Thank you for reading and following.
Most people who read these are doing so through subscribing for free on the church website and then getting the same content emailed to them automatically. I’m thinking I’m just going to close this outlet and direct you to that same source. Just another step towards simplifying things in a new season of my life.
Writing these daily devotions continues to be a work of my heart and soul – as does tending to souls, pursuing conversations, and reading books (and reading books has really been lagging behind of late!). Formatting and posting those daily devotions hasn’t been tremendously time-consuming, but it’s another hour during the week that could be given to other these other pursuits.
So, time to simplify.
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Yes, time to simplify.
And perhaps that can be my final question on this blog, offered for your reflection: in what areas of your own life is it time (or past time!) to simplify – to eliminate redundancies and duplications and streamline your life just bit?
What’s stopping you from doing it?
Just make sure you stay alert. Keep close watch over yourselves. Don’t forget anything of what you’ve seen. Don’t let your heart wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live. Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.
That day when you stood before God, your God, at Horeb, God said to me, “Assemble the people in my presence to listen to my words so that they will learn to fear me in holy fear for as long as they live on the land, and then they will teach these same words to their children.” You gathered. You stood in the shadow of the mountain. The mountain was ablaze with fire, blazing high into the very heart of Heaven. You stood in deep darkness and thick clouds. God spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but you saw nothing—no form, only a voice. He announced his covenant, the Ten Words, by which he commanded you to live. Then he wrote them down on two slabs of stone.
Deuteronomy 4.9-13 | MSG
Blazing fire, deep darkness, thick clouds.
No wonder we avoid the past.
Yet this was the context of their ultimate divine encounter with a formless, invisible God who speaks out of the whirlwind. How marvelous that we know the One who not only stills storms, but also speaks right out of the heart of them to our hearts.
Very good, that.
And worthy of inscribing on a slab of stone or two. But paper will do for us right now.
God gave them Ten Words. As you contemplate your journey, just pause and listen for one.
It might be a single word, it might be a sentence or even a paragraph.
Or it might just be the voice of a thin silence.
Or even a picture.
And then inscribe it on your own slab of stone.
The past. What do you see? Blazing fire, deep darkness, thick clouds – or high peaks, grace vistas, unfolding wonders? Remember. Listen. Inscribe.
God of all my yesterdays, God of today, God of all tomorrows, release my spirit to dance along the traces of your steps in my life, or to pause and fill those footprints with my tears. And give me ears to hear your voice in the whirlwind of my life today. Through Christ.
That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. John 21.7-8 | ESV
Major case of déjà vu. That perennially favorite disciple of Jesus nudges the still incredulous Rock, “It’s the Lord.” Now “The Rock and I’m Listening” puts two and two together when he hears, “It’s the Lord,” and suddenly realizes he’s practically stark naked in the boat. He hurriedly throws his fisherman’s tunic on, but then promptly throws himself into the lake to swim to shore – he just couldn’t wait. Meanwhile the others brought another wee boat alongside and between the two of them they laboriously hauled the catch of fish to the shore – and fortunately they weren’t that far out; just about two hundred strokes (as Peter learned in his swimming). MAV
Did I mention that I really, really like this story?
Jesus so clearly telegraphs their initial conversion point in that first “miraculous catch” of fish way back when (see Luke 5) as a way of saying several things, chief among them being, “Hello, remember me?” John catches it – but evidently has to connect the dots for Peter.
Thank you, Peter! You are at the head of the class, and every last one of us feels at home with you. What a slow business it can be for us – this whole dot-connecting business.
But then the pieces fall into place. Peter catches on too. And his next act is priceless. They just made the catch of a lifetime and it’s an “all hands on deck” moment that ultimately demands at least another boat to come alongside and help haul it all in. Peter’s response? “It’s Jesus and I’m naked!” Talk about rewind! All the way back to Genesis. On goes his fisherman’s frock. And now what? Pitch in with your fellow fishermen and help them haul this catch to shore?
Why no, silly.
I must pitch into the water and swim to Christ. Most of us strip and then dive in. But Peter’s not most of us. Oh, but wait – he is, isn’t he? If this is narrative tacked on by a later revisionist to establish the ecclesiastical authority of Peter, they could have woven together a much better story than this!
What the author has done is reveal the hard to ape authenticity of a human being who reacts in all too familiar and wonderfully awkward ways to the sudden presence of the One he has both deeply failed and loved.
Yes, we thank God for you, Peter.
Thank you for revealing to us the God who loves great big, dripping wet, awkward human beings.
Put yourself in the boat with these fishy disciples when you suddenly realize it’s Jesus – the same Jesus you humiliated yourself before mere days prior. What do you do? Why?
Lord, thank you for embracing my great big, dripping wet, awkward humanity.
Give me the grace today to pass it on. Through Jesus.
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19.28-30 | ESV
Jesus now sensed the time, that everything that needed to happen had happened – except for one more thing. The Script called for one more cry, and Jesus filled the bill. His line? “Thirsty!” There was a bucket right there full of sour wine (to numb the senses of those suffering). They filled a sponge with it, crammed it on the end of a hyssop branch (used in ancient times by Israelites to smear blood on their doorposts at Passover), and they lifted it to his mouth. After Jesus swallowed that bitter pill, he made this simple pronouncement: “Done.” And with that he bowed his head, yielded his spirit, and he was gone.
MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
As you hear the words, “It is finished” spill from Jesus’ lips on the cross; as you see his chest expand and contract in one final gasping breath; as you watch his head bow one final time and see his whole body go limp, add this classic statement from Hebrews to your reflection:
Practically everything in a will hinges on a death. That’s why blood, the evidence of death, is used so much in our tradition, especially regarding forgiveness of sins.
That accounts for the prominence of blood and death in all these secondary practices that point to the realities of heaven. It also accounts for why, when the real thing takes place, these animal sacrifices aren’t needed anymore, having served their purpose. For Christ didn’t enter the earthly version of the Holy Place; he entered the Place Itself, and offered himself to God as the sacrifice for our sins. He doesn’t do this every year as the high priests did under the old plan with blood that was not their own; if that had been the case, he would have to sacrifice himself repeatedly throughout the course of history. But instead he sacrificed himself once and for all, summing up all the other sacrifices in this sacrifice of himself, the final solution of sin.
Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences. Christ’s death was also a one-time event, but it was a sacrifice that took care of sins forever. And so, when he next appears, the outcome for those eager to greet him is, precisely, salvation. Hebrews 9:22-28 | MSG
No more words now.
What do the words, “It is finished” mean to you?
Lord, bathe my heart, my soul, my spirit with those three words: “It is finished.” Show me what they mean, what they could and should mean in my life. And show me how to “amen” them with my life.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” John 18:33-36 | ESV
Pilate left the council members standing on the steps, and went inside the praetorium, summoning Jesus to follow him, and then he put it to Jesus straight: “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus calmly asked, “Is this your question, or are you just repeating what others have said to you about me?”
“Do I look like a Jew to you? It’s your own people and priestly class that have put you in my hands.
So what did you do?”
Jesus paused. “My reign, my dominion doesn’t merely occupy a rival place on the map of this jaded world system. If it did, then my followers would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish high counsel, wouldn’t they? So it’s clear that we’re talking about two different dominions/dimensions!”
MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
“My kingdom is not of this world.”
So easy to take this as a permission slip for us to withdraw, to hide in a spiritual retreat, cloistered with wagging fingers and folded hands as we await our divine lift out of this world into heavenly realms divorced from this earthy, unwieldy, messy existence. But make no mistake. Jesus was standing in this hall of power because his life and message confronted it to the core. This isn’t just a story about two competing loyalties, one below and one above, one terrestrial and the other celestial, as if Jesus were telling Pilate, “Relax, I’m no threat to you or to Rome. I’m talking about heaven later.”
It’s about two different ways of putting the world together.
The heart of Jesus’ life and message is the kingdom – reign, dominion, presence – of God, and it’s not out or up there, but planted and sown down here. “The field is the world” and that’s where the seed is sown, pushing through our scavenging birds, our barrenness, our weeds, our thorns. That’s why disciples are taught to pray “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” – as opposed to “get us out of here!”
Sometimes we summarize this tension by saying we are in the world but not of it. Would that we handled such tension more wisely. How ironic that those bearing heavenly “not of this world” banners can end up waving them over their own religious/political domination systems that are so very “of this world.” Slapping “Jesus” on our platform doesn’t make it kingdom.
He confronts us as he did Pilate and Pharisee alike: God has a new way of putting the world together called the kingdom of God, and it’s breaking in. It’s not a competing domain. It’s another dimension that doesn’t dominate but permeates – like seed planted in earth, or yeast in dough.
Which usually makes as much sense to us as it did to Pilate on that day.
Practically speaking, how do you handle this tension of being “in” the world but not “of” it? How does it show in your life?
Abba, let your kingdom come, let your will be done, as in heaven, so in this earth. Here. This day. Through Christ.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. John 14:27-31 | ESV
“That deep, abiding wholeness called shalom, peace. That’s what I bequeath to you – with no strings attached like the world’s ‘gifts.’ No more upended hearts consumed with turmoil and frothing with fear. Hold on to what you’ve heard me say to you: ‘I’m leaving, but I’m coming back to you.’ If you really loved me as you say, you’d be doing cartwheels for me, because I’m heading into Abba’s arms – and there’s no one like my Abba! No one! I’ve been giving you a heads up about all this before any of it happens, so that whenever it does play out, you won’t have a shadow of a doubt. But the time for talk is short – I don’t have much more to say! The Powerbroker of this world system is knocking on the door, and he’s got nothing on me. His arrival on the scene will only serve one purpose: proof positive to this world system that I love my Abba and that what Abba says, I do.”
“Look at the time! It’s time to step out into the wide world.” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
My father wasn’t prepared when he died.
His will was outdated.
Ten years later, we did see some funds from his considerable wealth, but all I remember seeing in my hand at the time of his death, of all that he owned, was a set of his golf clubs. And I didn’t (and don’t) golf. I went out once with a friend to actually use them – to attempt to use them. When I swung the wood driver the ball flew – and so did the head of the wood. It flew off into the trees on the nearly abandoned (fortunately) course.
I never found it.
But I did use the headless club as a pointer during my Sunday sermons.
Some bequeathments are more timely and valuable than others. Of all the things that Jesus could say he is leaving to them, he singles out one key, rich Hebrew word: shalom.
Shalom holds so much more for us than the “absence of hostilities” we often associate with our word “peace.”
There is a wholeness, an “everything falling into place and being right where it belongs,” a thriving fittedness. The classic Old Testament picture is that of someone sitting under their own vine and their own fig tree within the pleasant boundaries of their own heritage.
It’s not just the absence of hostilities, it’s the presence of good that is felt soul deep.
The world can promise and arrange cease-fires.
Jesus offers a deep, healing, abiding wholeness of being that no fire can consume.
And in the rough and tumble of the now and the not yet, there is no bequeathment that could be more crucial or timely.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Philippians 4:6-7 | The Message
What have you been fretting over most recently? How can you allow Christ to displace this worry at the center of your life? What practical steps do you need to take to let it go?
Spirit of peace, I open my arms to you; I open my heart wide to you today. Take my list, my litany of consuming worries and shape it into a song in my mouth. Show me where and how to rest under my own vine and fig tree, as I sing, “Surely the boundary lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, O Lord” – even when the view is less than appealing. Through Christ.
Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. John 14.22-24 | ESV
“The non-Iscariot, non-betraying Judas, suddenly bursts out with an objection: “Time out, Lord! What’s happened? This isn’t how this is supposed to play out! Private revelation, private intimacies – I thought this was all about you going public on the world stage!” Jesus patiently answered him, “It’s up close and personal, Judas! Someone loves me then immerses herself in actually doing what I say to do and there’s my Abba loving her, and there we are, both of Us, showing up on her doorstep, ready to move in with her for good. But if there is no action, no life response based on what I’ve said, then there’s no love, no matter how much you insist otherwise. Why so serious? Simple. The message isn’t my device and doing, it’s all his – my Abba, the one who sent me.” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
In the fall, prior to this Passover season, Jesus’ brothers had taunted him, “No one seeks fame by acting quietly in the corner. If you are legit, then show yourself to the world! Right now, on the public stage of Jerusalem.”
This is what was expected.
We always look for the overt, “did you see that” move of God that leaves everyone gobsmacked and all the bad guys in their place (hell would be nice, thank you very much). So it’s no wonder that with all this talk of Jesus manifesting himself to the disciples that those disciples would be left wondering, “Wait a minute. What about the rest of the world? Everyone knows Messiah makes a big splash on the front page, every eye seeing him, society being changed, the world being transformed. So what’s this ‘revealing yourself to us’ business?”
When they thought Messiah, they thought of a broad community context as Jesus is revealed to and impacts the entire world.
We tend to have the opposite problem.
We zero in on our personal encounter with Jesus as we “accept him into our heart” as our “personal savior and we tend to marginalize or even erase the wider community aspect, dismissing “church” as unnecessary, community life as optional, and faith as something to be held privately on the down low.
It’s another radical middle.
The ultimate move of God is “Immanuel” – his move into our hearts to make his abode with us, a move that ripples subtly and dramatically outward into the wide world. Once again, these aren’t poles to be crossed in opposition, they are to be joined.
To what extent do you see faith as a private personal decision rather than as a public confession of faith with worldwide impact? How can we help ensure that the one leads to the other in practice?
Immanuel, welcome. Make your home here. Let my life be a house of your divine love, flowing not only in me, but through me – and through me right out the doors of my life into the wide world. Through Jesus.