Friday, January 29, 2016

Daily Devotional: January 29

Day Five, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter Five

Today's reading is the first section of the most famous sermon ever preached. Whether all these teachings we now call the "Sermon on the Mount" are all part of one sermon, or are a collection of teachings Jesus made throughout His ministry, we aren't sure. I am sure that if someone were to take a page of my Bible every day for the rest of my life, I would ask them to take these pages last. 

Are you good enough? Do you need to be?

Jesus starts this sermon with what I like to think of as a sort of spoken word poem. The beatitudes in the beginning of Matthew 5 turn the values of the Jesus' culture inside out. Our culture is no different. Imagine an instagram post, capturing an image of a slum somewhere in the third world. Let's say a family in the Philippines who lives on less than two dollars a day is posing in this picture. The world has done nothing for them. They are the unwanted rejects of the global economy, the people who fall through the cracks in the system. Imagine another picture of a homeless man sleeping on a freezing bench in downtown Denver. He can't afford the medicine he needs for his mental health, and doesn't even know he needs it. Could you imagine the caption of these pictures reading "#Blessed" unironically? 

Jesus can. He calls them blessed. He calls them loved. He calls them wanted. Poor in spirit and in pocket, but blessed. The reason Jesus hung out with the rejects of his society is because He valued them. He didn't feel sorry for them, He loved them. Jesus takes groups of people who the systems of power don't need and tells them they will one day inherit the whole stinking thing. 

Are you good enough? Do you need to be?

Jesus then goes into a morality lesson where he heaps on more rules on top of the existing Law of Moses. He does this to draw attention to the impossibility of being good enough. If you're attempting to keep all the rules, you will always come up short. 

Then He issues the statement on loving enemies. Doing good to those who do you wrong. Treating people out of your humanity even when they aren't acting out of theirs. Christ then issues the statement "You are to be whole, as your heavenly Father is whole." Sometimes this gets translated as "perfect" or "holy," but whole works as well. God treats everyone the same. He causes good things to happen to the evil and to the good. 

Are you good enough? Do you need to be?

You can't be good enough by following the rules. It's OK, Jesus doesn't give this sermon because He expects you to be. He is showing you how to live your life in a way that mirrors the Father, knowing you can't do it without Him. You are already good enough for His love. As He grows in your life, you should look more like the One who loved you first.

Sit in silence. How much do you remind people of your Father?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Daily Devotional: January 28

Day Four, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 4

Today's reading has one of the weirdest stories in the Scriptures. Jesus is led by God into the wilderness to be prepared for ministry. After Jesus spends 40 days wandering and fasting, "the tempter" comes to test Him. The exchange we see between the devil and Jesus is extremely interesting and important for Matthew. 

We always want more. We always want acclaim. We always want Power.

The first temptation is the most simple. Matthew makes the statement "After 40 days and 40 nights of fasting, he then became hungry." Understandable, considering I can barely miss lunch without becoming a monster. This temptation isn't saying that eating bread is bad, nor is it saying that Christ couldn't use his power over Creation to make himself food. What Jesus is being tempted with is simple disobedience. The Spirit led him into the desert to fast, and if He were to break this fast early, He would be disobedient to the Spirit. Jesus trusted that God would provide a meal for Him when the time came. 

Too often we give up on great to get more of good. We pass up on something that would require us to trust beyond our comfort level, in order to get more of something cheap. 

We always want more. We always want acclaim. We always want power.

Many Rabbis around the time Jesus was born speculated that when Messiah came, he would land on the roof of the temple, announcing himself to the world. Jesus would have known this theory. The devil is tempting Jesus with acclaim. Do something amazing, Jesus, and the world will know who you are. Jesus trusts the plan of God. Again, he retreats from temptation into courageous trust in a plan He knows will be dangerous.

We always want more. We always want acclaim. We always want power.

The last temptation of Christ is terrifying to consider. In it, the devil offers the kingdoms of the world to Christ if he will just worship Satan once. Does this mean the devil has control of all the kingdoms of the world? Or is he lying? Either way, Christ's triumph comes again from a place of complete trust in God's plan. Sure, he could issue a Kingdom of God if He were to take the deal and become ruler of all the kingdoms of the world, but it wasn't the path He was meant to take.

Christ's ability to trust comes from a place of communion with the Father, but also from something else. He is the ultimate example of contentment. He doesn't want more, he doesn't need acclaim, and he isn't thirsty for power. Jesus is merely content with where He is, with who He is, and with the path God wants Him to take. 

Spend time in silence. Ask for Grace for where you don't trust completely. Soak in the Grace given to you. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Daily Devotional: January 27

Day Three, the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter Three

I love John the Baptist, or John the Forerunner as the Eastern Church refers to him. He is a wild man living in the wilderness eating bugs and honey, swimming in the river everyday, and pointing people to Jesus. I love that his life exists for someone else entirely. We don't see that much in our generation because we are far too preoccupied with ourselves. John had found the secret is to think nothing of yourself and only of your role in the Story of God.

We don't know if John and Jesus had ever hung out before this story. We know from other Gospel accounts that they were first cousins, but that's all that is said. We don't know specifically that John knew Jesus was Christ until this moment, or if he recognized him as such for the first time that day by the river. What we do know is, at least on this day,  John recognized Christ as Christ when he saw Him. 

Do you recognize Christ when you see Him? Are you looking for Him?

In the fifth century a man named Patrick was taking the hope he had found to people in Ireland. His life was lived in service to something other than himself, and he is now venerated as a saint. Now on the anniversary of the day he died, people all over the world drink green beer and celebrate the nation of

Ireland, but Patrick's life wasn't lived in search of being celebrated. A famous prayer has been attributed to him that captures his motivation:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Do you recognize Christ when you see Him? Are you looking for Him?

John the Baptist saw the mercy available to all people and made himself a vessel for that mercy's message. He was able to live a life completely outside of his own desire and pride and in service of the Christ he was hoping to see. More importantly, when John saw Jesus walking on the shore, he recognized Him.

Spend some time in silence. Ask Christ for the ability to see Him today. In every person you meet, in every conversation you have, in your meals, in your commute, may you see Christ. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Daily Devotional January 26

Day Two, the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter Two

Life is supposed to be easy if you're "living right." This is the common accepted version of karma that even the most churched among us still finds him or herself believing. We feel #blessed by our possessions and vacations. God is blessing us with so much stuff, we say. Because of our faith in Him, we are being given abundance and favor! 

Do you think God blesses you with an easy life if you're faithful?

The reading for today is Matthew chapter two. Right after the narrative of wise men from the East visiting the infant Christ, we see Joseph being warned in a dream by an angel that he needs to take his family from their new home in Bethlehem and flee across the wilderness to Egypt. Herod, an opportunist with an army and the man in charge of the region, was going to have his thugs murder the male children in Bethlehem. Herod was worried about this one baby the wise men had told him about. Joseph and his family packed their things and fled during the night. The Holy Family were Palestinian Refugees fleeing a war-lord. 

Mary--the theotokos or "God-bearer", the one whom all generations will call "Blessed (Luke 1:48)", the one whose faith was rewarded with the honor of bringing Emmanuel into reality-- found her faithfulness rewarded by seeing all her possessions left in Bethlehem and her family being made to flee to a foreign country under cover of darkness. Mary feared for her life and the life of her new son. 

Do you think God blesses you with an easy life if you're faithful?

Herod's men killed babies looking for Jesus, but He was no where to be found. Mothers mourned for their sons, and Mary must have held hers as tight as she could the whole way to Egypt. A miserable, terrible event led them back to the place God had delivered their ancestors from centuries before. A reverse Exodus for the One who would deliver us all. God's kernel of heaven was protected and kept safe through suffering, not in spite of it. The hard parts of life come whether we are faithful, but God always protects His plan for the world.  We weren't promised an easy life, or possessions, or money, or #blessings, but we were promised the kernel of heaven would grow inside of us.

Be silent for a moment. You are a part of that plan. You carry that kernel of heaven inside of you. Feel it growing. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Daily Devotional: January 25

Day one, The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 1.
Matthew 1 has been the first chapter of the first book in the Christian New Testament for centuries. Many people who have never encountered the main character of the Bible, a man called Jesus, start with Matthew 1 and just see a long list of hard to pronounce names. Many more people who have sat in church pews all their lives skip that list of hard to pronounce names and on to the "stories" of Jesus. Why would the author choose to start his book with this list.
Think about your day. What are the important things you have to accomplish today? 
Imagine a man in a dark room lit only by a oil-burning lamp. He is furiously writing onto parchment the most important thing he knows. He chooses to start this story with a list of names because his audience would recognize many of them. It isn't a list of perfect people. It's a list of imperfect people. Some are thieves, some rapists, many are cheaters and manipulators, but their names are included. Some are heroes and some are villains, and both types have their names included. The lives of each of these people were messy, random, and seemingly full of uncertainty and, at times, uselessness. Yet this group, when viewed together, looks anything but random.
Six groups of seven generations.
 Fourteen generations between major historical events the original readers would have all known by heart.
Six groups of seven.
Seven being the most weighty and important number in ancient Hebrew numerology.
Six groups of seven.
The first born of the seventh group would be the most important in a list of this type, and in this case it is Jesus. Born of a virgin to a man named Joseph who was a distant relative of the true royal line of the nation.
This list is politically volatile to the first generation of readers who were being ruled by leaders not from their royal family. This list is made up of imperfect lives, but is somehow perfectly orchestrated to fit an outline the people should have noticed all along.
Think about your day. What are the most important things you have to accomplish today?
Our lives aren't perfect. They aren't supposed to be. Perfect lives wouldn't go anywhere, wouldn't make us more mature, wouldn't make us more whole. Our lives are messy precisely because that's the nature of life. The messy nature, the things that makes our life look imperfect from the ground level, are perhaps a part of a greater story from 30,000 feet.
Matthew 1 is the announcement that this whole thing has a point. That the most miserable things in life can be used by the unstoppable One who is drawing us forward, progressing us towards a plan in which we are all indispensable. You're more than part of a list of names.

Be silent for a moment. Feel the movement forward from the God who is pulling you there. 

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.