Category Archives: Devotional

Does Your Coat Have Two Pockets?

“We need a coat with two pockets.  In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold.  We need a coat with two pockets to remind us of who we are.” (Hasidic tale)

Does your coat have two pockets?  I ask because many of us wear a coat with only one.

If we only carry around dust, we will live with the crushing awareness that we are fragile, vulnerable, small, dependent, and broken.  Self-loathing will inevitably set in.

If we only carry around gold, we will live with the crushing delusion that we are grand, glorious, and precious without qualification.  Narcissistic self-aggrandizement will inevitably set in.

Where can we find a coat with both pockets?  The gospel.

Only the message of Jesus’ incarnation, atonement, and resurrection provides us with such a coat.  In the gospel’s simple message we discover, as Timothy Keller notes:

“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

 

We are broken, unworthy, lost, fragile and feeble creatures.  Dust.

We are loved, dignified, justified, redeemed, beautified, and glorious in Christ.  Gold.

Does your coat have two pockets?
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“Does the Work I Do Matter?”

Labour day is the perfect time to be reminded that our work–be it accounting, construction, writing, housekeeping, farming, customer service, banking–can have eternal significance.

In his book Every Good Endeavor, pastor Timothy Keller makes the following claim:

“Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught…unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”

When I first became a Christian, my understanding of the gospel was little more than,  “Jesus died so you could be forgiven and go to heaven.”  Inside of that definition there’s hardly a compelling vision for our work beyond perhaps a (re)commit to basic ethics such as “don’t steal.”  But when we allow the full gospel to inform our understanding of life here and now; a gospel that holds together the key truths that God came to rescue us (incarnation), through a sacrificial death (atonement) and by his resurrection offers to empower us into a new kind of life, our everyday lives become massively interesting and unimaginably purposeful.   We’ve been ask to join God’s mission to bring his redeeming, restoring love to bear on every sphere of life.  This will mean seeing our jobs as arenas of influence through which we have the privilege to creatively, thoughtfully, prayerfully, purposefully seek to honor God and bless our neighbours through our work.

When the gospel transforms our understanding of work,  we are no longer held hostage by the two great temptations we face regarding our approach to work.

1. Work as the foundation of identity and meaning. Many people in the modern world look to their jobs for supreme self-worth and significance.  Work, functionally speaking, is their god; an idol that promises salvation from insignificance (as long as we can keep producing and achieving).

But the gospel gives us an entirely new foundation for our self-worth and significance. We are treasured by God,  and immensely valuable to Him.  Our worth and significance is revealed most strikingly at the cross: God self-sacrifices himself on our behalf in order to save us from the power and penalty of sin.  This good news allows us to put our work into a larger perspective, one that liberates us from the need to wed our identity and value to what we do and how successfully we do it.  Inside of God’s redeeming love, work can become a noble good without becoming a destructive idol.

2. Work as burdensome, pointless drudgery.  For as many people who idolize their work, just as many fall into the opposite temptation: to see work simply a (burdensome) means to an (self-serving) end.  This view sees work as something that must simply be endured.  Our jobs are necessary evils, and the goal becomes to work as little as possible in order to get on with the life we want.  Of course, for many people this means simply doing work in order to access more money in order to fulfill self-serving ends (more recreation, more stuff, etc.).

But the gospel compels us into a vision for our work that explodes the “working for the weekend” paradigm.   In the resurrection God has revealed his intention to “reconcile to himself all things” (Colossians 1:20).  Christianity boldly declares that part of the mission of the church is to equip people to go into their workplaces confident that God will use their efforts within his broader conspiracy to overthrow the world’s brokenness with his restorative grace and goodness.  Yes, every job remains difficult at times.  But no job is insufferably purposeless and burdensome when we go into it knowing God has placed us there in order to express love, grace, care, integrity, and excellence.

Labour Day marks a time of transition.  Some of us are preparing to head back to school tomorrow.  Many of us are preparing to go back to work (at least in earnest after a summer lull).  As we move back into our workplaces, what posture will characterize our efforts?

Anxious striving?  Apathy and resignation?

Another way is possible.  But only through the hope and power found in Christianity.

 

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Best Devotionals for Children and Teens

Finding quality devotional resources for children and teens isn’t always easy.  There are tons of formats and hundreds of options to choose from once you start looking.  It can get pretty overwhelming.

But getting resources that help our children understand and apply the Bible’s teachings is critical, so I’m going to highlight the best devotionals for ages 3-18.

Spoiler alert: they are all produced by CWR!

I’m highlighting CWR’s line of devotions for children and teens for a few reasons:

1. Theologically solid.  My exposure to these devotionals over the years has never failed to impress.  The writers of these devo’s are rock-solid theologically and cover a broad range of biblical topics, themes, and books through their materials.

2. Accessible themes and language.  I wish I was half as creative as these writers!  Every month they do an excellent job of tying together biblical themes with cultural currents that make for easy engagement.  The tone and language of the devotionals are straightforward, punchy, and fun.

3. Easy of access.  Although produced in the United Kingdom, all of these devotionals can be shipped to your door via a subscription service.

Available Devotional Resources (with store links)

PensPENS (Ages 3-6)

 

TopzTOPZ (Ages 7-11)

 

CaptureYP’s (Ages 11-15)

 

MettleMettle (Ages 14-18)

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Good Friday: Blood Magic

Isaiah 53 (ESV)

53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

and as for his generation, who considered

that he was cut off out of the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10  Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

11  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

12  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors.

 

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Fire Made Flesh: Responding to Jesus’ Authority

I’ve been reading a lot of commentaries and teachings on Mark 2:23-3:6 over the last two weeks.  Here’s a snippet from a Timothy Keller sermon.  It begins with a powerful quote by NT Wright that Keller uses to offer a piercing reflecting on what it means to respond to Jesus’ authority:

“How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh, that life itself … walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the most devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense … Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between.” NT Wright

He’s right, because if you have a shred of personal integrity, you’ll know you can’t like anybody who makes claims like this. Either he’s a wicked or a lunatic person and you should have nothing to do with him, or he is who he says he is and your whole life has to revolve around him, and you ought to throw everything at his feet and say, “Command me.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but do you live in that sort of misty world between that N.T. Wright is talking about, that he says no one with integrity can live in? Do you pray to Jesus sometimes, maybe not a lot, but sometimes? When you’re in trouble you pray to Jesus, and then sometimes you kind of ignore him because you get busy. Is that right for you?

Listen. Either he can’t hear you because he’s not who he says he is, or else how dare you check in occasionally with this person? You can’t just pray to Jesus occasionally. Either he can’t hear you, he’s not who he says he is, or else he has to be the still point in your turning world, he has to be the thing around which your entire life revolves.

Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

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Supremacy

Colossians 1:15–20
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

“[Jesus] is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” 

As a Christian, loving Jesus heart, soul, mind and strength is your highest priority.  In every dimension of your life, he is to have supremacy.  That means he is to be the Lord and Master over your life.  You are not your own, you were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  You now live for Jesus.

This command to give Jesus supreme authority in one’s life sounds incredibly threatening at first.  However, one soon discovers subjugation to Jesus’ kingship is neither confining nor oppressive. Our lives cohere and gain clarity of purpose only when obedience to Jesus’ graceful, loving authority become one’s highest value, desire, and pursuit.

“All things were created by him and for him…and in him all things hold together. ”

When supremacy is given to ourselves and our empires, confinement and oppression inevitably set in, because we are living against the grain of reality as contructed by Jesus himself.  However, when Christ and his kingdom are given supremacy in our lives, we experience a counter-intuitive liberation; a propulsion into a rich and empowered life with God that is experienced as exciting, enlivening, and spacious.

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YHWH

A hauntingly powerful video has just been released from the YHWH Project.

Set to repeat.

YHWH

I am the might before the sword
The tremors in the spear shaft
I craft my ways from blazes of firestorms
Absorb the failings of deadened ends
To render the floors I dance upon
I am the spaces between applause
The roars of hearts running through Heaven’s halls

I breathe the forms of light and silence
Stall the course of cosmic riots
I am the glory of the giants Manaslu / Sagarmatha
Watchmen of the Asian plains
They yield my name
Made famous through the cries
Of albatross flocks enflamed in Pacific fires

I am dressed in the spray of Nevada dunes
Clothed in the shadows of Sahara caves
I am the light of lunar flames fleshing the rains of Amazonia
I paint the trains of Antarctic quests
Release dominion to desert Panthera

I authorise the remains of Aztec and Inca
That bloom through the visions of mountain tribes
I ride the skylines breathe the signs
Ignite the paths of astronomy’s eyes
I am the unheard heard in the storms that burn on my words
I am the yearned for
I am the Word

I emerge deciduous from the wetlands of your cries
Rise through the moments you wake
I bring the dawns that shake the fevers from your remembrance
I am here
I am imminent

I am he who crosses the plains through which you strayed
Discover the parts extinction seared
I dust away the dried remains of tears
I drain the lakes of your regrets
I wet the wells
till the soil
Placate the toil
quell the rages
Sew the broken pages
With my belief in you

I bring the you you have never quite met
I am the desire that keeps your pillow wet
I am the heartbeat you seek when you chase after dreams
In the reachings and sighs you are looking for me

In the body touching body
It is me you seek
In the groans and the longings
It is me you seek
In the yearning dream
In the need-to-be-seen
In the love-me love-me
It is me you seek
In the breath-drop wonders
In the gasping hunger
In the touch of a stranger
That makes you feel younger
In the books and the fables
In the this-is-me labels
In the is-this-me?
Is   this   me?
In the hear-me hear-me
Say-my-name
In the touch-me need-me find-me need-me
In the aching pain
In the love
In the music
In the beats
And the taste
In the heat
In the need
And the need
For embrace
In the colour
In the gaze
In the meaning
The desire
In the flame
Of the voice
And the spirit
Of the fire

When you cry for more my name you weep
I am he who waits for you to reach
I reach for you and wait
When you lie half broken and awake
I am the watchman of your sleep
I wait and wait til the shakings cease

I am the Truth they call release
When the darkness flares and starts to speak
I sculpt the shades of daybreak
It is me you seek​

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Advent: Making Space for God

Yesterday at church we moved into the Advent season with an interactive message that had us reflect on John the Baptist’s call to “make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23).  We littered our stage area with random “stuff,” blocking sight-lines to our worship team and speakers.  Then we sought to use John’s life and message as a template for how to prepare the way for Jesus through an often cramped and cluttered season.

photo

We talked about the importance of confession and repentance; two actions that help us de-clutter and throw off (cf. Hebrews 12:1) all the distractions that prevent us from beholding Jesus (cf. John 1:29).

We invited people to come forward, take an item from the front, and remove it.  Our goal was to make straight paths together.  Our aim was to create space for God.  Making space for God is not easy.  But when we clear out the distractions that interfere with us beholding Jesus, we encounter him in new and life-giving ways.  Perhaps most importantly, when we create space for God, He fills our emptied spaces with more of His presence, love, grace, and power.

As the Advent season unfolds, here are a few resources you may find helpful as you seek to create space for God in your life.  As you use them, may God fill the spaces you open up for Him (however meagre) with new life and new hope in Jesus.

A daily video series that the 24-7 prayer movement has produced for this Advent season looks incredible! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1_0WFGKEr8&feature=youtu.be&list=UUJuxgOp1QBXfb-qFQONAtiA

A local pastor Chris Schoon is writing daily advent reflections here: www.muddiedprayers.com 

I wrote a series of daily devotionals for Advent last year. Here’s the first: http://meredisciple.com/2013/12/first-week-of-advent-sunday-december-1st/  (Just search “Monday, December 2nd”, “Tuesday, December 3rd”, etc. for the subsequent days on my site)

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Fourth Week of Advent: Monday, December 23rd

Zephaniah 3:14–17

14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion;
shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O Daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”  

Why does God come to us in the vulnerable form of our own humanity?  To establish once and for all that He desires intimacy with us.

This is a God, who while “mighty to save,” tends to save through subtle, quiet, almost imperceptible means.  But that’s how He tends to express his love as well.  He takes delight in us by quieting us with His love and rejoicing over us with singing.

When I tuck my children into bed, I often spent time quieting them with my love.  It’s one of the most meaningful parts of my day.  It’s amazing to think that God wants that kind of interaction and intimacy with me.

Do I carve out time to simply sit in God’s presence and let him take delight in me?

Advent is a time to remember that God came to us in Jesus in order to show us the depths of His delight in us!

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Fourth Week of Advent: Sunday, December 22nd

Isaiah 11:1–10

11 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.  

Wherever God’s kingdom breaks forth, it leads to unnatural reconciliation (i.e. “the cow will feed with the bear).  People that “should” be enemies find themselves drawn into fellowship.  People who are justified holding onto bitterness and plotting revenge uncover a willingness (and even a desire) to forgive.

But this amazing and unnatural turn of the heart cannot be manufactured in and of ourselves.  Our hearts are not bent towards justice, mercy, love, and grace.  That’s one of the reasons Jesus came: not just to show us the way to live and but to give us a new heart (i.e. “a new set of desires”) that makes that kind of life possible.

The Christian life cannot be lived simply by “applying ourselves” to try to follow Jesus.  It starts–and is sustained–with us asking God for a new heart.

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