was two years stewing about Amnon raping his sister, Tamar. Then he killed him. He spent another three years exiled in Geshur. He returned to Jerusalem and lived two years as a neighbor to his father, King David, without seeing him. And after anger, isolation and a sense of rejection stirring over 7 years, he starts to position himself to find attention and approval elsewhere.

After all, he is attractive, charismatic and evidently likeable, so he begins to use these natural qualities to gain approval and influence. And over the course of another 4 years, he incrementally, systematically and manipulatively captures the affections and trust of Israel. One person at a time. Day in and day out. For four years. He patiently builds rapport, establishes trust, and earns their loyalty, diverting it away from his dad. And it's not like David was a hated politician. He was beloved. This tells you something of the surface level likeability of Absalom.

For those four years, his bitterness is growing. His anger is intensifying. His hurt is deepening. And through it all, it would seem David simply ignored him. There is no indication that David harmed him in any active way. But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out years ago, "the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." There is a kind of hatred in a detached, disinterested disregard for someone. You have to think of someone to hate them. To be indifferent toward someone conveys worthlessness. I suspect that's the toxin that swirled in Absalom's soul.

And for four years, David did nothing to change the dynamics or reconcile the relationship. He was preoccupied with kingdom matters perhaps, but the cruel silence toward Absalom lost him the Kingdom for the time being. Even his closest counselor, Ahithopel, like Judas after him, would betray his lord.

Most of us aren't running countries or even companies, so it may seem hard to apply this to real life for you. That's why I'm thinking about the psychology behind these developments, particularly in Absalom... consider these two perspectives...

  • I wonder if you are the dangerous conspirator in the making... sitting in bitterness, woundedness, anger, rejection, building resentment toward someone. It's a cancer to you and everyone close to you and it will end badly. We must pursue forgiving and healing and wholeness.

  • I wonder if you are the indifferent party toward another injured party. Whether you feel like you did anything or not, are you allowing bitterness and resentment to grow in another unaddressed? Are you in a position of power that your using to make someone else feel their smallness. Are you presenting appearances of forgiveness while withholding forgiveness and having no interest in reconciliation? We must pursue repentance, even if the sin is gracelessness.

Day 4

2 Samuel 15:13-37

So David's kingdom has been stripped away right from under his nose... God's consequence for the sin of adultery and murder has come home to roost. The sword has been raised against him from within his own household... it took 11 years to play out but he's on the run again.

We do see some of the heart of David in this passage that honrs God and reflects God. We see his concern for others and desire to protect them from his aimless wandering. Rather than gathering as many people to himself as possible, David looks out for the best interest of those under his rule. He was a shepherd by trade early in life and he reflects the shepherd heart of God for people here.

We also see his trust in the Lord... that rather than taking the Ark with him and removing it from it's place, to grasp at a sense of security, he instead trust's the Lord's sovereignty in orchestrating the days ahead. He wants the ark to remain where it is supposed to be, and he is willing to accept God's judgement if it comes in this form. David is not trying to control the situation entirely... he's trying to be wise, but he's trusting the Lord and he's unwilling to use sacred things as a means of advancing his own agenda.

Even his short prayer about Ahithopel upon discovering his betrayal... David's prayer isn't for revenge, or complaining... David simply recognizes that the wise council he received from his friend came from the Lord and therefore, the Lord could withhold such wisdom. He asks God to simply lead him or leave him to foolishness in his council to Absalom.

Suffice it to say that David is facing real betrayal, heartbreak, hurt and helplessness... and he is leaning into the Lord, looking out for others, and being decisive about just the next step. This is a great response to crisis and one worth imitating.

Day 5

2 Samuel 16