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Week 25 Devotional Blog (June 17-23)

Day 1

As we dive into Peter's letter, it's important to note that he is writing to Christians and churches scattered by and suffering under persecution for their faith. They are facing very real cultural opposition and oppression which is intensifying, and Peter is writing to anchor them in the hope of the gospel. He is writing with a biblical realism about life in a very dark world, and the very specific spheres that darkness invades and the ways that darkness disorients and threatens us... and yet he is drawing their attention toward the light of the gospel breaking into that darkness, and into those different spheres. This letter is really important for us today as it addresses in a poignant way so much of what Christianity and Christians are facing in our cultural moment.

1 Peter 1:1-12

v. 1-2 - The words "elect exiles" and "according to the foreknowledge of God" are really astonishing and thought provoking. The situation that Peter's readers find themselves in is scary and uncertain. They are facing real hardship and enduring real suffering, but Peter starts the letter by saying that the situation they find themselves in is by God's design... they are not under the thumb of a corrupt government or being controlled by militaristic forces... behind those earthly powers, God's people have been divinely positioned for divine purposes. God is still at work underneath it all and in the midst of it all to advance his agenda through their lives and witness and even through their sufferings. Peter is reassuring them, and us, that wherever we find ourselves, we are seen, known, loved and positioned by God.

v. 3-9 - Peter grounds the living hope of which CHristians have in the midst of the darkest circusmtances in the fact that they were dead and given new life through nothing of themselves. He reminds us that our salvation and standing with God have been granted to us through God's mercy not our own merit. And because he saves in his mercy, we can rest in the midst of uncertainty knowing that he will sustain through his mercy. Life with God is always grounded in the mercy of God, which is ultiamtely about the character of God not our character or our circumstances. This means that our hope is always derived from looking at the character and heart of God, not at our own ability, effort or the circumstances surrounding us. We consider God's mercy, clearly revealed through history and indisputably confirmed in Christ, as the greatest factor to be considered in any given situation we find ourselves. When his mercy is as real as anything we're facing, our hope is alive and well founded.

v. 10-12 - Our faith in the finished work of Jesus is both joined to the faith and the result of the faithfulness of those to whom the promise of Christ was revealed, so that in the dawning of Christ we might see Him as the promise fulfilled. It's another place where the apostolic witness tells us that the OT is to be read and understand as centered on Christ and pointing to Christ. All Scripture is about Jesus and the gospel and should be read, understood and applied with His finished work in full view.

Day 2

1 Peter 1:13-25

These NT letters are so loaded with insight that it's difficult for me to cover even 10-15 verses in a devotional time... there's so much jumping out at me. So, I'll try to be brief here by focusing in on just one aspect of this passage... There is this unequivocating call to "be holy, for I am holy." But that call in v. 15 is anchored in the call to be sober-minded in v. 13, and to no longer conform to our former ignorance in v. 14. In other words, we're called to a right living before the Lord, but as the fruit of right thinking about the Lord. Yes our lives matter, but our thoughts and meditations and understanding will determine the direction of our lives. Peter is telling us something very important and widely disregarded in our day and age, and it's this... theological clarity and doctrinal soundness are of enormous importance to the Christian life and to Christian witness.

We love this thoguht of just getting along and loving each other. One of the most popular pastors and speakers in the country, just a few weeks ago at a major leadership conference emphasized the importance of Christian unity over and against theological correctness. Theological correctness was framed as this over-emphasized, needless, and divisive thing... a barrier to people coming to faith, as though faith in Christ is atheological. And this emphasis by this speaker was celebrated broadly in the Christian community.

But Peter is telling us that our thoughts and understanding of the gospel, of Jesus, of ourselves and of reality are not unimportant in producing Christian character... those things in fact control and determine the quality of our lives and character.

Anti-Christian, Non-Christian, sub-Christian, or semi-Christian thinking, according to Peter, all lead to impaired judgment, distorted perspective, foggy understanding, and they cripple our ability to live rightly before God. Anything less than a distinctly Christian mindset, and a decidedly gospel shaped worldview leads to a less-than life. So In short, Peter is saying that your doctrine matters... and not just a little. We want to embody, in the Western Church today, a compelling Christian unity without needing to define Christian theology, and this is an impossible task.

By the way, the effort to get us there with a dismissiveness or downplaying of theological importance, is itself theological. It suggests that God cares more about appearing unified by our beliefs than that we are actually unified by our beliefs. Jesus prayed for our unity in John 17 as so many people love to point out... but he also prayed that we would be sanctified together in the truth... Jesus' prayer and heart isn't for the unity of professing Christians at all costs... it's for the unity of real Christians deeply rooted in their faith in what's true...

Theological correctness is not unimportant to personal progress in maturity and holiness. It is essential to our personal progress. Neither is theological correctness the enemy of Christian unity. Tt is in fact the only legitimate grounds for Christian unity.

To make personal progress and to develop unity, we both individually as Christians, and corporately as the Church, must get the essentials of the Christian faith right. We must be clear about the supremacy of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the centrality of the gospel, the necessity of the Holy Spirit, and for repentance of sin and faith in the real Jesus as the only viable means of salvation and sanctification.

Day 3

1 Peter 2:1-12

"Like newborn infants long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up…"

The gospel is pure spiritual milk… it’s the simplest and most straight forward source of spiritual nourishment and Peter says we should nurture an appetite for the gospel, maintain a steady diet of the gospel, and keep drinking deeply from endless supply of nutrients for our souls which are embedded in gospel. Our spiritual development and maturity is tethered to our engagement with and internalization of the gospel.

Just as the glory and supremacy of Christ was not in anyway undermined by his suffering and rejection, neither is the reliability of the gospel or the power of the gospel in any way threatened by the struggles we face, either internally or externally. His finished work is not undone by any of our unfinished-ness. We are works in progress, being embedded within and formed into something worthy of his infinite perfections. If we have genuinely been born again by grace through faith in the real Jesus, than we hope and reassurance and confidence in who we are and whose we are is well founded.

And the way you know if you have been born again is if you are continuing to root your life in the gospel, continuing to place your hope in the real Jesus, putting your confidence in his grace and finding your assurance in his finished work. If that’s the orientation of your heart and it’s exerting a claim on your life than we need not fear our lack of progress or the slowness of our progress, we should rejoice in the direction of our progress and certainty of our endgame.

v. 9-12 are some of my favorite verses in all of Scripture because it’s Peter giving gospel order to our lives… he reminds us of our identity in Christ… what it is that gives us value, worth and significance. Our life and identity is not driven by or derived from anything we do for Jesus, but from what Jesus has done for us. Our life derives it’s sense of value, meaning and purpose from the mercies of God which have landed on us very personally, and which have united us to something much bigger than us… We’ve been grafted in, and joined to a family that we now belong to… a family which we both need, and which needs us.

And our personal identity in Christ, and social identity as a member of God's family that empowers us for meaningful engagement in a foreign land, for bold witness to a hostile culture, and for humble representation of Jesus with a settled disposition in the midst of real opposition. We need a deeper and broader understanding of the Gospel, and more personal and pervasive appropriation of God’s grace to the nooks and crannies of our hearts to live as God’s people, saved by God’s power for God’s purposes.

Day 4

1 Peter 2:13-25

Day 5

1 Peter 3:1-17

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Week 24 Devotional Blog (June 10-16)

Day 1

Philippians 2:19-30

There isn't much in the way of normal theological content from Paul here, but he does exemplify some really important things about the Christian life in general, and pastoral ministry in particular.

Paul expresses such deep personal appreciation for and connection with Timothy and Epaphras. These are not buddies he hangs out with to watch a game and have a drink. These are men who have been in the trenches together... they have shared life and ministry at a profoundly deep level. They have risked there lives for the gospel together, and in so doing they have had to care for each other in crises. They have had each other's backs. They have bled together and for one another. There is a deep bond that is only forged in the context of a shared life and a shared mission.

I wonder how many of us have experienced that kind of friendship and fellowship, beyond the fun and enjoyment of people in our lives. I wonder if you have entered into something deeper, not based on affinity or life stage or common interests or hobbies; something anchored in the deep soil of a transcendant purpose, like the advancement of the gospel.

I am absolutely convinced that the Christian life is somewhat lonely and disappointing for many of us because the community we experience is community as an end in itself, which actually neuters the kind of community we were created for. I'm convinced that many pastors and leaders in the church are somewhat lonely and disappointed with ministry because they are living for a greater purpose without inviting others into it at the same level, or entrusting real ministry to others who will carry the load with us. Gospel advancement is a team sport and we're trying to play it has an individual sport.

But God designed us for community, which actually flourishes when it's formed in the pursuit of a shared mission. Community for community's sake ends up being a social club. But what if we gave ourselves together to the purpose for which we were created? Like the bond formed between fellow soldiers on the battle field, when we bleed together and for each other for the sake of something Greater, our appreciation for one another, affection for another and interdependence upon one another is deepened and the end for which God created all things draws nearer.

Day 2

Philippians 3:1-11

Rethinking Safety (v. 1):

I my sermon on Sunday, I talked about Jesus redefining safety for us. We tend to think of safety as the absence of threatening circumstances, but Jesus tells us that safety is actually about His presence with us in whatever threatening circumstances he leads us. In Philippians 3:1, Paul adds another surprising element to personal safety.

We tend to think of safety, in a social sense, as an environment where we can be accepted at our worst, in our struggles and even with our sin. But Paul ties our safety, not to our honest expression of personal weakness, but to our rejoicing in whatever place we find ourselves. Rejoicing in all things is a meaningful and non-ignorable way to guard our souls and the direction of our lives. Or from the other side, venting, complaining, grumbling, and giving expression to whatever negative emotions we feel is not healthy or safe for our souls and it doesn't create a healthy or safe social environment for others. There is safety in joy.

Rethinking Sin (v.2-6):

Paul then starts in on this thing of the flesh... and it's important to note that in Paul's theology "the flesh" is how he categorizes the sin nature that is common to all men. And the reason he uses this term is because it captures the essence of sin, which is simply the self. Flesh is the external layer that comprises who we are. And the works of the flesh are the outward manifestations of ourselves, and inherently sinful. In other words, the essence of sin is not limited to identifiably disobedient behavior. The essence of sin is that it's just our natural thoughts, normal feelings, and ordinary impulses ruling our lives as an expression of ourselves as lord of our own lives, rather than our lives being surrendered to and driven by the Lordship of Christ.

Paul is saying that he has a personal resume that was far more impressive than what almost anybody else could present. When it comes to achievement and accomplishment and pedigree, Paul was varsity. But it was of the flesh. But to trust in ones own record and merits, even in their moral superiority and uprightness, is to be anti-gospel. Confidence in the flesh is self-reliance and definitionally sinful.

Rethinking Success (v. 7-11):

So, Paul says that it is all worthless. Whatever fame, fortune, reputation, respect, pride and sense of accomplishment I gain from being good at being good, it's all garbage in the end. It's a whole lot of effort for a whole lot of disappointment. And Paul exchanged any accomplishments or aspirations for the actual gain of union with Christ. Neither success, nor satisfaction is found in anything amount of things we can achieve for ourselves or for others. True success and real satisfaction are found in identification with Christ by faith. It's through faith in the risen Jesus, and his living presence in our lives that we put our flesh to death and rid ourselves of ourselves. We receive the perfections of Jesus and live in the power of Jesus because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And any success or satisfaction in life, and in death for the matter, is rooted in and anchored to our living faith in the living Jesus.

Day 3

Philippians 3:12-21

May aim as a pastor, according to Colossians 1, is present those under my leadership "mature in Christ." So it grabs my attention when Paul says in v. 15 that "those who are mature" will think in a particular way, because I want think like a mature Christian and I want to disciple people into maturing in Christ.

So what is it that characterizes the thoughts and mindset of a mature Christian? in v. 13-14 the indicator is quite simple: Mature Christians leaving our past behind us and leaning into the future Jesus has secured for us. But Pauls says this is the way we think. So, it's not just that we act like we aren't attached to our past, it means we are genuinely and powerfully detached from our past. Our regrets, failures, mistakes and sins; our hurts, wounds, sufferings and pain; our successes, victories, achievements and accomplishment; we are not defined by, governed by, driven by, held back by, insecure about, or enslaved to any of our past wins and losses. We are living in the moment, alive to all that Christ has done to free us from those things, and empowered for movement toward the upward call of Christ to himself and a life worthy of Him.

And then Paul says in the last few verses of chapter 3 that in our lives, we will be following the leadership and example of someone to somewhere and we should be careful and discerning about who we pattern our lives after. We called to follow Christ but that is not an individual pursuit. We are on a journey together with others who are in Christ, and it's to our advantage to identify those who are a little further along in their development and maturity so that we can imitate their faith... not to be like them, but to be formed by what is forming them.

This is essentially a call to be discipled and make disciples... I wonder who you are leading into a growing relationship with Jesus... and I wonder who you're following there too. We should all be meaningfully and personally and intentionally engaged on both the giving and receiving end of mentoring relationships as an essential part of our own discipleship.

Who are you receiving from and who are you pouring into?

Day 4

Philippians 4:1-9

3 ideas worthy of consideration here:

1) The Importance of Encouragement in Building Trust in a Church Family (v. 1)

Well these vereses are packed with surprising insight about the Christian life and how to walk in step with Jesus. Notice that Paul, in Philippians 4:1, having already communicated his love and affection for the Philippians continues to weave those sincere assurances and reminders of his heart for them. It's just a great example of pastoring and loving people well.

Life is really depleting and discrouaging and disappointed and defeating... we can feel very isolated and alone. Our emotions swell in powerful ways to deceive us and distract us from what is true. We need encouragement and reinforcement from one another and from our spiritual leaders. We need gracious reminders of the grace we've been captured by, and grace filled encouragement grounded in the grace we're living in day by day. The gospel is more than a word of encouragement to be sure, but it certainly isn't less than encouragement. Gospel shaped ministry ought to bathe people in encouragement.

But the encouragement of gospel-centered community does not define correction and confrontation out of that community. Encouragement and correction are like currencies of disproportionate value in human experience... Encouragement trades for pennies on the dollar of correction. It's a high exchange rate. We need to provide a lot of encouragement if we expect to have any correction to be well received or valued. Churches should be social environments where sarcasm and snarky humor are the exception, and the encouragement of gospel reassurance and reinforcement should be the rule. Appreciation and and affirmation should be normalized.

2) The Importance of Correction in Maintaining Church Unity (v. 2-3)

You might remember Paul emphasized the importance, in general, of unity and oneness within the church back in the beginning of chapter 2... Now, Paul addresses specific people who are apparently in a public spat of some sort within the church. There are two ladies who have worked in the church together and alongside other leaders in fruitful and God honoring ways, but they find themselves in a sharp disagreement or at some impasse relationally. This is the realism of the Bible again, as always... you can't do life together within a church community without the reality of conflict and the ever present threat of division and strife.

And Paul calls these two women to reconciliation but he also calls the leaders and church community as a whole to take responsibility for making sure these sisters are reconciled. Division and strife between two individuals within a church impacts the whole church and is therefore the responsibility of the whole church. We can't take these things lightly in our midst... we must pursue unity diligently, but we must also guard unity vigilantly. This is not optional for a church to thrive... this is a priority and it involves difficult, uncomfortable and hard conversations. It demands listening and laboring together for understanding and putting away petty and personal griveances for the larger purposes of gospel progress.

3) The Importance of Reasonableness in Shaping Church Culture (v. 4-7)

Next we see this contrast between reasonableness and anxiousness. And Paul is acknowledging in some sense the vulnerability we all have to anxiety as a response to external circumstances and uncertainties. But he says as part of our life together and witness to the world, we should known for and governed by our reasonableness and not our emotional impulses. Which is a little surprising considering the secularism of our day has tried to position themselves as the reasonable people and it's the religious, in general, and Christians in particular who are emotionally driven.

Paul's contention thought, is that if the gospel is true, and we believe it's true, than the only reasonable response to life's difficulties is to filter them through what is true in light of the gospel. It's unreasonable to believe the gospel deeply and yet ride the emotional wave of fear and worry which we're prone toward. It's unreasonable to believe the gospel and react to unbeleivers angrily and with defensiveness or hostility. The gospel, if it's true and defining our reality should settle our internal world and temper our outward responses so that we might be seen and known as those who aren't easily provoked. Real Christianity is not void of emotion, but it isn't driven by emotion. Real Christianity is reasonable and rational, providing a coherent way of making sense of very emotional and deeply felt realities, in order to not be ruled by those emotions. Christianity doesn't rid us of emotions or dismiss them... but it does provide an objective filter through which to run them and re-order them.

Living as though the gospel were really true means we must align our thoughts and emotions with the gospel. And doing so is the route to the peace of God we all long for. But it's not natural or easy. So Paul, v. 8-9 tells us a simple yet difficult way to move definitvely in that direction... he says to set your minds on things that align with the truth of the gospel, enhance the beauty of the gospel, reinforce the centrality and reliability of the gospel, etc.

And all of this sounds great but it's really hard and unnatural and even impossible on our own. But if we'll surround ourselves with others who are like minded and in this shared pursuit... if we'll try to do it on our own but by the help of God's Spirit, with the safety net of God's grace and attached to the vehicle of God's people, we can meaningfully move forward in these ways... litte by litte, step by step, from glory to glory.

Day 5

Philippians 4:10-23

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Week 22 Devotional Blog (May 27-June 2)

Day 1

Intro to Habakkuk:

Habakkuk has some overlap with Nahum in terms of timing. However, whereas Nahum was prophesying the destruction of Ninevah to the Assyrians, Habakkuk is confronting the difficult question of how God could use a wicked people like Babylon to influct his judgment on Judah. God had used Assyria as an instrument of his wrath toward Israel and the Northern Kingdom. Now God is about to use Babylon as an instrument of his wrath against the southern Kingdom of Judah and against Assyria. So, Habakkuk is wrestling with the wisdom and justice of God as he brings harm to his own people through a nation and people who evil in their own right. These are real, raw and necessary questions for us all to wrestle with, and there's real wisdom here for us as we try to reconcile some distrubing realities.

Habakkuk 1

v. 1-4 - Wow... who among us can't relate at some level to theart cry of Habakkuk? You can feel his distress in the questioning, and if we're paying any attention at all to the world we live in, we can understand from where that anguish comes. It's truly difficult to reconcile the suffering we see, the injustice we see, the prosperity of the wicked, and the suppressing of justice and righteousness. Anyone who has ever longed for wholeness, and justice and peace, and for the violent and greedy and powerful to be shamed and humiliated can surely relate to this. Anyone whose heart has felt the sting of suffering and observed the apparent victory of wickedness and the seeming defeat of goodness can empathize with the prophet. It's real question... a good question... one which any serious person needs to confront. And thankfully, Habakkuk gives voice to our own struggles with making sense of the world. And even more thankfully, the God to whom he directs his questions does not remain silent.

v. 5-11 - God says look around and see what's happening. There is a new military power on the move. They are dreaded in every way that your oppressors are, but I'm raising them up and positioning them to overcome the Assyrians. God is telling Habakkuk, that he sees what Habakkuk sees, and he feels what Habakkuk feels, and he's not indifferent to the plight of His people. He is on the move, governing over the affairs of men and the rise and fall of nations. He is at work among earthly kingdoms, manuevering them as pieces and playing by their rules to bring them down and advance his kingdom which is altogether different.

v. 12-17 - Habakkuk isn't satisfied by God's first answer. In fact, it provokes more questions and more angst. How can you, God, judge us and kill us and allow us to suffer for our sin, through the instrument of a more sinful people than us? How can you advance the rule, prosper the violence, and expand the power of godless, tyrannical regime like Babylon, in order to punish little old Judah? You can hear in Habakkuk's plea a sort of "what kind of cruel game is this you're playing with humanity?" outrage. Habakkuk's confused... disoriented... discontent... he's in disbelief at God's ways and wisdom. It's confounding and frustrating.... it's understandable really. I've been there. You probably have been there too. Maybe you are right now. If you aren't or haven't been you probably aren't thinking too deeply about life or allowing yourself to really engage life in a serious way.

But that's it for today. We'll leave it on the question. And I'd invite you to sit in that, and ask your own questions of God today... what's stirring in you heart and causing you anxiety and angst? What's not making sense to you? Will you have the humility not just to stew over the questions, but to articulate them and direct them to the one who is actually sovereign and who really does speak? Will you ask the questions of the universe, or philosophy, or other people, and not ask the question directly, boldly, and wisely, of God himself?

A Prayer for Questioning:

God, I want to grow my faith, and an untested, untried, unquestioned faith is a weak and fragile faith. WOuld you give me the courage to ask the questions that Habakkuk is asking? Will you give me the strength and boldness to come to you with what troubles me and haunts me and undermines faith within me? I like to avoid certain things cause I'm afraid you don't have answers... I'm afraid madness is the only explanation and so confronting the real questions is scary to me. But today, I'm aknowledging you're big enough for the questions that are in my heart. I don't have to fear thinking deeply and seriously about the deepest and most serious things because you are at the bottom of everything... you're underneath it all, upholding everything and so I can wrestle with real questions and real doubts and get real answers that help secure real faith. Give me a willingness to descend into uncomfortable places knowing that you'll meet me there and reveal yoruself even there. As we read through Habakkuk, give me the grace to identify with this prophet and hear your repsonses to him as your responses to me and my questions... let your Word to him be as you intend it... a word to me. Amen.

Day 2

Habakkuk 2

v. 2-3 - This is God's response to Habakkuk's questions... he basically says to record what he will say that those read it will move forward and in step with the word of God... and then he prepares Habakkuk for the fact that his plans will unfold perfectly but it may seem too slow for him and for Israel. He is preparing them for a patient endurance while they await God's rescue... this is appropriate because it will be 30 years or so before Judah is judged by Babylon's invasion, and another 50 or so years before Babylon is judged by the Persian empire... God is operating on a different timeline than our personal sense of urgency. He's outside of time operating within time but often at the level of generations rather than seconds and minutes and hours...

v. 4 - This is the underlying message of this short book... Babylon as a nation is "his" whose soul is puffed up. They are arrogant and inflated in their self importance, and evil. But God gives Habakkuk a critical insight which is repeated numerous times by the NT writers. He says "The righteous shall live by faith." In other words, God is telling Judah then, and us now, that life with God is entered into by faith and sustained by faith in his sovereignty and goodness, even in the midst of the darkest days, deepest pains, and disorienting confusion. He is most pleased by our steadfast belief in his grace and and love despite our feelings in the midst of troubling circumstances.

v. 5 - Living by faith will be essential because Babylon is coming drunk with power, insatiable in its appetite for more, ravaging and plundering people and nations for it's own gain and to expand the reach of their empire.

v. 6-8 - God is condemning the greed and excess of Babylon before they've even overtaken Judah. He's letting Habakkuk know that before these dark days have come upon Judah, that he's already appointed an end and seen the wickedness of Babylon... he wants the prophet to know that this won't last...

v. 9-11 - there is a second woe pronounced over them here... they will build their empire by taking what isn't theirs. God won't stand for it. They're attempts to insulate themselves from suffering by inflicting suffering on others will be their condemnation.

v. 12-14 - They will us violence and oppression to extend their reach and rule. This is antithetical to God's Kingdom and one day, the whole earth will be filled with knowledge of God and his glory will fill all things and assimilate to his ways... the kingdoms of this earth will be exposed for the frauds they are because God's kingdom will overtake and remake everything.

v. 15-17 - God will not ignore the decadence and excesses of an irreverant, exploitative people. They're abuses of people and pleasure will bring God's wrath and fury down on themselves and what they perpetrate, they will also suffer.

v. 18-20 - Lastly, here, God condemns the idols and gods of Babylon. Ultimately, it is there trust in created things and rejection of the Creator of all things that brings his judgment. And their lifeless, silent, impotent gods will be exposed for the counterfeits they are by the presence of the living GOd who rules from his own temple, and who is not neither silent nor still... and he will get the last word on Babylon and all will sit in awe of Him.

These pronouncements of judgment coming to Babylon before Babylon has come to Judah is to be a word of hope and reminder of God's grace while His people will be enduring years of hardship. The underlying message is that God is never far off, or detached, or disinterested, or uninvolved. He is always engaged, always invested and always advancing his agenda through the affairs of men and the unfolding events of history. While earthly kingdoms are flaunting their powers through various shows of strength, God is in heaven ordering and orchestrating things so as to repurpose their wickedness for his glory and he will always flex in the end by bringing the idolatrous to their knees.

There are many parts of the Bible that encourage us with God's personal involvement with each of us... but this is where we can draw encouragement from the fact that the whole world and all of history falls under God's jurisdiction... the events unfolding around us, and around the world, which we're fearful of and concerned about fall under thesovereign rule of God. If we're playing checkers, it's not even that he's playing chess. He's playing a multi-dimensional, infinitely layered, unquantifiably complicated version of chess... and he's in absolute control of the board. God's word to Habakkuk is a word of peace to his heart and mind and soul, when the world is shouting chaos and disruption and fear. He speaks the same to our souls and the world still shouts the same as well... we all have to decide which source we'll listen to.

A Prayer for Peace:

Father, give me settledness in the midst of chaos. The news cycle and events of our day are cause for concern. The whole world is anxious and fretting over so many things. And they're real. They matter. Things seem so out of control. And may they are. But only because you're in control. Let me my heart and mind rest in your sovereign rule and sovereign grace. Steady me and your people in the midst of the stormy conditions we find ourselves in. While everything else is blown and tossed about, let me and your Church stand solidly on the firm foundation of Christ. Amen.

Day 3

Habakkuk 3

v. 2 is really such a deep and human appeal… Habakkuk has heard far more about God than he has personal experience with God, and he’s pleading with Yahweh to do in his own day what he has done in former days for Israel. He’s conceding the judgement due Judah, but such a humble and yet bold request… in your wrath remember mercy. In other words, Habakkuk is not resenting or resisting the coherence of these two characteristics. He understands that there is a place for both with a good God. And he’s not presuming anything, or demanding anything, but just asking God to remember his own mercy even as he justly deals with sin and sinners. This is a worthwhile prayer in our own day.

v. 3-16 - Habakkuk is recounting through poetic language and imagery the saving acts of God through Israel’s history. There seems to be an emphasis on different aspects of the Exodus, but other references as well, like when God made the sun stand still in the sky for Joshua. He is reminding, perhaps himself as well as God’s people, that God has always intervened in miraculous ways to deliver them from their enemies. And though he started the book with questions of God’s wisdom and goodness and a sense of urgency and need to reconcile troubling realities, but in v. 16 Habakkuk surrenders to the Lord… not because he’s gotten a clear answer or understanding, but because he has a renewed settledness of heart that God is best suited to be God. He says he will simply wait for God’s deliverance and rescue to come in God’s timing.

v. 17-19 - Habakkuk declares that even in darkness and difficulty… in the despair of very painful and scary realities, he will rejoice in the Lord and find joy in the God of his and Israel’s salvation. In other words, who God is will define how Habakkuk sees himself and the surrounding circumstances, rathe than seeing God through the lens of his difficult circumstances. It is God who gives strength and energy and life, even in the midst of such deep struggle. It is God who allows him to rise above his circumstances and his doubts and his questions, to live alive to God and dead to the world.

What about you? Can you say this? Are you able to surrender your own heart and will and understanding like Habakkuk? Because of the Spirit of God with you, the life of God in you, and the perfections of Christ for you, are you able to rise above all that you wish were different about your life and all the uncertainty that surrounds your life to keep moving forward and through life with joy and confidence and hope, knowing that God will ultimately get the last word and hold you fast through whatever threatens to toss you about? If you can’t, memorizing these few verses and praying them daily is a good way to choose surrender and humility by following Habakkuk’s example.

Day 4

Introduction to Zephaniah:

Zephaniah is another prophet in Judah just prior to Babylon’s invasion and Jerusalem’s destruction and exile. He was a contemporary of Habakkuk. And this short book focuses on “The Day of the Lord” which is how Zephaniah characterizes the coming judgment of Yahweh over Judah. There are two horizons to which this can be applied. First and foremost was the nearing defeat of Judah and Assyria by the Babylonians, and specifically the destruction of Jerusalem, the city and the temple specifically. Secondly, there is the judgment which Jesus will bring when he returns. Zephaniah speaks of God’s judgement in stark terms and for reasons of spiritual and moral degradation, and the corruption of her leaders at every level.

Zephaniah 1-2

Chapter 1, v. 1-16 - the opening sections are a warning of God’ wrath at hand. Zephaniah identifies the political and spiritual leaders as sources of God’s anger and targets of his judgement. He warns of the destruction of the city, and the ruin coming for them. v. 13 is particularly poignant as he speak of all those who are laboring to build a life and future for themselves - planting vineyards and building houses - but who are essentially building the Babylonians future, not their own. He characterizes the “day of the Lord” in v. 15-16 in very dark and distressing terms, highlighting the intensity of God’s displeasure and the force of his justice. He is telling them and us that when God comes to judge, he isn’t playing games. God’s wrath against sin and unrepentant sinner is so definitive that it will dominate everything for those who suffer it… their whole world will be consumed by the reality of their arrogant and foolish rejection of God’s authority and disregard for his glory.

Chapter 2, v. 1-4 - Zephaniah actually calls Judah to repent… to seek the Lord while there is still time. To avoid the coming judgement by turning to God in faith and obedience… to pursue humility and righteousness and justice, that God’s anger may relent.

v. 5-7 He gives hope and even promise to those who will turn to the Lord, saying that he will preserve a remnant and restore Judah again. The judgement coming does not have to land on them or be the final word for them… than can still live under the promise and protection of their covenant keeping God and live under his blessing.

v. 8-17 - Zephaniah give this vision for a restored and triumphant Judah… God’s people sustained and preserved. Assyria would be destroyed and Judah to, but God would keep the faithful safe and return them to a place of prosperity and peace. God will rebuild his people and give them safety and security and victory so that this coming disaster doesn’t define them or end them or break his relationship with them. Instead, his faithfulness to those whose faith is in him, will prove his glory among the nations.

Again there are a couple horizons of fulfillment to this prophecy… at one level God is foreshadowing the return of the faithful remnant from exile to rebuild Jerusalem… both the city and the temple. But at another level it’s this foreshadowing of God ultimately gathering to himself a people from among every tribe, tongue and nation, to join them under the blood of Christ to himself and to each other, to live in his kingdom and under his rule after judgment comes to the earth.

Day 5

Zephaniah 3

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Week 21 Devotional Blog (20-26)

Day 1

Micah 6

v. 1-5 - Micah is announcing the case the Lord has against Israel, like a prosecutor bringing charges against someone. And he starts by accusing them of taking God for granted. Israel is cold toward him, like a teenager gets irritated and distant from his parents whose authority they are trying to differentiate themselves from. But God reminds them of a sample of his saving acts on their behalf and in their history. He recounts for them how he has delivered them and protected them and prospered them.

v. 6-8 - This portion of the prophecy is anticipating the questions that might arise in Israel's mind, as if they would say, "do you want more sacrifices? do you want more offerings? do you want more religious ritual? Is there enough animals in the world to appease you, Lord? What do you want from us? We're tired of this routine..."

And Micah 6:8 powerfully states the Lord's charge against Israel, by affirming what he actually requires. The Lord wants them to "do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." God's demands are less oppressive than they are prone to believe... But God is not after their religious practices... he's after their hearts and their sincere worship and their character. Specifically he wants them to humbly before them.

So, the implication is that God's been provoked by their persistent injustice, their lack of mercy and kindness (particularly to the vulnerable) and by their arrogance which allows them to treat God's people with contempt and feel justified or innocent. Their conscience has been seared by long term exploitation and predatory behavior and abuses of power, and God has seen enough. He's coming to the defense of the weak and those who have suffered at the hands of the corrupt leaders.

v. 9-16 - This section announces the punishment God has determined for them... God says that though they tip the scales of justice in their corruption, He judges justly and faithfully. Thought they're decietful in their practices he is transparent about his judgements. And he basically says that what you've taken pleasure in won't be satisfying; what you have trusted in and saved up and tried to secure for yourselves will be taken; instead of working for yourselves and building your lives, you will work to build another people; essentially, all your hard work will come to nothing and be of no value to you... because you have trusted in other gods, and worldly riches, and earthly wisdom and you have rejected me and my ways. Whatever properity you have enjoyed because of my grace and favor, will now turn to reproach.

Day 2

Micah 7

v. 1-7 - Micah is lamenting the spiritual state of Israel at this point. He compares it to a vineyard from which all the grapes have been gathered. Whatever upright and God-fearing people there have been, you can't find them anymore. The best of people are like the thorns among the pilfered vineyard. You can't trust anyone because everyone is out for themselves and even your own family will turn on you in an instant for their own gain. So, Micah is evaluating the desolate spiritual landscape and declaring that his trust in the Lord alone because there is nothing earthly in which to place any confidence.

v. 8-10 - Micah confesses his own guilt and unworthiness of God's favor alongside Israel, and yet expresses his hope and confidence in the Lord to defend him and justify him before his enemies. Those who appear strong and try to make him feel small will come to ruin.

v. 11-17 - Micha is pleading for the Lord's protection of his people and the preservation of his promise. Though Israel's judgment is coming from these enemy armies, and though it's deserved and necessary, may this too be forward movement in God's redemptive plan. May he shepherd his people even through this. Micah is anticipating, that those God will use to judge Israel for centuries of idolatry and injustice, he will use to display his power and might down the road. This discipline and consequence will be for a time, but GOd's promise stands, and faithfulness to his people and his promise will leave these powerful nations trembling before the Lord rather than strutting over Israel.

v. 18-20 - And now Micah explicitly highlights the promise of God and the character of God which are the source of his confidence in God. Yahweh is by nature gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. The wrath and judgment he pours out has been brazenly provoked for a very long time, yet he will remember and not abandon his covenant with Abraham and with Jacob. This problem of idolatry and sin will fully dealt with but in a way that display God's grace and pardons his people. God will separate his own from their sin... he cover their guilt and show them love and compassion because that's WHO HE IS.

Micah of course is expressing the hope of Israel, that God would deliver them not just from their geo-political enemies around them, but from the even greater, more problematic enemy of sin within them. The root of their idolatry is the sinful compulsion and condition that drives them to diminish the glory of God and dismiss the authority of God and degrade the holiness of God. And Micah is saying immediate circumstances, the coming hardship, are consistent with God's character and will not undermine his purposes, but advance them. Through this phase of discipline and judgement, Israel is closer to their redemption and nearer to their salvation... he's pointing them toward the hope of Christ as the source of what will sustain them through the crushing defeat that's coming.

We have an even greater hope... that whatever circusmtances we face, we can look back to the cross of Christ, and if our life is hidden in Him by faith, than our confidence is that whatever judgement we deserve because of guilt, it bared down on Jesus 2,000 years ago at Calvary. However painful things may seem, and however desperately we may want relief, God is not judging us. Even our darkest moments and seasons are forward movement toward our ultiamte redemption and it's looking forward to that ultimate reality that will sustain us in the midst of the bleak days of right now. We don't have to fear the suffering we endure now or even the consequences of sin and folly now... we can keep looking to Jesus, who absorbed God's anger toward sin on our behalf, so that we can have full confidence that God "delights in steadfast love" (v. 18). Jesus is proof of that. Jesus is the clearest evidence and confirmation that God indeed delights in steadfast love... how could it be otherwise? God is love. The reality which Jesus makes obvious was underneath it all even for Micah... The hope of Christ is what steadied Micah's heart then, and He is the only One who can steady our trembling hearts too.

Day 3

Intro to Nahum:

Israel's story is progressing forward... Micah was foreshadowing the judgment coming to Israel through the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. Nahum is coming at a time during the Assyrian occupation of Israel, prior to the Babylonian takeover, and the exile that would follow. Just to connect some dots in the unfolding of redemptive history, Ninevah is the capital city of Assyria. That's the same Ninevah to which God sent Jonah a few generations before. He preached begrudgingly to the Ninevites somehwere in the middle of the 8th century B.C. and was angry when the people repented and turned to God.

Micah came within the next couple of decades of that, prophecying to Israel about their coming destruction for which God used Assyria in 722 B.C. Nahum, then comes on the scene about 60-80 years later, preaching and prophecying, like Jonah before him, to an immoral, idolatrous, brutal and wicked people in Ninevah. Only this time, they will not repent. God used them as an instrument of his judgement of Israel, but now he will judge them too by using another emerging power, Babylon. So, this is in the middle to late 7th century B.C.

Nahum 1

v. 1-5 - Nahum is focusing on the sovereignty of God over the earth and his justice toward those who are guilty and set themselves against him.

v. 6-11 - He then joins the great power of God over nations, and God's wrath toward his enemies, to the goodness of God toward those whose trust and hope are in Him. Nahum is not only telling us of the saving and sovereign power of God, but of their connectedness. While so many believe a God who is good cannot also be a God who judges and punishes sin, Nahum is telling us that a God who is good MUST punish sin. Necessary to the goodness of God is the ferocious commitment of God to protect those who love him and trust him from anything that would threaten them. You cannot have a good and loving God if this God let's anything go... And Yahweh is a God who gracious and merciful and patient, but who will not allow the violent and oppressive go unpunished. He gives them the oportunity to repent for their sin and turn to him, but he will not wink at their wickedness.

v. 12-14 - This is the pronouncement that God, while slow to anger (v. 3), has been provoked for long enough and he will bring an end to the tyrannical rule of Assyria.

v. 15 - This is Nahum pointing the oppressed people of God to lift their heads and their eyes to Lord, because their redeemer is coming. We see in this "good news" the anticipation of the gospel of peace... a day at which a Savior and Deliverer will come to their rescue. He tells Judah to keep their feasts at the forefront of their life. This is a loaded verse even for us today...

Nahum is calling Judah to deliberately remember the faithfulness of God in previous generations, as a way to keep their eyes focused on the faithfulness of God to their own and future generations. He's calling them to stay rooted in Israel's story, and God's promises, and attached to his covenant with His people so as to not be overwhelmed or undone by the present circumstances and difficulties surrounding them. God is still watching... God is still involved with them... God is not done with Israel or his covenant. He will fulfill his Word to them as He always has. He's telling Judah that while they persevere and endure these dark days, to keep the rhythms of remembrance and celebration as a way to remind themselves of the larger story they belong to and what God has obligated himself to on their behalf. His word and his proven faithfulness are things to which they must desperately cling in order to make it through these times. And they have every reason to remain hopeful and faithful because their God is ultimately behind all these events and will bend them toward their redemption.

This is true for us today too... just as they look toward the redemption which Christ would bring, we look back and hold fast the redemption which he did bring. In either case it is our assurance of both God's sovereignty and goodness which sustains us in whatever we face right now. And our remembrance is nurtured by the rhythms of gathering as God's people each and every Sunday to reconnect to God's story and to reembed our lives in the gospel, as a way of replenishing our souls for the journey we are on. We feast at the Lord's Supper by paritcipating again in his life, death and resurrection so that our hearts and minds and lives are conciously finding their place in his new life and new kingdom. We are sustained right now and again tomorrow and next week and every day forward by the same hope that Nahum was giving his Hebrew brothers and sisters in Ninevah 850 years ago.

Day 4

Nahum 2

v.1-9 - Nahum is using this poetic imagery of an intimidating army coming in superior strength and power, ready to overwhelm and destroy Ninevah.

v. 10-13 - He compares the destruction and ruin coming to Assyria to that of a lion mauling it's prey. He's not foreshadowing and warning about a potential threat. He's telling those perched in the seats of unparalleled power, of a definitive rout that's coming for them. They can't even imagine another competitive military force, yet God is telling them through Nahum that they are going to be humiliated and embarrassed by the force coming to overtake them. God's judgement is always like this... it is swift and definitive.

It's important that we hold this picture of a wrathful and vengeful God destroying human life, not in tension with the loving God revealed throughout Scripture, but actually as evidence of the trustworthiness of his love. It is not loving to stand idly by while those you love are ravaged and ruined. It is not goodness to passively sit back while the violent and wicked abuse and torture and oppress those you love. Love requires of us to defend that which we love, and to protect that which we love and to step in deal decisively with those who try to harm that which we love. Love for my wife and children would require me to even violently oppose someone who try to inflict suffering and violence on them. It would be weak and unloving to stand fearfully or indifferently back while they get abused in some way.

Nahum chapter 2 reminds us that evil is real and must be taken seriously and dealt with decisively. Wanting God to be accepting of everyhting and everyone is wanting a cruel God who loves chaos and opppression. The God of the Bible is fierce toward evil and oppression and toward that which opposes all that is good and beautiful without conscience... he loves his own glory and he loves those who love him and whose hope and trust are in him. And his love compels Him to enact serious judgement against those who want to destroy that which he loves.

You can have a sentimental, warm and fuzzy fairy tale God only in a world without any real evil. But in a world with real evil, a God of love must also be a God of wrath. And if this God of love is a God of wrath it is in our best interest to understand the good that he loves and the evil which provokes his wrath and to take them seriously. We need these categories desperately today, as we try to hold firm in a culture that's increasingly ambiguous about such things. And even where we do get the right categories, will we define them according to our personal feelings, our modern sensibiltiies, our social constructs, our political leanings, or according to a transcendant authority such as God's Word and God's wisdom?

We, the Church... we Christians have incredible pressure to abandon sound doctrine and biblical faith, in favor of cultural acceptance and social capital... It's a critical moment for us and more than ever it is crucial that we're tethered to the truth of the Scriptures.

Day 5

Nahum 3

v. 1-7 - This is a graphic depiction of God's determination to destroy Ninevah. It's difficult to stomach when you consider the bloody scene, the body count and even the reaction of the world. How when Ninevah crumbles, there will be nobody outside of her watching who will grieve for her or feel any measure of compassion. That last part is key... understand the level of violence, oppression and inhumaneness perpetrated by this nation. Assyria has tormented the whole world at this point and treated weaker nations with such contempt and hostility that God is going to make a spectacle of their defeat. He is essentially going to flaunt their ruin and nobody is going to feel empathy for her. Nahum is making it pretty clear that Assyria has been a tyrant for a long time and they're judgement is well earned and well deserved.

v. 8-13 - Nahum is reaching back to other points and places in history when God has similarly executed judgement on nations for their wickedness and violence and oppression. God will never allow an earthly power to misuse or abuse their power forever. He has always opposed and dealth with such evil, even when it was perpetrated by his own people, as we saw in Micah.

v. 14-17 - He's telling them that though they have throngs of people, thousands upon thousands of soldiers; though they are seemingly innumerable, and their earthly power seems insurmountable, in proportion to God's strength, they like bugs, ready to be squashed. Nahum is putting not just us individually in perspective, but he's putting us as entire nations and geoplitical forces in persepctive. In other words, as the world power of our own day, the United States is not unlike Assyria... grasshoppers and locusts at the mercy of God's sovereign rule.

Notice the trend of God's judgement too... it is exercised through opposing nations. God is not just laying out a people supernaturally. He is laying waste to a people sovereignly through the natural means of emerging earthly powers. And it makes one wonder how God has used this nation in this regard, as well as what we may be subject to if we keep going as we are.

v. 18-19 - This is the most damning statement in the whole book. "Upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?" Nahum paints a picture of the world celebrating the violent overthrowing and suffering of Assyria. And this isn't realy a call to repent. It's a declaration that that time has passed and what's coming is coming. The peoples of Ninevah are scattered and without hope or help because those they'd look to for intervention are responsible for their destruction. There is nowhere to turn. They have abused their power, and they have indulged their appetites and they have exploited the weak and preyed upon the vulnerable and they have enjoyed taken pleasure in the suffering of others... and now it's their turn.

God was moving in history to preserve his promises, protect his people and advance his purposes. But having fulfilled that through Jesus, we are among those who do have a chance to repent and turn to God. It is not too late for any one of us. And even if we belong to a nation whose culture provokes God's judgement, it does not mean that we have nowhere to turn. There is a Leader and a Savior beyond our political or military leaders. There is a Hope beyond the hope of our wealth and infrastructure. Look to Christ... he is a deliverer and he will save many from among a nation who on a larger scale has rejected God. While the values and laws and norms of a society may mock God and despise God and bring judgement on themselves, even among them, our God is a refuge and fortress to those who place their hope in Him.

Pray for our nation. Pray for the nations. And pray for God's people to hold fast, stand firm, and live by faith as we persist in the midst of whatever larger forces are at work around us, which we cannot identify clearly nor control at all.

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