December Devotions -- December 1 - 15
(Look below for our progress in reading the bible in a year)
December 1, 2023 – Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible say Peter could raise the dead?”
“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.” Acts 9:36-43
She is simply there. Tabitha was trying to love G-d and follow G-d. Perhaps she was a good wife, perhaps a good mother, perhaps a good friend – we do not know. She was living her life and trying to be a good person. The widows felt compelled to point out to Peter all of her charity. So what could Peter do?
We know so little about Tabitha except what the biblical witness tells us. We don’t know if she was a young woman, married and with children to raise, or living with her family. We don’t know if she’d been disowned from a pagan family because she was Christian. Maybe she was old, and all by herself, so she dwelt with the other widows of the community. We just don’t know. But there she is – a simple story of faith and a miracle – and from the response of the women following her death, she obviously meant a lot to so many people. I wonder if this is why Peter was moved to act – and act he did.
Tabitha will be the only person Peter will raise from the dead. But Peter will also heal many throughout the book of Acts. But notice he does not do it on his own. The text tells us: “Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.”
Peter prays before he raises Tabitha. Peter turns to Jesus for the power and the presence to do the miraculous. This is why we need to turn to Jesus in prayer often. No, we will not be able to raise the dead. But we can do powerful things through the Holy Spirit and prayer.
December 2, 2023 – Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible say why Thomas missed the first resurrection appearance of Jesus?”
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:19-29
Where was Thomas? Where was Thomas? The other disciples got the memo that they were gathering in the Upper Room that evening – the pressure was mounting – people were beginning to make accusations against them. They needed to continue to meet, to pray, to wait. Most importantly, they needed to stay together. It is for all of these reasons they gathered in the Upper Room – and were praying. But someone had to notice that they were short one person. Where was Thomas?
Perhaps Thomas couldn’t get past the horrors of the cross. He and the other disciples were devastated by the death of Christ. We know they were all afraid. So maybe Thomas was more afraid than the others. As such, perhaps he just didn’t believe Jesus was coming back. After all if Thomas believed Christ was going to show up that evening he would have been there.
We know that grief can cause us to lose hope. And when we lose hope, we lose faith – and when we lose faith, we lose mission. Watching Jesus die on the cross could have convinced him that Jesus’ mission and ministry died with him.
So we just do not know why Thomas was not there. But we do know he did not miss the next opportunity to see the risen Christ.
December 3, 2023 – 1st Sunday in Advent Year B
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:24-37
The brief sections of Mark and Matthew that give us apocalyptic warnings have always been something of a puzzle to me. They just appear to be so out of character with the rest of the Gospel. I assume that these traditions were so prevalent in the early church that Mark simply couldn’t ignore them. Most of the Apostles including the Apostle Paul expected Jesus to return very soon after the ascension. We might say they held an imminent eschatology. Others, in response to the longer-than-expected delay had begun to cast Jesus’ return as the culmination of human history – or in other words as an event that would occur at the end of time. We might call this a delayed or future eschatology. Either way, we have all been waiting a long time for Christ to return.
The season of Advent is about waiting. There are benefits to learning how to wait – I have a few to throw at you…
1. Waiting teaches us patience. It isn’t always good to get whatever you want immediately. Paul, in Romans, even teaches that suffering produces endurance, patience and endurance.
2. The second thing that waiting teaches us is endurance and perseverance. Think of our friend Joseph, the husband of Mary, who was patient, and endured and persevered with his betrothed who was with child by the Holy Spirit.
3. Waiting teaches humility. To wait means to allow others to go ahead of you.
4. Waiting heightens expectation. Those of us who are parents know that waiting nine months heightens the expectation of the birth of a child.
5. Finally, waiting teaches faithfulness. The whole story of the forty years of wandering for the Israelites was about teaching faithfulness.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t often experience G-d’s voice in the heavens being ripped open. Instead, I experience G-d in the whispers of our lives, the whispers that nudge us, the glimpses that surprise us, that vague unexplainable experiences that strengthens and confirms our faith. But, it is only by faith that we can continue to wait – while others drift away to other voices we wait patiently for that day when the heavens will be ripped open once again, and the blessings from G-d made manifest through Jesus Christ will descend on all of G-d’s people.
December 4, 2023 – Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible say there were three Wise Men?”
“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:1ff
The Wise men were following a star that announced to the world that something fantastic had transpired. The celestial announcement was telling them that a king had been born. Was the star a one-time phenomenon, or was it something more “extra-terrestrial”? Some believe the “Star of Bethlehem” was a comet. Comets were considered harbingers of important events in history. So perhaps a comet like Halley’s Comet was the culprit. Others believe the Star of Bethlehem was a conjunction or gathering of planets in the night sky. Since the planets all orbit the sun, there will be times when they seem to approach each other to appear like one light source. Finally, the Star of Bethlehem could have been caused by an exploding star – called a supernova. How long this light would have appeared in the sky is unknown but could have accounted for the light. There are ways we might be able to account for a celestial event, but there is no way to determine how many Wise Men came to see the baby Jesus.
The Bible lists three gifts that were brought to the baby Jesus – this accounts for the tradition of three Wise Men. We just do not know how many made the trip. What we do know is they were wise – because they did not return to Herod to give him a report – but returned home by a different route. I have just wish I could have witnessed the Star of Bethlehem – to have stood in the desert with the Wise Men and the shepherds and witnessed the celestial event. It must have been a sight to see.
December 5, 2023 – Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible say Theophilus was a person?”
“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Luke 1:1-4
“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” Acts 1:1ff
Who was Theophilus? That is a great question. We really do not know who Theophilus was – but that has not stopped theologians and biblical scholars from putting forth different theories. No matter how much evidence there may or may not be for each theory, the simple fact is we do not know.
As we know, names in the bible are important and can be very significant. For example, Jacob is renamed Israel: “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”(Genesis 32:28) And the place where this happened gets a name: “So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
The name “Theophilus” literally means “loved by G-d” or “lover of G-d” – even “friend of G-d.” This has led some to believe that “Theophilus” is just a generic title that applies to all Christians. However, from the context of Luke and Acts, it seems clear that Luke is writing to a specific individual, since he includes the address “Most Excellent”, a title often used when referring to someone of honor or rank, such as a Roman official. Paul used the same term when addressing Felix and Festus, both mentioned later in Acts. Therefore, one of the most common theories is that Theophilus was possibly a Roman officer or high-ranking official in the Roman government. Another possibility is that Theophilus was a wealthy and influential man in the city of Antioch. There are second-century references to a man named Theophilus who was “a great lord” and a leader in the city of Antioch during the time of Luke.
Yes it might be considered splitting hairs when we ask such questions. But this is what makes the Bible such a rich and rewarding book – and deserves our study.
December 6, 2023 – Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible say two Temple employees did nothing to help a man beaten half to death?”
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37
Jews and Samaritans were not the best of friends. The reasons date back to the time of Jacob and his son Joseph. Jacob loved his son Joseph the most. Before his death, Jacob gave Joseph a blessing in which he called him a “fruitful bough by a well”. The blessing was fulfilled, as the territory allotted to the tribes of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, was the territory that eventually became Samaria. Later, Israel divided into two kingdoms, and the hilltop city of Samaria was established as the capital of the Northern Kingdom – and Jerusalem became the capital of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
In 722 B.C. Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom and took most of its people into captivity. The Assyrians brought in Gentile colonists from Babylon to resettle the land. The foreigners brought with them their pagan idols, which the remaining Jews began to worship alongside the G-d of Israel. The remaining Jews also intermarried with the gentiles. Meanwhile, the southern kingdom of Judah fell to Babylon in 600 B.C. Its people, too, were carried off into captivity. But 70 years later, a remnant of 43,000 was permitted to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The people who now inhabited the former northern kingdom, the Samaritans, vigorously opposed the repatriation and tried to undermine the attempt to reestablish the nation. For their part, the full-blooded, monotheistic Jews detested the mixed marriages and their worship of “other gods”. So walls of bitterness were established and lasted through the centuries. As such, the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans.
Now, the none of these facts have anything to do with the reaction of the Temple employees. Neither would go near the man beaten half to death because he must have appeared completely dead to them. And if he was dead, neither the Temple Priest nor the Levite were ritually allowed to touch something dead, or they would be unable to perform their duties for seven days (according to the ritual laws of Israel). So yes, both men walk right on by and do nothing. But that is not what makes the story of the Good Samaritan so powerful – and so difficult for the lawyer. When the man beaten half-to-death wakes up and realizes what has happened, he will soon enough be confronted with the news that his benefactor is a “hated” Samaritan. It gives us all a reason to pause – what would we do when we learn that our benefactor is someone we hate? When your enemy goes out of their way to do something extraordinary (or even just something nice) for you, how will you respond?
December 7, 2023 – Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible say the oldest brother usually gets the short end of the stick?”
“Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” Luke 15:11-32
If you read the bible, and follow the problems with relationships, you will notice that there is a pattern with brothers – they often do not get along. And the problems usually come between the oldest and the youngest. Consider the story of Cain and Abel – Cain kills his older brother due to jealousy. Or remember the story of Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery – due to jealousy. There is Jacob and Esau – Jacob was able to trick Esau out of his birthright and the blessing from their father.
As such, this helps us appreciate the setting of the story of the Prodigal Son. He is the youngest – and he is pretentious, rude, and abrupt. His older brother is respectful, polite, and predictable. The younger son treats his father as if he is dead to him by asking for his inheritance before the father passes. He then goes off to squander his money and property. When his money fails, he decides to return to his father and “reap the reward of his actions.” But it isn’t just his father with whom he needs to make things right. He also must confront his older brother. We have no idea from the biblical witness if he does – or not. All we know is the oldest is standing outside the party refusing to join in the celebration.
Family drama. It has always been a part of the human story. Why? Because we are all a part of the human story – and none of us are perfect.
December 8, 2023 – Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible really say that only one of ten lepers returns to thank Jesus?”
“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19
While this story appears to be a simple story about thankfulness, we soon realize it has a few wrinkles we must address. This is one of the few healing stories where people are healed by Jesus without him touching them. In fact they are no where near Jesus when they are healed. They have all departed to go and do what Jesus told them to go and do: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” There are questions we cannot get answered – like “How far did they have to go to see the priests?” Another question I would like to know is “Was the one who went back to Jesus the only Samaritan?” And finally, “Were they all healed at the same moment, or were some healed immediately, and others healed later?”
Now, you may say “Why does any of that matter?” It matters because this story is not just about thankfulness. This story is about obedience, thankfulness, community relationships, and faith. Only one leper returns to Jesus to say thank you, and he is a Samaritan. But did he actually see the priest like Jesus told him? And because he is a Samaritan what good Jewish Priest would have given him the time of day? The interesting point to me is that he appears to have stopped on his way to see the priest. He must have turned around when he realized he was healed and went back to see Jesus.
Another question I have is does it matter to us that the only one who returned to say thank you was a Samaritan? All of the lepers would have been ostracized by the community, and perhaps their families as well. Anyone with a disease like leprosy would be forced to live outside the community and would not be welcome without shouting out “Unclean”. If they were healed, and certified by the priest as being healed, they would finally be allowed back into their community, and allowed back together with their families. Who among us wouldn’t want to see our families and give them the unbelievable news before returning to say thank you?
In a world where more and more people feel entitled, having a heart of thankfulness seems to be a rare commodity. Perhaps that is the point – we need to live each day with a heart of thankfulness and not with the expectation that we deserve everything.
December 9, 2023 – Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible really say they released a murderer instead of Jesus?”
“After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.” John 18:38-40
“Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” Luke 23:18-21
Barabbas is mentioned in all four of the Gospels in the New Testament. He is named as either a prisoner or a criminal – even a murderer. As the story goes, he was scheduled for crucifixion, but was chosen by the crowd to be pardoned as was the custom of Pontius Pilate during the feast of the Passover. The name Barabbas appears nowhere else in the New Testament. Neither do any of the gospels give any information about his life after his release. According to the early biblical scholar Origen and some other commentators, the full name of Barabbas may have been Jesus Barabbas, since Jesus was a common first name. Therefore the crowd was presented with a choice between two people named Jesus…..isn’t that ironic?
Some biblical scholars have raised the issue of some puzzling similarities between the released prisoner and Jesus himself. The most striking similarity concerns their names. Some ancient Syriac copies of Matthew, and a few other ancient sources, call the freed prisoner “Jesus bar Abbas”. The name Barabbas can be a derivation that comes from dropping the name “Jesus” and changing “bar Abbas” to “Barabbas”. Furthermore, the phrase “bar Abbas” can be translated as “son of the Father”, which could possibly be applied to Jesus himself, since he sometimes used the word “Abba” (father) in referring to G-d.
Another similarity between the two men relates to their possible roles as rebel leaders. The gospel of Mark says that Barabbas had been imprisoned for taking part in a revolt, and his popularity with the crowd suggests that he had been one of its leaders. It is also safe to say that the Romans viewed Jesus as a rebel leader. Many people were calling him the Messiah, a title which implied that he would overthrow the existing government. He had a large number of followers, many of whom might be easily swayed into taking part in a revolt. In fact when Jesus overturned the temple merchants tables during the Festival of the Passover we can see they would consider this a “mini-revolt”. Thus, both men may have had the same name, and both of them could have been considered by the Roman government to be insurrectionists.
We often see crowds today who get whipped into a frenzy who commit atrocious deeds: in particular the January 6, 2021 attack on the capital in Washington D.C. and the recent abominations of the leaders of Hamas who killed and/or also mutilated the bodies of 31 U.S. citizens, 39 French citizens, at least 34 Thai nationals, and Asian workers. Perhaps we can understand even if just to a small degree how emotions can lead people to do unspeakable deeds.
December 10, 2023 – Advent 2B
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8
There’s waiting…and then there’s waiting. Do you know what I mean? Some waiting is, well, just waiting, the pointless exercise we all have to endure from time to time. Sitting in the doctor’s office just waiting for your name to be called so you can get your flu shot. Sitting in the car shop waiting for your oil to be changed. But other waiting seems to matter, like waiting in the doctor’s office for the results of the biopsy to come back or waiting to see the ultrasound of your coming baby. Some waiting feels empty and pointless, while other waiting is weighty, significant, and really matters. Too often, I think, the kind of waiting we talk about in Advent seems like the former, pointless and unending – waiting for Santa Claus to finally climb down that chimney and get out of our hair for another 364 days.
That is not the kind of waiting Advent seeks to invite us into at all. To get at that, it helps to realize that Advent is all about promises. And not just Advent, of course, but the whole Gospel. Given that most scholars consider the terse, descriptive opening verse of Mark – “The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Son of God” not to be the actual first line of the book but rather its title, Mark literally begins his account with a promise from the prophet of Isaiah. Mark clearly invites us to see John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise. What is that promise? It is that one will come crying out in the wilderness declaring the whole of Isaiah’s promise of comfort, deliverance, and renewal. This is how Mark really intended the Gospel to begin -- claiming the Advent, the imminent arrival of the one John heralds.
Christmas has too many traditions that it nearly obliterates Advent – at least allowing us to understand Advent as a time of preparation – a time of contemplating change in our lives. But, let me remind you that, if Christmas is about an encounter with the “Holy One”, then Christmas must also be about change – changing our priorities, changing our attitudes, and changing the way we treat others.
So, what changes are we supposed to consider this Advent? What are some of the ways we need to prepare ourselves for an encounter with G-d, to be more sensitive to G-d’s presence in our lives, and to see G-d in the others in our lives? For some of us it might be that we are working too hard. For others of us it might be that we have ambition for all the wrongs things in life. And for others it is that we always have a negative attitude and outlook – or an inner hostility and resentment we hold on to – or the fact that we have a chip that we carry on our shoulder. And for some it might be an arrogant self-righteousness. Any and all of these will keep us closed to G-d’s presence in our lives and keep us from being sensitive to the Spirit of G-d who seeks to mold and change us. What we offer here, at Trinity is not necessarily the “Holiday Spirit”. What we do offer is an encounter with the “Holy One of G-d” – in Word and Sacrament. If you are looking for an encounter with the presence of the living G-d then you have come to the right place. Or if I may be so bold: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why – The Holy One of G-d is coming to town”.
December 11, 2023 -- Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible say even Pontius Pilate was unsure of “The Truth?”
“Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” John 18
“What is Truth?” Many have tried to understand Pilate’s comment. Was he jesting or serious? Was he afraid or just tired? We will never know what he was thinking, but the pressure must have been immense. Who was Pontius Pilate? He was the Roman prefect or governor of Judea from 26–36 CE under the Emperor Tiberius. Pilate famously presides at the trial of Jesus and gives the order for his crucifixion. But before his verdict, Pilate and Jesus have a small discussion about “kingship”. The conversation ends with Pilate’s famous line “What is truth?”
Pilate does not wait for an answer it appears, as the text tells us he immediately went out to the Jews again to tell them that he finds no reason or case against Jesus. Pliny the Elder stated this when considering this text: “that there is only one thing certain, viz. that there is nothing certain…”
Pilate was man of immense responsibility and action. Perhaps the question that remains unanswered is the equivalent to: What has truth to do with kingship? What ever Pilate was feeling inside, he went outside and delivered his verdict.
In a world where we are still trying to determine what is or is not true, this is, in my opinion, the most haunting question in the Bible?
December 12, 2023 -- Does the Bible Say…?
“Does the Bible really say Peter has such….power?”
“But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.” Acts 5:1-11
We are told that the early believers were of one heart and mind. They were of one mind so much that they held all of their possessions together, sharing them willingly with those in need. If someone sold land, the money from the sale was given to the Apostles to be used as needed for everyone. Two members of this group were Ananias and his wife, Sapphira; they also had some property which they sold. But instead of giving everything from the sale to the Apostles, they kept back a portion for themselves. The money they laid at the feet of the Apostles’ was not the whole sum. However, Ananias made it seem that he had given all of the money to the group stating he did not hold any back. Peter, filled with the power of the Spirit, knew instantly that Ananias was lying—not just to him but to G-d—and exposed his hypocrisy. Ananias fell down and died. Wait, what? He died right there at the feet of Peter. We are left to assume that he died simply because Peter caught him in a lie. But that is not all. When Sapphira showed up, she, too, lied to Peter and to G-d, saying that they had donated the entire proceeds of the sale of the land to the church. When her lie had been exposed, she also fell down and died at Peter’s feet.
Some speculate that these two deaths were from natural causes. Perhaps Ananias died from shock – we know of people who have died presumably from the shock of the news of a loved one’s death. Perhaps they died of guilt. We don’t know for sure. The question is why. Why would G-d kill two people for lying?
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a difficult story. There is too much left out to give us some sense of reason. But rules are rules, and the good of the group outweighs the good of the individual if there is to be harmony, order and faith. When someone breaks the rules, then consequences will follow – and sometimes harsh consequences. There will never be harmony if there is dissension within the group. One or two “weak links” will keep the entire group from meeting goals and objectives. From the perspective of the small community of believers, if the sin of one or two is not dealt with harshly and swiftly, then doubt and fear will begin to destroy the cohesiveness of the group.
And, if Peter had the power to raise people from the dead and to heal, is it out of the realm of possibility to think he had the power to pass the ultimate judgment. I guess that is one of the many questions I can ask G-d one day.
December 13, 2023 -- The Choices You Make, Make You
“He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and his son Isaac” Genesis 22:1-3
‘Every time you make a choice you are turning the central point of you, the part…that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature.”’ C. S. Lewis
Life is about choices. Every day we will have to make choices like it or not. We need to decide what to eat, what to wear and what to drive – and that is just before we leave the house. We always hope that the choices we make will be guided by wisdom and experience, but that cannot always be the case. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “There’s a choice you have to make in everything you do. So keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make, makes you.”
Over the course of a lifetime, the choices we make will define the kind of person we have become. This was true with Abraham in the enigmatic story of the “Akedah”, or the Binding of Isaac. Abraham had a choice to make – listen to G-d and sacrifice his only son, his son of the Promise, or not. What would you have done – what choice would you have made? Soren Kierkegaard, in his book “Fear and Trembling” says this about Abraham: “The ethical expression for what Abraham did is that he was willing to murder Isaac; the religious expression is that he was willing to sacrifice Isaac; but in this contradiction lies the very anguish that can indeed make one sleepless…”
Abraham was a G-d-fearing man – Abraham loved Isaac. And so he climbed that mountain with one task in mind – he was going to sacrifice Isaac. But as we know, G-d would intervene.
Today, you will have many choices. How will you spend some money today? How will you help someone today? Where will you see G-d active in your life? Will you take the time to show your neighbor you love them? Remember the choices you make every day, make you.
December 14, 2023 -- We Are Not Only A Royal Priesthood but the Priesthood of All Believers
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9
I remember the first day I talked to my wife at the church we were attending. At the time we both sang in the choir, and of course she was beautiful and I was the luckiest man in the world to have her attention. Anyway, in the course of time, we married, and soon were introduced to other young couples. Over the years we have lost contact with most of these couples. Some have divorced. Some have moved to another state. We have all changed. And the changes were incomprehensible when we first met. But changes are inevitable. Yes there is some sense within each one of us that we are in control of our futures. And in some ways we do have some control. You see, our choices, both individually, and as couples, lead us all down certain roads – but not the same roads. We will never know where our choices will take us in life, but, as I said in my devotion on December 13, our choices make the future “us”. In the process of making our choices, we should be asking the Holy Spirit to guide us in our choices.
The church is filled with people, and they are not all righteous. The church is filled with flawed, imperfect people. And yet these are the people who make up the Royal Priesthood – or as Luther called us, the Priesthood of all Believers. And our chosen-ness begins in our baptisms. This alone marks us as G-d’s people, and we will remain G-d’s people no matter what happens to us along the way of life.
December 15, 2023 – Never Needing Repetition
“But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Hebrews 9:26b
The Greek word translated as “once for all” is the word “Hapax”. The literal translation is “once for all, never needing repetition”. The implication is clear: Christ has appeared to the world one time for all people, for all time, to act definitively and purposely to remove sin from the world through his death and resurrection. It is a firm statement on the saving work of Jesus for all people, for all time. He has come into this age, to usher in a new age, but this age must be brought to completion. That is where you and I come into the picture. We are the ones who are to be part of the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. In joining Jesus in his ministry we are doing the work necessary to bring to completion the work of this age.
The question you may ask is “What is the work that needs to be done?” The answer is multi-layered, like an onion. The more we strip away the façade of the quick fixes by government and see the inner reality of our communities, we come to realize that many of our people are broken, and our communities are broken as well. We cannot fix them alone – we need the assistance of other people, and of course we need the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ has come, once for all time, to take upon himself the sins of the world. Christ will come again to take us all to the place he has prepared for each one of us (John 14).
Just look around you each and every day – you will see where our presence is needed – and where Jesus is absent as we continue as co-workers with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Reading the Bible in a Year
"READING THE BIBLE IN A YEAR"
Have you ever wanted to read the bible from cover to cover? Do you know someone who has read the bible from cover to cover not just once, but multiple times? In this busy society it is hard to find the time to read for pleasure let alone read scripture. Yet if we are to be firm in our faith then we need to be more knowledgeable about the Word of G-d.
Pastor Dave is beginning a new opportunity for those who wish they read the bible more. Beginning Sunday, February 19, 2023 (Transfiguration Sunday) we are offering an opportunity to do what many people have never done -- read the entire bible from cover to cover in one year. This will be a "do it at home" group -- but we will meet from time to time to talk about the experience -- the highs and lows and difficulties and joys. If you are interested in joining this group, contact the church office or Pastor Dave. Click the button below for the reading schedule with devotions.
Date Old Testament New Testament
| December 1 | Isaiah 59:1-60:22 | | Colossians 3:18-4:18
| December 2 | Isaiah 61:1-64:12 | | 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:12
| December 3 | Isaiah 65:1-66:24 | | 1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:13
| December 4 | Nahum 1:1-3:19 | | 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18
| December 5 | 2 Kings 21:1-18, 2 Chronicles 33:1-20, Habakkuk 1:1-17 | | 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28
| December 6 | Habakkuk 2:1-3:19 | | 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2:12
| December 7 | 2 Kings 21:19-26, 2 Chronicles 33:21-35:15 | | 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:18
| December 8 | 2 Chronicles 35:16-27, 2 Kings 22:1-23:20 | | 1 Timothy 1:1-20
| December 9 | 2 Kings 23:21-30, Zephaniah 1:1-2:15 | | 1 Timothy 2:1-3:16
| December 10 | Zephaniah 3:1-20, Jeremiah 1:1-2:8 | | 1 Timothy 4:1-16
| December 11 | Jeremiah 2:9-3:18* | | 1 Timothy 5:1-6:2
| December 12 | Jeremiah 3:19-5:9 | | 1 Timothy 6:3-21
| December 13 | Jeremiah 5:10-6:26 | | 2 Timothy 1:1-18
| December 14 | Jeremiah 6:27-8:13 | | 2 Timothy 2:1-26
| December 15 | Jeremiah 8:14-10:16 | | 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8