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Week 20 Devotional Blog (May 13-19)

Introduction to Micah:

The prophets in general deal a lot in the themes of God's judgment for idolatry in general, and especially judgment for the patterns of injustice, corruption, immorality, and religiosity detached from real worship of God. The minor prophets are especially difficult to read because of their poetic form and overwhelmingly bleak content. But we're going to walk through a few of those books in the next few months and trust that it will be profitable and life-giving for us, as all Scripture is when rightly understood and applied.

So, here's the setting. Micah is a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea, two other prophets in Israel during the late 7th century and early 8th century B.C. The nation is divided at this point into a Southern Kingdom, Judah, and a Northern Kingdom, Israel. The capitol city in the south is Jerusalem, and in the north it's Samaria. Micah is a prophetic voice speaking words of warning concerning God's coming judgement on The whole nation of Israel. This judgement would come later through the Assyrians and Babylonians.

Micah is speaking into a culture that was insulated at the moment from some it's historic vulnerabilities which made them more conscious of their need for God's help and protection. Israel, though divided has an established place in the world, a thriving economy within the world, and a reputable military known to the world. God's people were no longer displaced wanderers. They were affluent and powerful. They had pedigree and history and stability but in their decadence, they had drifted from their roots and lost sight of Yahweh. But God has not lost sight of them. it's into that setting that Micah's message(s) is (are) delivered.

Because of the difficulty in understanding this particular genre of writing, I will do more interpretive work than usual here, and try to offer some personal appliction to, in terms of what God is calling his people to then, but in terms of what he's calling us to now.

Day 1

Micah 1

v. 1-7 - It's a pretty scary thought when Micah frames God as an eye witness coming to testify against his own people... scarier still when the star witness in a case against you is also the Judge. But that's Israel's situation.

Basically, the case God has against both those in the Northern and Southern Kingdoms is generally characterized as their idolatry and both places will be destroyed.

v. 8-9 - These copule verses are Micah grieving and mourning the state of Judah. He's not speaking as a distant or detached prophet, like Jonah to Ninevah. Rather, he's lamenting the condition of a people and the warning of judgement coming to a people, to whom he belongs. He feels the weight of the word of the Lord and heaviness of God's anger toward them.

v. 10-16 - There are lot of Hebrew wordplays going on in the poetic language and imagery which are lost in the English translation. But a substance level, Micah is essentially listing off different cities which face disaster because of the coming judgement of God.

v. 13 is especially compelling because it's giving perhaps a first glance at the specific form of idolatry that provoked God's wrath. Micah says to, "Harness the steeds to the chariots..." ironically invoking a symbol of fighting to be used for fleeing. But, then he adds this little insight to the end of the verse, "...it was the beginning of sin."

Micah seems to be tying the accumulation of instruments for war, and something of the wealth and/or militarism which they represent, to their transgression and judgement.

This introductory chapter to Micah brings up a lot of angst which it does nothing to resolve, so we're left to sit in this unsettled place. But what if that in itself is part of the way we effectively engage with Scripture. We're so desperate for comfort and happiness and okayness in our lives that we don't want ot talk about things that are painful or hard. We don't want to think about unpleasant realities.

Or perhaps, on the other side, we're just so rule by the negative emotions and depression and heaviness that we aren't inclined to look beyond darkness. Neither of those is biblical or helpful.

The goodness of Jesus and the glory of the gospel shine brightest against the backdrop of the darkness of our lives and the world. Micah 1 confronts us with some uncomfortable things we need to wrestle with and reconcile in our own hearts and minds. There are two primary things...

1) We're all idolaters

Idolatry is simply the elevating of anything above God in terms of worth, value, significance or authority. It's diminishing God's glory and downplaying his authoirity, in order to displace him from the throne of our lives in favor of a lesser object for our worship. Whatever Jerusalem and Samaria are guilty of, we operate in the same spaces.

2) God takes idolatry really seriously

The other thing is that God is not playing games here. God is revealing to us his own heart toward human rebellion and sin, particularly toward those who have claim covenant with him, but who have nothing to do with him. And it's not that God is petulent or reactionary. He's slow to anger. But we're long in our disobedience and he's not the permissive parent we all think is ideal when we're 15. God is loving Father who patient and merciful and kind, but he's not a pushover. Sin and rebellion demand a response from God.

3) The Cross is God's ultimate answer to idolatry

And this is why the cross is so precious... it's not just that Jesus is willing suffer on our behalf in a general sense. It's that Jesus was willing to absorb the legitimate and righetous wrath of God against our chronic idolatry. The cross doesn't undermine the wrath of God or the idea of God's judgment on human sin or unrepentance sinners. The cross affirms these realities and categories and identifies Jesus as the one who was willing to receive our just punishment in his own person so that we wouldn't have to suffer the dserved penalty ourselves.

Micah is declaring the heart of God toward sin through a prophetic warning of destruction. Jesus will come to display the same heart of God toward sin through his personal willingness to receive the destruction that was due us. The cross doesn't trivialize sin or idolatry or holiness or God's authority. The cross crystallizes the seriousness of these things.

Day 2

Micah 2

v. 1-5 - Micah seems to be indicating that God's judgement has been provoked, in part, by greed and economic injustice. God cares about our business practices, our treatment of employees, our exploitation of the vulnerable and corrupt use of power for personal gain. He will defend the weak, and intervene on behalf of the oppressed, and he will not let the oppressor off the hook. Israel has somehow gone from the oppressed to the oppressor, and God is not having it.

v. 6-11 - These verses are an indictment on Israel for only wanting to hear preaching that indulges them, affirms them and promotes what they want. They will only pay attention to preaching that scratches their itching ears. There is no place in Israel for the prophetic truth to confront their sin, and to call them out of wickedness and to repentance. In this sense, Micah even says that Israel has become it's own worst enemy (v. 8) and God won't sit passively by and watch as they assume his support or indifference toward their idolatry and rebellion.

v. 12-13 - For the first time, Micah transitions, suddenly and surprisingly, out of this foreshadowing of destruction and to God's intent to rescue those who are faithful. While Israel is overwhelmingly corrupted and complicit in creating a culture of idolatry, there are some who remain faithful to the Lord.

There are some whose hearts still worship God in spirit and in truth. There are those who have not been swept up in a sea of worldliness and who remain steadfast in their surrenderedness to Yahweh... and God will indeed gather them to himself. Though judgment is coming upon the nation as a whole, he will spare those who are truly His. Though they will suffer alongside those who are guilty, they will be saved by God's grace. And rather than suffering under the predatory and corrupt kings of the earth, the Lord himself will gather them to himself, and he will be their King. He will surround them and lead them and protect them and cause them to flourish. Though Jerusalem and Samaria will be destroyed, and God's people will be displaced, they will not be wiped out, and God's covenant will not be abandoned, nor will his promises of redemption fail.

Isn't this the reality we all live within even today. Corruption and injustice and oppression are all around us. And God is not disinterested or detached from it in any way. Judgement is coming. In many ways, judgement is already here. We flaunt sin, celebrate immorality, justify idolatry, promote wickedness, and on and on. This is not only the stuff that brings judgement, but it's the stuff that indicates judgement has come at some level. God, in our persistence and instistence to ignore him and indulge our flesh and inflate our pride eventually gives us over to those things, to suffer the natural consequences of living outside God's good design and without regad for His glory or authority.

And in a culture in that place, the repentant struggle and suffer alongside the rebellious. Those who trust in the Lord are greatly troubled by all that troubles those who have trusted in themselves. The Christian who has trusted in Christ and his cross, walks in the darkness brought about by those who want nothing to do with Christ or who try to use Christ to advance their own agenda. We live in the painful effects of God's judgement, but we are spared the painful ends of God's judgement. Rather than being cut off from his people, we are gathered as his people. Rather than being counted among the guilty, we are counted among the godly. We've made and make our own contribution to the idolatrous cultures we belong to, but God, in his great mercy, has set us apart even now and he will set us on the heights when Jesus returns in judgment.

God's heart for those who reject him by rejecting His Son, are still aligned with v. 1-11. And those who have surrendered to God, and received His Son, with the empty hands of faith are those in v. 12-13. One way to tell which camp you find yourself in, and one of the real tensions I see in this text for us, is how we will hear words of warning like these?

Will we align with the wicked of v. 1-11, who only want to hear talk of affirmation, encouragement, and flattery? Will we be those who cringe at any idea of judgment, and who scorn and scoff at at a God who won't wink at sin or let us define for ourseleves what is right and good? Do we reject preaching and teaching that doesn't indulge our natural desires and comfortable lives? Or will we allow the word of God to be preached in all it's terrifying and convicting truth? Will we allow the doctrines of grace to be brightened by the reality of our guilt and God's wrath toward sin. Will we allow the cross of Jesus to loom as largely as it should because of our helplessness and hopelessness apart from it? Will we allow the gospel to be proclaimed boldly and faithfully so that it provokes us continually to repentance and faith in Jesus?

A Prayer for Hearing:

Father, guard my heart from the ever present impulse to hear only that which appeals to my flesh. Protect me from giving credibility to only that which feeds my natural impulses and appetites. Our culture, even our church culture, is increasingly rejecting or diminishing the authority of Scripture, and I'm fully capable of getting caught up in that tidal wave. Keep me submitted to the full counsel of the word of God for your namesake, and for the sake of my joy and salvation. Let my ears and heart always burn when truth is rightly proclaimed, even when it cuts. Amen.

Day 3

Micah 3

You'll have to forgive me... I wrote a bit yesterday here and for some reason it didn't save it... I may try to re-type something later, but alas, technology may have won Wednesday.

Day 4

Micah 4

Micah shifts gears in chapters 4 and 5 from the pronouncement of judgement coming on God’s people, to the promise of a later time when God’s promise to redeem and deliver his people will be upheld and fulfilled. Essentially, the prophet is telling them that even in the midst of the darkness coming upon them, God is not abandoning them or his word, but that this is another development along the way to the unaltered climax of God’s plan. Remember, we read different parts of the Bible within the the context of the whole Bible. We do not read as those who have no idea where things will end up or where this is going. We read as those who have the end of the story already revealed.

So, this is a word of hope and comfort even to a people in sin and under judgement. And as is often the case in the OT, there are different layers to the prophetic word, different horizons of fulfillment… at one level, God’s judgement of Israel, exercised through the Assyrians and Babylonians, will give way to the return of Israel from exile to rebuild the temple and the city walls. But ultimately, the promise of God’s deliverance of his people, and the greater salvation to which Micah is pointing is through Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who will come to liberate sinful humanity from sin itself.

v. 1-5 - Micah is giving this vision of a coming world and reality in which the violence and injustice which Israel has suffered and of which they are now perpetrators, will be turned on it’s head. There is a kingdom coming that will transform weapons now used for destruction and chaos into tools for production and order; where the wars within us and around will give way to a peace that envelopes everything; where fear will be replaced by safety; and where the idolatrous wanderings of our hearts will be replaced by the singular devotion to and worship of God.

v. 6-8 - There is coming a day where the diseased and disabled, the displaced, and the disaffected will be gathered to Lord, who heal them, give them a home, and who will cause them to flourish. And Jerusalem, the city to which destruction is coming will be at the epicenter of this renewed Kingdom...

v. 9-13 - Micah is giving them a picture of God’s ultimate end game, but with that prophetic image, their present darkness and coming destruction will and should feel all the more tragic. But God is not done with them… He is using other nations against them, but still to fulfill his own good purposes for them. The imagery of threshing is about God sifting them and ridding them of all that’s robbing them of life in Him. He is using her enemies to awaken Israel from their slumber; to jolt them out of their lethargy; to crush their spirits in a way that brings them to their senses… and to repentance. He’s provoking Israel through their physical defeat to fight her real enemy of indwelling sin and idolatry and waywardness. He’s calling them out of decadence and indulgence and back to dependency… where the envisioned end of v. 1-5 can be their eternal reality.

I wonder if God is using turmoil in your life right now as an invitation back to him… as an appeal for your repentance and a gracious warning of the destruction you may be bringing on yourself, which can be avoided through repentance and faith.

Day 5

Micah 5

v. 1-5a - This is prophesied at a time of great darkness in Israel, and it's anticipating a greater salvation than they are even longing for. This foreshadows a Savior whose coming has been imminent, even from eternity past ("Ancient of Days") and yet who will be born in Bethlehem as a baby. Isreal's deliverance from her long endured pain and peristent anguish will by synchronized with the coming of the Messiah, who will provide for Israel's deepest needs; who will rescue and protect them from their greatest enemies; and who will give leadership and hope through divine power. This Messiah will not just usher in peace and give them safety and security, he himself will be their peace.

v. 5b-6 - The hope of the Messiah and his gracious and loving rule is contrasted with the violent and militaristic powers of the earth. These verses are differentiating the kind of kingdoms that dominate the earthly landscape from the kind of Kingdom that God is ushering in through the Savior.

v. 7-9 - Micah is saying that among the throngs of people and the many nations of the earth, there is a "remnant", or a true Israel that will be rescued and preserved by the Messiah. This will be a small but powerful people, whose enemies will be many and strong, but who will not destroy those whom God has gathered to himself.

v. 10-15 - Micah then says that there is coming a day when, through the Messiah, God will bring an end to the warring of nations; the worshipping of idols; the flaunting of sin; the trusting in earthly powers. God is saying that he will expose all these things for the fraud they are and his own power and might will be revealed as he deals with every rebellious people who despised him and lived for themselves.

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Week 19 Devotional Blog (May 6-12)

Day 1

Esther 6

This development in the narrative reminds me of two really key biblical ideas...

First, Proverbs says a number of times and with different phrasings (and it's repeated elsewhere in Scripture), that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Jesus says that he humbles himself will be exalted, but he who exalts himself will be humbled... or you might say humiliated, as the connotation of that word captures the idea more accurately.

Haman is a living, breathing example of the trappings of pride. The tables just turn on him so dramatically and bitterly. We do well to seriously consider that wisdom and warning.

Mordecai, of course, is a living, breathing example of taking the low place before the Lord and having Him elevate you. The low place is the place of blessing. We do well to seriously consider that too, and be deliberate in warring against our own sense of self-importance by actively elevating the importance of others through service, encouragement, listening and other simple practices that put others first.

Secondly, we see the biblical idea playing out that our responsibility is to do the possible, and let's trust God to do the impossible. Esther and Mordecai could fast, pray, think deeply, act wisely and courageously, and wait patiently. But only God could radically alter their reality. This does not guarantee that he always will in the ways we hope, but he often does in ways we never even imagined. I suspect this was a situation like that. I doubt either Esther or Mordecai thought God would intervene in such a dramatic way. But God joined his power to their obedience... He joined his sovereign grace to their simple courage to flip everything upside down.

This is our God. This is the nature of the gospel too. That we bring our guilt and weakness and need to Christ, and he joins his grace, power, and love to us, so that we find new life, new hope, and a new future. The story of Esther is compelling on it's own, but even moreso when you see the story of the Gospel unfolding too.

A Prayer for Breakthrough:

Lord, there are so many things I try to control in my life... For the life of me I'm trying to dictate outcomes everywhere. But I can't. And I'm worn out from trying. Give me the humility to know place, to understand the limits of my responsibility, and to play in that sandbox, while I trust you and wait on you for the breakthrough and outcomes that only you can determine. I lay all my anxieties at your feet and I acknowledge I desperately need your grace and wisdom to levae them there... but I want to walk with you in a fully engaged way that remains fully dependent. Would you give me the courage to take the low place, to stay there, and would you do what only you can in timing you determine. Amen.

Day 2

Esther 7

Esther does a remarkable job of framing her appeal to the king. It strikes me as very intentional and well thought out. Again, even prayerfully considered and deliberately delivered.

We tend to be so emotional and reactionary. We live in such an entitled culture, but there isn't a hint of entitlement in Esther. She careful and tactful with her words, gracious in her request, and even complimentary of the king.

In our own social climate, small moments of unfairness or frustrating inconveniences are met with such outrage. We demand so forcefully of others, and that they might be a person in authority only intensifies our response so much of the time.

Our regard for authority has become so low... it's almost as if authority figures are given less honor and respect than those not in positions of authority. The ways we talk about and to presidents and political actors are a good example of this. And I suspect if you're reading this as a democrat you think of how much President Trump deserves everything he gets and more. While if you're reading as republican you sympathize with Trump and forgot how the political right treated President Obama.

Neither was ordering the genocide of a whole ethnic group in their borders, so let's agree this King in Esther was probably more deserving of criticism. And yet, she approaches him with respect, dignity, and honor. We seem to want to shame and embarrass people more than we want to actually win them over or persuade them. Esther wanted to persuade and she recognized that a particular approach had the best chance of being effetive.

Esther gives us a beautiful example of how to move toward people with whom we violently disagree in a way that's productive. She doesn't go on the attack. She honors the person who is a real threat to her. She even serves him. She builds trust patiently. She speaks graciously and humbly. And she wins him over.

This is more art than science and while she got the result she wanted for her fellow Jews, that's never a guarantee. What worked here doesn't always work. But it's not only the right approach for the sake of expediancy. It's also often the right approach for the sake of our own hearts and for the sake of Christ, particularly with people in authority. Jesus himself dealt with Pilate and Herod and others in authority with a similar tone and approach. The Apostle did likewise. And there were different results in their cases...

None of us are dealing with any crisis as urgent and life-threatening as Esther, and yet few of us strike the right tone or maintain the level head she was able to here. But I wonder if we even want to. Is our aim to squash our opponents? Is our goal to shame them publicly or just get applause from those on our side? Is our aim in conflict to crush the other person or defeat them? Or, is it to win them over?

A Prayer for Persuasiveness:

Father, I admit that I like to win arguments and prove points and leave people feeling small. I'm more likely to attack someone on the other side of an argument than to bring them to my side... or more importantly, to your side. I'm more driven to win arguments and win points than to win people. Forgive me, Lord, for that disposition. And I ask, not just for the ability to treat others with respect, but to actually respect them. I ask for the ability to disagree with people on even major things without demonizing or vilifying them. I pray that you would give me the wisdom of Esther, to think and pray before I speak, and to communicate with humility, grace and to be measured in my engagement with others... help me be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow become angry, none of which comes easy or naturally to me. Let me represent you, and the gospel faithfully in my positions, but also in my disposition, I pray. In Jesus name. Amen.

Day 3

Esther 8

I love the picture of the gospel that this chapter represents. Esther, the unlikely queen, whose words are vested with the authority of the King to declare good news, and by her words and the letters sent out, those who were facing certain death and without any hope are brought under the protection of the King with the full force of his might, while another took the wrath of the King that had been aimed at Israel.

They were utterly helpless... but in God's sovereign grace, Esther was positioned to intercede for her people, as their representative. She identified with them, took up their cause, and with grace, humility, and self-sacrifice she subverted the earthly and spiritual forces set against God's people to thwart God's plans and purposes, thus prserving God's promises and saving God's people.

We were once in the place of the Jews in Susa, with the dark cloud of death hanging over us and no way to save ourselves. But God the Father sent word forth in the flesh, and God the Son came in the power of God the Spirit to identify with us and represent us and brings salvation to us through his own grace, humility and self-sacrifice. And in him we find the joy and gladness of heart that found all of Israel on that day... in him we brought under God's protection and provision and we are made full citizens of his kingdom with the full rights of of citizens. God's wrath and judgment has been abaited because Jesus took it upon himself at the cross and we are now free, with nothing to fear.

A Prayer of Gratitude:

Father, I am just in awe again at the gospel. Give me the joy and gladness of heart which Israel experienced in Susa, because certainly I have been spared the same fate. I'm so eternally grateful for salvation... I'm so grateful for Jesus, and his kindness and grace to me and for the safety and security of living under your protection, sustained by your word, sealed by your Spirit, with a whole new life in your kingdom... what an amazing reality you've brought me into. Let me be awake to it every day. Amen.

Day 4

Esther 9

So much of this chapter focuses on this new holiday inaugurated in Israel, called Purim. v. 20-22 summarize very succinctly what they were to celebrate and how they were to celebrate. What's described isn't unlike Christmas for us.

I appreciate the importance Israel place on remembrance, which Esther 9 really embodies. It was their practice to honor and commemmorate the faithfulness of the Lord and his different mighty acts of deliverance on their behalf through feasts and festivals. We take on many of these patterns too, but as someone younger than most estbalished holidays, I can truly say we do a better job of relaxing and feasting on holidays than we do remembering.

Remembrance is a distinctly Christian practice which we would be well served to recover and guard. This is why the Lord's Supper is so vital to the life of a church. Jesus calls us to take communion together when we gather, in remembrance of his finished work on the cross. So many churches do this once a month, and some even more rarely than that. We take the Lord's Supper every week in order to remember every week, in a vivid and visual way, what Christ has done for us.

Some people think you should do it less often in order to keep it fresh and meaningful, to make it more special. It's been my experience, in the 4 years or so of doing Communion weekly, that the frequency and consistency of the ordinance has actually enhanced it's significance and deepened it's meaning for me personally and for many other I've talked to. By taking communion weekly, and at the conclusion of preaching God's words compels us to tie everything into the gospel itself and it allows us to explore the many facets of the gospel and appreciate the fullness of Christ's work more fully.

This practice of remembrance, through the Lord's Supper, religious and cultural holidays, as well as through personal expressions that re-attach us to meaningful experiences of God's grace have enormous impact on shaping our lives. Taking the time and finding ways to intentionally re-embed ourselves in the story of God so that we faithfully find our place in what he's doing in us and around us is a thoroughly redemptive habit.

A Prayer for Remembrance:

Father, give me the grace to mindful of you and all you have done to prove your faithfulness, your kindness, your love; and all you have done to display your glory, your majesty and supremacy. But not just the grace for a cognitive awareness of you... give me the grace to take every reminder as an opportunity to reconnect my life and reorient myself within your story. Amen.

Day 5

Esther 10

What these few short verses remind us of is that non-Christian governing officials, nor unbelieving authority figures more generally, aren't to be feared or opposed or distrusted necessarily. God, as Proverbs indicates, is able to steer the heart of the king in whatever direction he desires. King Ahasuerus was foavorably disposed to Mordecai, and Queen Esther, and to the Jews, and they appreciated and respected him, but there is no indication he trusted in the God of Israel.

This is an important reminder to pray for those in authority of us. We can ask for God's favor to us as his people through Godly as well as godless officials. We can honor the people God places over us even if they don't honor Him. And can conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, and thus develop a helpful, peacable, and life-enriching relationship with those who have power over us. We should pray to that end and operate in that spirit wherever possible.

A Prayer for Favor:

Lord, even today so many of our leaders, and the whole landscape of political leadership in this country is discouraging and so easy to be cynical about. But I ask that you would use flawed, sinful people to preserve life, peace and freedom for your people to love you and serve you faithfully. I pray that you would grant your church in America favor from on high through the powers that are situated to do harm to the church or honor the church. Lord, don't let us as your people get caught up in unholy and unhelpful allegiances with political figures and parties, but let us treat those in authority with dingity and honor as those positioned by you... and let receive favor from them. The environment is getting more divided and tense and toxic, but I pray that we would be humble, gracious, kind and gentle, and receive the respect and even the ear and favor of those who oppose us today. In Christ's name I pray. Amen.

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Week 18 Devotional Blog (April 29-May 5)

Day 1

Esther 1

There are two main things that seem personally and corporately relevant to me in the first chapter of Esther…

1) The Dangers of Decadence

Persia is the expansive empire at this point as the first few verses indicate, and it’s opulence sounds almost cartoonishly reminiscent of the Capitol in the Hunger Games… life is just one big party flaunting their wealth, materialism, vanity and indulgence in all things of the flesh. When a society reaches a certain point of affluence and ease of life, there is a boredom that sets in and devolves into a desperate attempt to entertain and indulge themselves to scratch the ever present need for life to matter and carry something of significance and possibility. But when a whole culture is fattening and indulging themselves, what else is there to do but to manufacture activity and busyness and pleasure… so the King throws an epic 6 month bender for all the officials and people of self-importance, whose titles make them seem to matter but whose lives are painfully lacking any real mattering.

I say all this to say that we now live in the most affluent society in human history and I’m not so sure we aren’t living in the midst of these tragic circumstances, or that we aren’t ourselves, even as Christians, participating in some the fallout of such decadence. How much of our lives are busied and frenzied activity, or the persistent pursuit of entertainment due to the boredom we have with lives that don’t seem to matter, though God has created us and commissioned us for glory and grandeur… decadence has robbed us of our sense of wonder, purpose and possibility and we desperately need to recover it.

2) The Preservation of Power

The second thing is how a group of men gather together in an oppressively patriarchal social environment to ensure that their power is protected, reinforced and even intensified. The edict to cast the queen aside is motivated entirely by fear of losing power, and the desire to strengthen the grip of men over women. There is so much that could be said here, but I’ll just focus in on the trap here for us personally as Christians and collectively as a community.

Personally, we need to recognize the trap of control. We can absolutely have legitimate authority and leverage that authority illegitimately. God delegates authority to parents, to people in high positions and such, in order to use that authority for the good of those under our authority. That does not mean that we have to make everyone happy who is under our authority, but our ability to control others is never God’s intent for authority. He intends us to influence the will of those we are placed over, not to impose our will on them. We are all vulnerable to anger and rage and wrath when those under our authority resist it or rebel against it outright. Be careful how you wield even the legitimate authority you’ve been entrusted with by God.

Collectively, we are also vulnerable to fearing the loss of any privileged positions we have enjoyed. Whether that is formal positions of power or just social positions of influence, the threat of losing face or losing place is enough to provoke reasonable and humane people to unthinkable acts which we justify with extreme evils that would unfold if we don’t protect the status quo. In Esther 1, there is the fear of every wife in every place becoming assertive and rebellious toward their husbands and women revolting against men on a massive scale. And the fear of that possibility, whether real or imagined, is enough to persuade a bunch of men to further suppress women by using the queen as an example to retain their power through the mechanism of fear.

Jesus uses power to reclaim dignity for the weak and vulnerable. Jesus leverages power to lift up the broken and oppressed, to free the enslaved, to empower the defeated. Jesus uses his power to assume the low place, the place of a servant and the place of a sacrifice, in order turn earthly structures and on their head, and bring a new Kingdom where the powerless are valued, dignified, protected, loved, and lifted up, rather than stigmatized and brutalized. I wonder which Kingdom value system we’re more influenced by.

Day 2

Esther 2

Esther is famous for never mentioning God, but the first half of the second chapter is starting to lay the groundwork for God’s invisible hand of providence at work. We are introduced to Esther, a Jewish woman whose physical beauty lands her in a place of favor with the King. She is among those women who will finalists in an essential beauty contest to replace queen Vashti. And we see God moving the chess pieces and leveraging his hidden power over earthly powers that be. In their fear, the King and his advisors are leveraging all their power just to preserve their power, while God is using his power to preserve his people and his promises to advance his agenda of redemption.

So, Esther ascends to the throne. He uses the earthly value system and earthly corruption to advance his Kingdom agenda. Esther is made queen… a Jewish woman, married to a Persian King to influence the man whose administration was oppressing her own people, and more importantly, God’s people.

God is Sovereign over all the affairs of men and he governs over all things. Nothing escape his eye or surprises him. And yet we all battle fear of the unknown and insecurity about our present circumstances and future hopes. Maybe you’re facing such things today. But Esther is showing us how God intervenes in the affairs of men, and moves the hearts of even those who aren’t submitted to him in order to accomplish his purposes.

2 things to consider about that… 1) What situation is threatening your peace and joy right now? What are you walking through or facing that you need to prayerfully acknowledge your fear, and re-submit your heart to God over? 2) In what circumstances might you be in right now, which may be God’s providential intervention for another? How might you be positioned today to be God’s answer to someone else’s distress and difficulty?

Day 3

Esther 3

This chapter moves the story forward in a significant way. We start to see God’s mercy and why He positioned Esther the way He did. Israel becomes the target of not just a homicidal plot, but a genocidal plot. And the whole things stems from Haman getting disrespected by Mordecai.

From there, Haman’s hatred and utter disdain for the Jews intensifies. He harnesses that resentment for almost an entire year, waiting for the right opportunity to convince the King to sanction the mass slaughter of innocent Hebrews scattered throughout the land. This would be not unlike the Rwandan genocide that took place in the 90’s. You get a narcissistic leader with violent impulses and unchecked power and things go bad.

I guess there are two things from this chapter that I find important for personal consideration. The first is just my own heart toward violence, injustice, and oppression. Am I willing to feel the burden of that or the reality of that? I can read this text as I can watch the news, or see the headlines, and I am unmoved and unprovoked. What does my callousness and detachment from such real suffering say about my own humanity? That I could aware of present sufferings and threats of violence such as is recounted in Esther 3 and not be unsettled by it is troubling. Or maybe even worse yet is that I could be willfully unaware of such suffering in order to preserve my own comfort. I know it’s out there, but I don’t want to be bothered by it, so I turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, and a numbed heart. I don’t even know how we’re supposed to engage with this kind of stuff when it’s a world away, but I’m reminded today that my desire for plausible deniability is probably less than Christ-like.

The second thing is this… it’s easy to disassociate myself from a crazed lunatic like Haman. Certainly I’m not like him. And you aren’t either. But if we stop and consider our own thoughts, impulses and capabilities honestly, are there not seeds of Haman in our own hearts. Do I not possess something of this inhumaneness in my own soul? Certainly I do have the ability, and God help me, the bent, toward defining people by their worst, or most personally offensive actions. I do have the tendency to narrowly see people through the lens of their negative impact on me. I do have the inner capacity to connect individual characteristics to a larger group of people as a way of diminishing their credibility or humanity. I have narcissistic potential deeply embedded in my heart and so do you… we all do.

Power and position have a way of revealing and magnifying what’s there, and most of us aren’t kings and princes. I’m not saying we’re all Haman, or we’re all racists, or we’d all perpetrate genocide if we had the chance… not by a long shot. I’m just saying that we are all prone toward dehumanizing those people around us in subtle if not severe ways… and that’s the soil out of which the very extreme fruit of genocide grows.

I wonder if we’re willing to see and confront some of the Haman-like sinful seeds and capacities in us… if we're willing to identify and uproot those seeds through confession and repentance and self-emptying humility that serves and elevates others, and takes them at least as seriously as we take ourselves.

Day 4

Esther 4

We don't get tons of details, but as always, if we pay attention, the Bible is very real about the struggle and tensions in the human soul when dealing in real life. Esther isn't cavalier about her next move... she isn't fearless or brash. She knows what's right, but there is real risk involved in doing what's right. She is in a place of power, but utilize that power actually puts her in a place of vulnerability for 2 reasons: 1) she's breaking the law, and 2) she's identifying herself with the people whose genocide the king has just decreed. Overwhelmingly, the odds are not in her favor.

Here the queen is, ascending to a place of power, and she can use that power to insulate herself from threats and to protect her interests, or she can leverage that power to identify herself with the vulnerable and try standing up for their cause and well-being. There is rich gospel imagery here, where Jesus, rather than ascending to power, condescended from power, but like Esther, he put himself at great risk and to identify with vulnerable in order to fight for their preservation and salvation.

And this is the challenge we all face... we've all been given influence, a degree of power. And the most natural and normal thing to do is to use our power for our own ends and agenda, to serve our own interests. But the kingdom of God is embodied in an antithetical ethic where influence is stewarded for the advancement of others, and the betterment of others and protection of the powerless. That may be a seemingly small and insignificant sphere for you, but for the few that you're positioned to help, it isn't small or insignificant at all.

We all have different places and parts to play in the story of redemption that is unfolding and it's God's intent to use us where we are to improve the situation for others who are worse off than ourselves. The world needs us to be fully engaged where we are so we can have the impact we're uniquely positioned to have. Those around us - whether they conciously depend on us or are just consciously unable to help themselves in certain ways - need us to make our highest contribution to the world... I wonder what that looks like for you.

Last insight... we're called to submit to governing authorities. There were Christians in Germany who did not stand up against the Third Reich because they were called to "submit to governing authorities." And that's not a trite comparison here... we're talking about a decreed genocide. Obedience to the law has been a real reasons Christians at different times and places in history have been passive observers of grave injustices...

But here, Esther reluctantly but courageously and righteously intends to break the law. Our submission to governing authorities is never intended by God supersede our submission to His governing authority. We aren't called to submit to human institutions and governments in an ultimate sense. But we must be wise and deliberate when we aren't going to obey for righteous reasons, understanding the potential consequences the force of the law can have and being willing to accept those consequences.

We are not bound by God's authority to all civil laws. Instead, we are bound by God's authority to be willing to suffer in some sense, for our repudiation of unjust civil laws. This is what it means to follow Jesus... it means we're willing suffer as he suffered, for the sake of his name, and for the sake of others seeing his sacrificial love and radical grace embodied.

Day 5

Esther 5

Esther 5 takes a further step into this thing of civil disobedience. We're actually given two very different approaches, both of which seem legitimate.

From Esther, we see her posture as one of humility and graciousness. She is using her own personality and position strategicially and incrementally. She starts with a more subtle gesture to see if she can get the King's attention and ear. And when God gives her favor, she doesn't go straight for the jugular. She wants to serve him in a meaningful way, to soften his heart. She endears herself to him by her kindness rather than exploiting his kindness.

And yes, she is wise enough to use his areas of weakness... she leverages his ego to her advantage. There is a measure of manipulation here I suppose, but it's wisdom on her part to be patient and win his trust, as well as Haman's. There is a time and place for this approach and some people are better positioned for such a strategy. Notice that her approach, and God's favor, and the King's openness to her all came after prayer and fasting... this cannot be overstated.

While God is never mentioned, she and Mordecai and the Jews are pressing into the Lord and depending on him by these practices. And so the invidual tactics applied are not instinctive, or thoughtless... they are deliberate and prayerfully considered.

For Mordecai, he engaged that same process but he has a different personality and position, and thus, a different posture. He takes the passive resistance and non-violent protest approach. When Haman comes in and everyone else honors his status, Mordecai refuses to honor him due because of his illegitimate use of power. Mordecai is acting in humility and courage as well, risking his own life and safety to raise the collective conciousness of the evil being perpetrated. He isn't grandstanding for some personal vendetta... he's resisting in subversive ways a tyrannical use of power on behalf of the oppressed.

This is heroic. He's putting himself in the crosshairs in ways that many followers of Jesus have since in the name of justice. This is what the civil rights movement sought to do, with Dr. King at the forefront. Someone from the oppressed group standing up actively and boldly against the cultural and institutional forces of oppression to make those realities non-ignorable to everyone.

There's a lot we can learn from Esther and Mordecai about what it means to use our place, whatever it is, to do justice and love mercy.

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Week 17 Devotional Blog (April 22-28)

Day 1

Luke 23:26-43

This is a tough text when you consider what Jesus is doing. He is willingly giving his life, the innocent for the guilty. He is taking the punishment for sin and the condemnation of sinners upon himself. The biggest miscarriage of justice that's ever occurred is happening in these verses. And look at the respond of different people.

The women following him are rightly "mourning and lamenting." Others are "casting lots" over his garments, as if this is some game. The general response is represented by "the people" who "stood by watching." The rulers "scoffed at him." The soldiers "mocked him." One of the criminals who actually was guilty of the crime for which he was being punished "railed at him." And then there is the other criminal, who recognized Jesus' innocence and trusted in him as the Messiah.

I wonder how you respond to Jesus crucified... is Christ on the cross somethign you grieve, play games with, watch indifferently, scoff at, mock, rail against or put your hope in?

A Prayer for Weightiness:

Father, don't let my heart and mind be calloused toward the cross. Don't let my distance from the cross or my familiarity with the cross let me be at all disimissive of the cross. Don't ever let me see Christ crucified as some game... don't let me ever take it lightly or indifferently. Let it weigh on me appropriately. Let my heart be soft enough to grieve the cross of Jesus Christ and wise enough to trust the cross of Jesus Christ. Lord, with the criminal, I would ask you to "remember me when you come into your kingdom." Let the weight of your glory in the cross and resurrection weigh on me always, until I am with you face to face. Amen.

Day 2

Luke 23:44-56

There was darkness over the whole land from the 6th hour to the 9th hour... that's from Noon to 3 p.m. That's a physical picture of life without Jesus. Darkness all around us and darkness within us. Jesus doesn't just bring light or increase light, Jesus is light. And to live without the light that he is and which only he gives to all of life is a darkened reality and a living deadness.

Even with Jesus risen and alive, to live as though he is dead is groping around in the darkness. And at the moment of Jesus' physical death, on the cross, that darkness permeated everything. Seeing the darkness of life without Jesus is really instrumental in seeing Jesus as the light that he is. It was at Jesus' moment of death, with darkness setting in over the land, which the centurion "praised God." It was at the moment of Jesus' death that Jesus' innocence and perfection became visible to the soldier. Darkness is sometimes the uncomfortable, painful, scary, and tragic backdrop against which the light of Jesus shines brightest.

I wonder if you're willing to look for him in the midst of what darkens your existence... he comes to give light and life in the midst of that if we'll open ourselves to him.

A Prayer for Light:

Father, the world is a dark place and darkness certainly lurks within me and around me. But I ask that you would let me see Jesus in all things, and to see all things in the light that he gives, so that circumstances and frustration and difficulties and despair and pain... that none of these things would be seen in and of themselves, but they'd be recast in the light of Christ and the glorious things he has done and is doing and in which he has included me. Don't let my perspective of life, and people, and the world around me be darkened by a sub-Christian worldview... let the reality of the gospel give light to how I see and engage in everything. I ask this through Jesus, who is the Light of the world... Amen.

Day 3

Luke 24:1-12

"He is not here, but has risen..."

"But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them."

The women who first saw the empty tomb and were reminded by an angel of what Jesus had said, predicting these very events, they believed. For the disciples, their testimony and witness to these things wasn't enough. The same information and the same evidence simply does not have the same impact on everyone.

But this is the fact on which the truth of the whole gospel swings... did a crucified and buried Jesus actually rise from death. If he did, then Scripture is fulfilled and Jesus' own claims are validated. If he did not, than, as the Apostle Paul says, we Christians are to be pitied above all... the legitimacy of Christianity rises and falls on a resurrected Lord Jesus.

But our faith in Jesus' resurrection doesn't actually rise and fall with the fact of the resurrection. Our faith rises and falls with the condition of our hearts. The claim of Christianity, is that the fact of the resurrection is made real and reliable to us by the same Spirit whose power accomplished the resurrection.

So we all have our doubts and barriers to faith in Jesus, but the first one is whether or not we're even open to Jesus... do we even want Jesus to have been raised from the dead? Because if we don't, then it's likely we will find reasons to dismiss the idea of the resurrection. And there are all kinds of reasons people don't want the resurrection to have happened. Mostly because it doesn't fit within their worldview and we intrinsically know that if the resurrection is true than I have to adjust some things... so it seems easier not to have our lives messed with in that way.

I wonder if you want Jesus to be alive... I wonder if you're open to him really being alive... I wonder if you're willing to reconsider everything you think you know in light of him being alive... This is either an idle tale which we should not believe, or it is the ultimate reality inviting us into life of a different sort and from a different source.

A Prayer for Belief:

Lord, give me an openness to Jesus and an unwavering faith in Christ. Alleviate my doubts which keep me from walking steadfastly with you. Remove the barriers and skepticism of my heart which keep me distant from you... I have so many things that I trip up on and so many ways that I resist you... I complicate faith and Christianity so much when it really comes down to some simple things... And today, I reaffirm my belief in a risen Jesus... help my unbelief. Make the living presence of Jesus real and personal to me so that I stop holding back and give myself to you completely. Amen.

Day 4

Luke 24:13-35

I LOVE THIS PASSAGE... I love it. If you could transport me to any time in human history and put me in the middle of something, this would be near or at the top ofthe list of places and experiences I'd want to get in on. Jesus himself walked along with the guys explaining all that the Scriptures had to say concerning himself... I would love to hear how Jesus connect the OT to himself. And then to suddenly have the reality of the risen Jesus unveiled right before your eyes as your eating with him face to face... even their own testimony of "did our hearts not burn within us while he talked to us on the road..." to have that exhileration building until the moment Jesus reveals himself fully to them... then the adrenaline pumping as you run to find the disciples and confirm the rumors of Christ's resurrection... what a moment.

This is sort of the description of what it's like to come into personal knowledge of Christ... there is this sense of longing that is tempered by some sort of reality check. But over time, as your heart remains open to the possibility of the gospel, you learn more, your heart slowly awakens. Excitement builds and interest grows but you don't even know why and can't explain what's happening. Jesus starts to make sense of things for you, whether in life or in Scripture, things start to resolve in your own mind and heart as you connect them to Jesus. Then suddenly, you become unshakably aware of him in a personal and real way... the reality of Jesus, crucified and risen, becomes unignorable and your whole life is dramatically changed.

Symbolically, there is something about the moment at which Jesus is actually seen for who he is by these guys... it's at the moment that he takes the bread, breaks it, blesses it and gives it to them. There is no real awakening to the real Jesus until you receive the blessing of his body broken and given for you. It's in receiving Jesus in that particular way that Jesus becomes real. And our faith and intimacy with Christ is continually nurtured as we continue to internalize him as our atoning sacrifice and risen Savior. Luke 24 13-35 is awesome!

A Prayer for Exhileration:

Lord, as I connect with Jesus personally and become more aware of him and surrendered to him, give me the excitement and energy and exhileration which these guys experienced. I don't want dull religion. I want the adrenaline pumping thrill of an ongoing personal connection with the risen Jesus. Not hype... not emotionalism... not theatrics and dramatics... I want the real joy, and the real enthusiasm, and the real energy, from the real Spirit, awakening my wearied heart through a real enounter and real knowledge of the real Jesus... These guys were experiencing life as it was intended in this moment... I want that life that only Jesus can give. Amen.

Day 5

Luke 24:36-53

I just preached on this passage for Easter about 3 weeks ago, so this is a tough one for me to distill down today... I think the three things that

1) Jesus comes to make peace with us

Jesus did not show up resurrected with any animosity or negative emotion toward his disciples who doubted him, betrayed him, abandoned him, denied him, and still didn't believe in his resurrection... even after he shows up here resurrected... he comes bringing peace to our heavy, unsettled, anxious, stressed, fearful, insecure, darkened hearts. No matter what you've done and how you have responded to Jesus, he doesn't come to us now to put us in our place... he comes to offer us his peace.

2) Unbelief is a heart issue, not a head issue

People love to make it seem like unbelief in Jesus is a strictly rational or intellectual conclusion. We convince ourselves that the resurrection is outside of a scientific or naturalistic worldview and it makes sense not to believe in that... we think it's sound reason. But the disciples show us something different here. They know Jesus is dead, and they love Jesus dearly so they want him to be alive. Of all people they should be predisposed to believe in the resurrection even without proof. And yet here they are, Jesus standing right in front of them, alive and well, speaking to them and eating with them, and they are more inclined to believe it's a ghost of Jesus than a risen Jesus, which is also outside the scope of a scientific or naturalistic worldview. They are more inclined to believe in a spiritual phenomenon which would haunt them than in the supernatural reality that will heal the whole world. Proof is right before them and still they were unconvinced.

Jesus had to open their minds because their minds were closed. The resurrection didn't fit their categories just as it doesn't fit in ours, so Jesus had to move upon them and initiate something they couldn't initiate for themselves. Our minds are predisposed to reject the gospel and no amount of logic will change that... we need the risen Jesus to open us up to new possibilities we'd never even consider on our own.

3) The message and means of salvation is the same

Gospel proclamation and gospel response is unchanged. Our witness is still regarding crucified and risen Lord and the only saving response to that is repentance of sin and faith in him and his finished work. And by the way, the same joy-filled worship is the right response to that salvation... may you experience and enter into that this very day.

A Prayer for Power:

Father, clothe me in power from the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised then and still devliers on today. Fill me with the living presence of Jesus to have faith in him, to follow him, to receive forgiveness from him and to bear fruit for him. I want the life and power of Jesus to flow in and through me for the sake of those around me and for the sake of Christ... that he might be worshipped the way he deserves. Amen.

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Week 16 Devotional Blog (April 15-21)

Day 1

Luke 22:39-53

These events leading up to the cross such powerfully human moments for Jesus. The level of angst, stress, emotional exhaustion, personal betrayal, and as Jesus says in v. 53, "the power of darkness."

These are the moments where we really see Jesus enduring the worst of the human experience and at the deepest levels. His willingness to walk this road and "drink this cup" is so astonishing, so humbling... and it's so horrifying that he had to; horrifying that my guilt and sin made this necessary; horrifying that my self-centeredness could be indifferent toward that; horrifying that I can shrug that off or be unaffected by it; horrifying that Jesus is so one sided and extreme in his love that I'm uncomfortable receiving it because my response is so disproportionate... Jesus is so fiercely and doggedly determined to love us so powerfully and sacrificially and recklessly. I really can't even fathom it.

I know what it's like to experience involuntary internal and physical pain. And in the moments of that pain, not nearly as intense as Jesus' here, I would opt out in a second if I could. But Jesus opted in. And at every moment he stayed the course. He held fast. His mercy and grace has a kind of resilience that's so unnatural. I'm just in awe of Jesus and his resolve, his physical toughness for sure, but his emotional durability. He's not shut off and guarded, or detached. He's altogether emotionally connected to his own heart and to others, and yet he's able to step into the pain of all this and push through it, while not coming dislodged from his moorings.

One of the evidences that Jesus remains emotionally connected are the two times he repeats to the disciples that they should "pray that you may not enter into temptation." It reminds me of when Jesus teaches them to pray, and includes that line "lead us not into temptation..." Even at his moment of greatest vulnerability Jesus is concerned for the vulnerabilities of his disciples. He's mindful of the threats they are facing and the difficulty coming for them. I don't know what specific temptations Jesus had in my mind for certain, but I can imagine he knew that what he was about to walk through would tempt them toward fear, control, self-pity, despair, resentment, anger and violence, among other things.

And Jesus in his moment of suffering, is aware that others are facing their own struggle, and as he's drawing strength to endure from the Spirit, he's mindful that if they're going to follow him through this crisis and on the other side, they'll have to do the same.

In the midst of personal suffering he's genuinely concerned for the struggle of his friends, who are simultaneously blind to the level of anguish he's enduring... that's Jesus man. He is stunning.

I'm just grateful... and kind of, just sitting in this today, thinking about him. About his willingness step into such suffering, and to stand up straight under the unbearable weight of it. That's truly heroic.

A Prayer for Willingness:

Father, I look at all that Jesus was willing to endure on our behalf... on my behalf. Give me a willingness to meditate on that, and sit in that and linger over that long enough to feel the weight of it myself. If he is willing to suffer so brutally for me and bear my burden of guilt, give me at least the willingness to suffer the realization of why... let me feel something of the unimaginable pain Jesus went through... let me feel something of the oppression and injustice and darkness which buried him, so that I might experience a greater measure of the grace and mercy which is mine in Him. Give me a willingness to connect to Jesus' sorrow and suffering so I can enter into the fullness of the Joy he's purchased for me. Amen.

Day 2

Luke 22:54-62

Peter gives us such a painful glimpse of ourselves here... Peter was following Jesus "at a distance" (v. 54); he denies even "knowing him." (v. 57); he disassociates from Jesus again in v. 58 and then denies any knowledge of Jesus in v. 60; and Peter wept over and felt the sting of his own cowardice in v. 62. Man, that's me.

I want to be near Jesus so desperately but there are these dark forces around me and within me which keep me following at a distance, trying to preserve my own safety while sitting among those who hate Jesus. Eventually there are those opportunities we face to either stand with Jesus or distance ourselves further from him, and we distance ourselves in all kinds of ways because the social cost, physical cost, professional cost, relational cost, or some other cost is just too great. It's the impulsive response... we regret it almost immediately. But it's too late. And we're ashamed and grieved by our own weakness and cowardice.

And while our heads are spinning and hearts are lashing ourselves, that next opportunity is there and our instinct hasn't changed. We double down on our denial of Christ... we don't want to heat that comes from identifying with him, or being "those" people. And thecycle repeats... we can't stand ourselves and we're wallowing in shame, wishing we were stronger. We want to see ourselves like Peter saw himself at the last supper when he said, "Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death." That's who we want to be, but the pressure of the moment reveals we aren't that.

And this can happen so unexpectedly, so suddenly and surprisingly. We never see it coming. We're just left in these quiet moments of our hearts to confront our true selves and with Peter, grieve bitterly over our failures. And yet, we know the end of Peter's story.

We know while Peter denied Jesus, Jesus claimed Peter. Whereas Peter distanced himself from Jesus, Jesus drew near to Peter. His failure and denial of Christ was not the defining moment of Peter's life. Jesus' commissioning of Peter, with his failures in full view, is the defining moment of Peter's life. Jesus isn't done with him over his failures. Jesus doesn't distance himself from Peter because he followed at a distance himself.

And so it is with us... we don't have to wallow in shame over our failures and sin and cowardice. We can stand up straight and face again the risen Savior who holds nothing against us but provides everything for us. We can stand up after all our failures, and again after each failure to look Jesus in the eye, not to feel the embarrassment we are to him, but to reconnect the empowerment we receive from him. He's not resentful toward us... but he wants more for us. And he'll give us what we need, including grace and forgiveness for our very real sin, but also including his power and presence for our very real ministry. He's not done with us over our cowardice... he's giving himself more fully to us to make us more courageous.

Knowing Peter's story should give us all hope. Our past may haunt us. Our weakness may humiliate us. But because of Jesus we have a meaningful future with incredible possibility and Jesus loves to use train wrecks like us to accomplish his purposes so that he gets all the glory.

A Prayer for Redemption:

Lord God, there is so much in me and in my history that's embarrassing. There are so many things I've done to reap destruction and dysfunction. I have made and continue to make a mess of my life in all kinds of different ways. But you're a redeemer. You intervene on our behalf. You get involved with our messes. You reclaim what is lost or forfeited. You create beauty from ashes. I need redemption in all these ways and at every level. Would you, in your mercy and grace, rewrite my story. Take everything, even the most broken parts of my life, and use them to display your character and glory. Like Peter, take my worst failures and use them to make yourself real to others. And give me the courage to boast in my weakness, that the power of Christ might be made known. Amen.

Day 3

Luke 22:63-71

This passage really displays the corruption of the human heart and our natural disposition toward Jesus. First, you have the men beating and mocking Jesus. They aren't even taking Jesus seriously. They're playing games with him. Their attitude is totally cavalier and dismissive. There is an utter contempt for Jesus in how they mock him. Man, we live in a world that doesn't take Jesus seriously and which doesn't take our response to Jesus seriously...

The second part, with the Sanhedrin convening for this kangaroo court, shows us our arrogance toward Jesus in a different way. Rather than just being dismissive toward Jesus, they presume to judge Jesus. They literally but God on trial... and find him guilty. But what about every one of us... do we not also put Jesus on trial in our own hearts? Are we not constantly evaluating the legitimacy of his claims, the worthiness of his authority, and whether or not he's doing enough for us. It's pretty alarming and convicting to see the Pharisees and Scribes doing so brazenly what I am still prone to doing so privately.

The irony here is the truly guilty are condemning the righteous judge. Those who have limited authority delegated to them, are presuming to command him who has ultimate authority over all things. And this is the error we all make; it's the sin that lurks in every one of us; the elevating of ourselves to the place of authority in our lives, even above the one who gives us life. We reject God and put ourselves in his place, presuming to pass judgement on him, while scoffing at the idea that he could rightly judge us.

I wonder if Jesus is on trial with you today. I wonder if you are positioning yourself as the one in authority over him, as though he answers to you? Let's repent of that arrogant posture and disposition which we're guilty of at some level and which we're all prone toward drifting back to.

A Prayer for Submission:

Father, forgive me for my resistance to you, to your Son, and to your authority over me. Here, Jesus is taking my place willingly... suffering as one who is guilty. Meanwhile, I try to take his place on a throne I'm wildly unfit for and pretend it's a reasonable claim. Forgive me for all the ways that I try to assume the role over you and my life that is rightly yours over me and my life. Forgive me for not taking you nearly seriously enough and for playing games with you. I see myself today, in these men who hated Jesus and treated him with such contempt and it's convicting and grievous. Jesus, I vacate the throne of my life and the seat of judgment that presumes to preside over you. Rid me of such arrogance. Assert the authority over me, that is already yours. I gladly submit to you. Amen.

Day 4

Luke 23:1-16

In this passage, we see Jesus' objective innocence. But we also see the corruption of human systems and uman uses of power. Even unelected officials like Herod and Pilate bend to popular opinion. Even though neither found guilt in Jesus, just to satisfy the people, Pilate determines to beat him. Jesus is suffering a variety of injustices, and Luke makes it obvious.

We see the devastating misuse and abuse of earthly forms of power juxtaposed with the assertion of spiritual power from Jesus. It is power, not weakness, keeping Jesus silent. It is power, not weakness, allowing him to persevere and endure. It is power, not weakness, for him to walk out his suffering. It is power, not weakness, to sacrifice for the good of others. It is power, not weakness, not to lash out at ones accusers in anger.

This is a display of the ridiculous ways we leverage human power for personal gain or protection, and with utterly inhumane disregard for others. And the power of the Spirit in Jesus, indeed the power of the gospel, is more clearly seen against that backdrop. Real power is not the ability to impose oneself or ones will on people for self-preservation... Real power is the ability to surrender oneself or ones will to God for the good of others.

Jesus is powerful beyond measure. And that power masquerades in weakness at the cross, but it also flaunts itself in the resurrection.

A Prayer for Power:

Father, I confess that to the extent I have any or grasp for any power, it's generally to use it for selfish ends. I tend to leverage power of position or influence for control and self-enhancement. That is an earthly, fleshly, and sinful impulse. Thank you for sending Jesus to demonstrate real power. And thank you for displaying that power through his life, death and resurrection... but I ask you today, to impart that power to me, by your Spirit, the power to surrender to your will and sacrifice my wants and comforts for the good of others. Keep me from misuses and abuses of power, and lead me in leveraging earthly power to combat injustice and serve others. I want to follow Jesus into that uncomfortable space... but I need you to help me. Amen.

Day 5

Luke 23:18-25

This scene is haunting... to think about the crowd turning into an angry mob vehemently demanding Jesus' life in exchange for a real criminal and murderer. We see here two very common reactions to Jesus.

1) Irrational Rejection

So many of those who reject Jesus do so under the pretense of intellect or reasonableness. This angry mob embodies the real reason people reject Jesus... it's not clarity of thought, it's hardness of heart. Just as Jesus' innocence in this moment didn't matter to the people then, so his perfections don't matter to people today. They evidence in defense of Jesus and the trustworthiness of Jesus is strong, but people make up there minds based on there own desires, wills and assumptions.

I listened to a podcast recently, called Hinge, which is a pastor and atheist exploring together the real Jesus and his claims from a number of different angles. In discussing the resurrection, for which there is a lot supporting evidence, the pastor asked the atheist, "if the resurrection was proven, beyond any doubt, would you believe in and follow Jesus?" And the atheist paused, thought, and to his credit, quite honestly stated, "No, I don't think I would."

There are many people who fancy themselves intellectual and present themselves in that way, but their arguments against Jesus is truly rooted in their hearts not their heads.

2) Uncertain Resignation

Pilate doesn't know what to make up of Jesus, though he's not the disrupter or criminal the people are claiming. He's tried at some level to prevent Jesus' crucifixion, though he was still willing to torture an innocent man to appease the people. Eventually he gives in to their demands. There are those who hate Jesus and reject him outright. And there are those who resign themselves to popular opinion on Jesus. Because they can't figure him out or arrive at a clear conclusion, they default to a more passive rejection of Jesus that is no less a rejection of Jesus than those who do so aggressively.

Oh sure, they think they're more open minded, and more thoughtful and reasonable, but in the end they are on the side of those who rage against Jesus. In their uncertainty they remain self-reliant and self-righteous, rather than taking the leap to relying on Jesus and trusting in his righteous. Faith in Jesus isn't about certainty... it's about where we lean and put our weight down regarding things we're oncertain about. Pilate and those who follow in his steps are those who even though they have some elevated thoughts of Jesus still put their weight down on themselves.

And such were we. All of us at one point were in one of these camps. All of us at some point postured toward Jesus in one of these ways. And that's why he went to the cross... to take the sin of the angry mob and the sins Pilate which live in all of us, and to make forgiveness and reconciliation possible. If you are not in one of those places of irrational rejection and uncertain resignation, it's only because of the grace of Jesus and his power to change your heart. Praise Christ!

If you are still in one of those places today, than plead with Christ to show you himself... and if you're willing to open yourself up to Jesus, I'm confident he will do for you what he's done for so many others... to make himself real to you personally and undeniably.

A Prayer for Change of Heart:

Heavenly Father, there is still a natural skepticism in me, where doubts and questions and uncertainties linger. I still cling to barriers to my faith which I frame as intellectual and rational in my own mind, but the truth is that there's something in me that is identified with such thoughts at this point... I'm afraid of being totally convinced. I'm afraid of opening myelf up fully to Jesus and how that will make me look, or feel or what it will mean. Something of my pride wants to stay unconvinced in certain ways... and there are people I know who struggle this way too... Lord, persuade the unbelieving parts of me heart... help me lay down that resistance that aligns me in some way with the angry mob and with Pilate... change me into a rationally coherent and utterly convinced follower of Jesus.

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