Advent Day 3: Faithful Service

Reading

 Meditation

For hundreds of years, the priests of Israel performed the ritual worship of God in the Temple.  In fact, despite being subject to the rule of several different world powers over the course of the six hundred years prior to Jesus coming and the destruction of the Temple of God, the priests were faithful in their service and worship.
 
Can you imagine the monotony?  Every day, all year round, going into the temple grounds to sacrifice, burn incense, pray, and hope.  Sometimes I think that this is something akin to what we experience in the doldrums of winter.  We continue to go to work, day in and day out, while the days themselves get shorter and colder.  While there are some high points, like holiday celebrations, most days just feel cold and dark.
 
Similarly, I think this can feel, for us, a lot like our normal worship experiences.  We show up faithfully to worship, serve in places of ministry, and do our Christian thing.  Salvation, hope, and future glory are things we hear about on a regular basis as well.  But, if we’re honest about things, from time to time it can feel pretty monotonous.
 
Yet, for Zechariah, there is a sudden and unexpected inbreaking of God his seemingly boring repetition.  In a space for worship, in the midst of faithful service, God hears the prayers of His people and shows up in a new and unexpected way!
 
It’s hard to imagine the shock and disbelief that Zechariah experienced at this moment.  Or… perhaps it isn’t.  Many of us go through the routine of our lives, trying to be faithful Christians and good people.  Most of us, like Zechariah, probably don’t expect to encounter God in any way, shape, or form.  Yet in the season of Advent, that is exactly what we should expect!
 
Advent is a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Messiah to earth.  None of us would prepare for a party that no one is coming to.  That is, however, often how we treat this season leading up to Christmas.  We have space, created by church tradition, in which we are reminded to create space in our own lives for the coming of our Savior.  The question we must ask ourselves, though, is “are we creating that space?”  Do we wait expectantly in our faithful service for God to show up?  Or is this simply a season filled with a different kind of busy monotony?

 Prayer

Eternal God,
You have been with your people and your creation since the very beginning,
faithfully walking with us, even in times of darkness and silence when we wonder if you are there.
Reveal yourself to us anew this Advent season and help us to recognize where you are present in our lives,
so that we may be renewed with hope and joy, and may spread the good news of Your love for us,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 2: In Those Days

Reading

Meditation

The Old Testament prophets spoke at length about the coming of the Messiah.  Like John, these prophets knew that they were playing a part in a much greater story of God’s love and work in the world.  These prophets lived in a time when the effects of sin were readily apparent in the rebellion of God’s people.  Times were tough, the people of Israel often found themselves in trouble with other rulers and foreign powers.  They worshiped idols and turned away from God’s law.  However, the prophets knew and spoke the promise of God that a “New Day” was coming.
 
God’s covenant promise, to be God to His people and to send a Savior to them, is renewed multiple times throughout the Old Testament.  From Noah to Abraham, Moses to David, God never abandoned His people.  No matter what they were going through, no matter how far they had wandered from Him, God never abandoned them.  The promise of a coming Messiah didn’t just include a physical change in their current environment but represented a fundamental transformation of the world and everything in it.
 
Jesus’ coming represents a new or rather renewed relationship between God and creation.  Whereas sin created a rift between God and His creation, one that cannot be traversed by anything or anyone from the created order, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection bridges that divide.  This restoration is the new day that the prophets speak of.
 
It is important to note that the prophets often refer to this “new day” in the past tense.  This voice, speaking of something as if they are remembering it, is purposeful.  The prophets are certain of the coming fulfillment of God’s promises.  In fact, they are so certain that they speak of it as though it has already happened.
 
Scripture invites us into this certainty as well.  Certainly, it is easy to prepare and anticipate Christ’s coming, something that has actually already happened.  However, we are also those that are awaiting a new day, the one in which Christ finally returns!  The voice of the prophets reminds us once again of the truth and reality of God’s promises.  If God has said it, it is as good as done!  As we wait, prepare, and anticipate the Christmas incarnation, let us also be mindful of the certainty of Christ’s return, renewing and grounding our hope in Him.

Prayer

Faithful God,
You have walked with your people through good times and bad, never leaving or forsaking them, 
and You remained true to your covenant promises despite their disobedience.
Remind us always of Your faithfulness and the hope that we have in You,
that in these busy days of preparation and celebration we may remain focused solely on Your Son Jesus.
Help us to firmly ground our hope in You, that we may shine forth Your light,
and that Your Name and love would be made known through us.
In Christ’s Name, we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 1: Another Beginning

Reading

Another Beginning

In the beginning was the Word

Meditation

The echoes of Genesis 1 and 2 reverberate throughout the beginning of the Gospel of John.  As he begins to write his account of the life and work of Jesus Christ, the very first point that is made is that there is something bigger going on here.  John isn’t simply writing a biography about some famous person.  He isn’t just recording historical events or even a new beginning.  The Apostle is not defining another beginning, as if prior events don’t matter.  Indeed, John picks up a story already being told, adding his words, thoughts, and observations to God’s story which is thousands of years in the making.
 
 John’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ life is quite different from the other Gospels.  Matthew and Luke record the dramatic story of newlyweds in an overcrowded town and seemingly inconvenient timing of a birth.  Mark jumps right into the ministry of a notably influential rabbi throughout the nation of Israel.  However, John makes sure, from the very beginning, that his readers know the scope and subject of his writing is none other than God Himself.
 
From the very beginning, John reveals the purpose of God as well.  The divine Word was in existence alongside God since before the beginning began.  This Word is responsible for the creation of all things.  He is the source of all life.  Though darkness may be part of the reality that we know, the Word is light and pierces that darkness with an unquenchable brightness.
 
Advent is a season of waiting, preparation, and expectation.  In this, we find ourselves looking forward to the arrival of Jesus on this earth once again.  John’s Gospel reminds us, however, that there is much more to this story.  We are not simply speaking of the birth of a great leader.  He is not just an influential teacher or a moral example.  Jesus is the God of the universe, eternal and all-powerful, coming to earth.  The trajectory of His earthly life has been set in motion since the moment sin entered the world.  And John reminds us, in no uncertain terms, what the point of Jesus’ life, and his writing is at the end of his Gospel.
 
John 20:31 – “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Prayer

Eternal God,
who has created all things and given them life through your Word,
and who stepped out of eternity, wrapping flesh around yourself for our sake,
grant that we may keep the narrative of your coming in perspective
that this Advent season for us a time of new beginning and awareness of your love and work.
In our reflections this season, may our hearts and lives be filled with joy,
that your light would shine out through us into the darkness of this world
so that all would know the love of your Son Jesus, the Word made flesh,
in whose name we pray, Amen.


Advent: Awaiting the Already

 
Every year, starting on December 1, Christians around the world begin to celebrate the season of Advent.  For those who follow the church year calendar, this is the beginning of the new year, taking ourselves back to the very beginning of the story of Salvation, and remembering again the strong work that God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
 
Waiting and expectation

Waiting and expectation for our coming Savior

The Christian calendar begins with a season of waiting and expectation.  We are reminded of all that happened in the beginning from creation, paradise, and perfect relationship to the shattering fall into sin and death that humanity is now subjected to.  At that moment, however, Adam and Eve are not left in darkness.  In the midst of the curse of sin, God speaks a promise: this is not the end.

 
So the great story of the Bible begins.  It is a story of revelation, covenant, and faithfulness that ultimately leads us to a small, overcrowded town.  A baby is born in an animal pen to a young woman.  His birth signals the beginning of the fulfillment of thousands of years of waiting and expectation.  This baby boy, whose origins are from ancient times as Scripture says, will undo the curse of sin and reunite God with His people.
 
Most of us know the story of Christmas.  Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men, angels singing, animals, and a manger.  There doesn’t seem to be much that is new here.  Yet each year we prepare, waiting as if it were happening again.  Why?
 
Advent literally means arrival or the process of arriving.  The season itself is a time of waiting and expectation, preparation with eager anticipation for the arrival of Jesus.  So how do we do this for something that is in the past?  By participating as if we are a part of the story. 
 
Because we are.
 
Christmas, Christ’s incarnation, His coming into this world, is not just a story. And it isn’t a story just about Him.  The story of Christ’s birth is a revelation of God’s love for us and God’s redemptive work in the world.  And it’s a story that God invites us into as well.  As Advent begins tomorrow, will you join us on a journey of waiting and expectation?  Each day we will prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus with a short passage and reflection.  I invite your comments as you reflect on what we read together!


Lent Reading BONUS Challenge: 2 Peter 3

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  We started with Mark, and now are reading Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read 2 Peter 3

Questions for Reflection:
1. What does Peter mean when he says “the last days”?  Do you think we are in these days now?  How does what Scripture says here about these “last days” impact how you think about the promises of God and live into them in your life?
2. Scripture gives a really important explanation as to why it seems as though Jesus is “taking a long time” to come back in verses 8 and 9.  How do you feel about this?  Keeping in mind the Great Commission of Jesus, what does that mean for us both as individuals and as a church?
3. Peter returns to a warning at the end of his letter to “be on your guard.”  What does he mean by this and how can we heed this warning in our lives as we follow Jesus?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that we would indeed be on our guard against sin, false teachings, and the temptation to walk away from the faith.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would take advantage of the time that God has given us to follow the Great Commission, preach the Gospel, and make disciples.
Pray for the Hopkins Community, that the Holy Spirit would flow through this town, that the Kingdom of God would advance, and that many would come to know and trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading BONUS Challenge: 2 Peter 2

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  We started with Mark, and now are reading Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read 2 Peter 2

Questions for Reflection:
1. Scripture warns of false teaching and false teachers both past, present, and future.  Do you see such things happening today?  How can we best guard against false teachings in our lives?
2. Judgment and punishment for sins are not popular subjects in the world today.  How do you respond when you read these words of warning against false teachers and those living as “lawless?”  How could we find comfort in these words without giving into judgment or condemnation (which are realities reserved for the Lord)?
3. Peter gives an even stronger warning to those who know the truth of the Gospel and then re-enslave themselves to sin.  Why do you think this is?  How can we guard against this in our own lives?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that you would continue to be filled with the love and knowledge of God and that the Holy Spirit would protect you from any false teachers or teachings.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would hold to the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching and teaching this truth in love.
Pray for the Hopkins Community, that false teachings and teachers would be exposed and that the light of God’s truth would shine into this community.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading BONUS Challenge: 2 Peter 1

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  We started with Mark, and now are reading Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read 2 Peter 1

Questions for Reflection:
1. Scripture states that we have been given “everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge” of Jesus.  Do you think that way in your day to day life?  Where is this “knowledge” found?  How does this impact you?  What does Peter say our response should be?
2. What does it mean to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election”?  How do we do this?
3. Peter, like Paul in the book of Romans, reminds the believers he is writing to about the truth of the Gospel despite them already knowing and being “firmly established” in the truth.  Thinking about what we heard in Romans, and now here, what impact does this have on us and on the ministry of Hopkins Community Church?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that God would continue to reveal Himself to you through the reading of Scripture and give you the hunger to continue to pursue Him through the practices cultivated in the last month.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would continually preach the Gospel, reminding believers of who they are in Christ and introducing those who don’t know Jesus to the love and grace of God.
Pray for the Hopkins Community, that the ministries of Hopkins Community Church would have an impact for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God in this community.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge: Romans 16

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  We started with Mark, and now are reading Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.
 
The book of Romans is somewhat of a different genre of biblical writing.  Mark is one of four Gospels, books that specifically tell the narrative of the life of Jesus Christ.  Romans, however, is a letter and is more theological in nature.  This means that, rather than introducing you to Jesus the person, it is seeking to explain the mission of Jesus and the impact of His life; what it means to believe in Him.
 
Romans one of the longest letters that Paul wrote and is, essentially, a summary of the plan of salvation.  It’s structure, which is commonly referred to as “sin, salvation, sanctification” or  “guilt, grace, gratitude,” has become the precedent for many contemporary writings and the general presentation of the Gospel as well.  The book covers the need for a Savior (chapters 1-3), the impact of The Savior (chapters 4-11), and the call of the Savior to a renewed life (chapters 12-16).

 Read Romans 16

Questions for Reflection:
1. What do you notice about the identifying factors of everyone that Paul asks to be greeted on his behalf?  Do we often (or ever) think of each other in such a way, identifying them with their identity in Christ rather than some other, worldly identity?
2. Paul warns about divisive people.  What does he say about such people?  Thinking about what has been said in the last couple of chapters, how are to respond to and interact with those who fit this category?  Does Paul’s warning here mesh with what he has said in these previous chapters?
3. The letter to the church in Rome is concluded with a beautiful doxology in verses 25-27.  The word doxology literally means “praise to God.”  Does the way that Paul ends this (and most of his) letters with a doxology teach us anything about our own lives, interactions, and communications?  Are we quick to praise God for the things we experience?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that you would both see yourself and others through the lens of identity in Christ and that it would change the way we think about ourselves and others.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would see people as God sees them, that we would avoid divisions and remove obstacles to belonging in the family of God and hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the glory of the Father.
Pray for the Hopkins Community, that God would crush Satan and his schemes here and open a new door for Gospel impact and Spirit-filled revival in this town!
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge: Romans 15

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  We started with Mark, and now are reading Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.
 
The book of Romans is somewhat of a different genre of biblical writing.  Mark is one of four Gospels, books that specifically tell the narrative of the life of Jesus Christ.  Romans, however, is a letter and is more theological in nature.  This means that, rather than introducing you to Jesus the person, it is seeking to explain the mission of Jesus and the impact of His life; what it means to believe in Him.
 
Romans one of the longest letters that Paul wrote and is, essentially, a summary of the plan of salvation.  It’s structure, which is commonly referred to as “sin, salvation, sanctification” or  “guilt, grace, gratitude,” has become the precedent for many contemporary writings and the general presentation of the Gospel as well.  The book covers the need for a Savior (chapters 1-3), the impact of The Savior (chapters 4-11), and the call of the Savior to a renewed life (chapters 12-16).

 Read Romans 15

Questions for Reflection:
1. Read Philippians 2:5-11.  Paul encourages believers to have the same “attitude of mind” toward each other as Christ had.  In light of the Philippians passage, what does this mean to you?  How does it impact the way you interact with other people?  What does Paul say the intended outcome of acting in this way is?
2. Paul believes that the believers in Rome know all of the things that he has written, yet he writes them boldly to “remind” them.  What do you think he means by this?  How does this have bearing on our worship services and the reading and proclaiming of God’s Word?
3. As he begins to close his letter, Paul talks about his future plans.  He urges them to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”  Have you ever thought about prayer in this way?  How does it impact your prayer life?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that you may indeed have the same “attitude of mind” towards others, both believers and non-believers, as Christ had and has for us.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially in this Holy Week leading up to Easter.
Pray for the Hopkins Community, that hearts would be softened to the message of the Gospel.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge: Romans 14

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  We started with Mark, and now are reading Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.
 
The book of Romans is somewhat of a different genre of biblical writing.  Mark is one of four Gospels, books that specifically tell the narrative of the life of Jesus Christ.  Romans, however, is a letter and is more theological in nature.  This means that, rather than introducing you to Jesus the person, it is seeking to explain the mission of Jesus and the impact of His life; what it means to believe in Him.
 
Romans one of the longest letters that Paul wrote and is, essentially, a summary of the plan of salvation.  It’s structure, which is commonly referred to as “sin, salvation, sanctification” or  “guilt, grace, gratitude,” has become the precedent for many contemporary writings and the general presentation of the Gospel as well.  The book covers the need for a Savior (chapters 1-3), the impact of The Savior (chapters 4-11), and the call of the Savior to a renewed life (chapters 12-16).

 Read Romans 14

Questions for Reflection:
1. Weakness is something that is not desirable in our culture yet Scripture has a great deal to say about it.  What do you think it is that makes a person’s faith weak according to Romans 14?  How are we called to act around them?  What does Paul say the Lord will do for them?
2. Verses 7-9 contain a remarkable assurance about our position with the Lord, how does this impact you in your day to day life?  What assurance does it give?
3. Are we a body of believers who are making “every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification?”  What does this mean to you?  How would we see this happening at Hopkins Community Church (or your home church)?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that your faith would be strengthed and your assurance in Christ be renewed again this week.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would be a place where peace reigns and where we are looking to build each other up in all things.
Pray for the Hopkins Community, that any stumbling blocks that have been placed, whether intentionally or unintentionally, by the church would be removed and the way made straight for people to come to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10