From Luke 1…
67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
68 “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. 69 He has sent us a mighty Savior[g] from the royal line of his servant David, 70 just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. 71 Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. 72 He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant— 73 the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. 74 We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.
76 “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. 77 You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,[h] 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
Jesus prayed that His disciples would live in unity. In His last hours on the earth, this was foremost in His thoughts (John 17). His greatest desire was that His individual disciples would function as “one”, that they would get along and work together and partner together for the single interest of God’s glory.
Getting along is a key to productivity and fruitfulness. Kingdom outsiders would look at true disciples and say, “Faith must be real because it works. They love each other. I want that!”
David understood this a thousand years earlier when wrote of the same idea. Being a musician, he called it “harmony.” Harmony, he says, is the key to anointing. He called it “wonderful” and “pleasant” and “refreshing.”
Twentieth century music popularized a new sound of dissonance, and our ears have come to appreciate it. But dissonance in relationships will never be pleasant. It might be comical at times, as we can observe for hours without end in modern sitcoms, but it is not pleasant nor never will be.
A Prayer for Unity:
Make us one as You and the Son are one. Help us to be ‘united in spirit, intent on one purpose,’ that of loving and serving you and loving and serving one another. This will be our key to supernatural joy in this life. Make our music harmonious. Make us one in You.
While it’s true that fear and love are opposite, fearing God and loving God are identical.
My Dad taught me the fear of the Lord, not by what he said about it, but in his way of loving me. I loved him (and still do) so much that I never wanted to disappoint him. At times I was tempted with immorality, but the thought of facing my dad drove that thought from my mind. Disappointing him lessened the allurement of sin. I think it’s safe to say that I messed up my life a little less thanks to him. My dad loved me (as he did all five of his children) with a love that drew out the best; I always wanted to be the kind of person he saw me to be – a good deal better than I truly was.
This is the case with Father God. That must be why joy is so intricately tied up with the fear of the Lord.
“How joyful are those who fear the Lord – who follow in his ways.
You will enjoy the fruit of your labor.
How joyful and prosperous you will be!
Your wife will be like a fruitful grapevine, flourishing within your home.
Your children will be like vigorous young olive trees as they sit around your table.”
The children of God are one big (sometimes) happy family. But the contingency is real. I won’t be truly happy until I fully love God, learn his ways, and base my life on them. His ways are not too cumbersome or difficult to grasp. Jesus summed them up neatly: “Do what I command.” What did Jesus command? One thing: love.
Teach me to love you, to appreciate you, to follow after you with all my heart. Teach me to fear you; this is the pathway to wisdom and to joy. I desperately need both. Today I commit myself to love, loving you first and loving those around me. Keep me from saying anything anti-loving today. Keep me from every unlovely thought.
We’ve been reading through the “Moravian Texts” – the read-through-the Bible plan put together by the Moravian Church a couple hundred years ago. We are now making our way through the Gospel of John, written by John, the disciple who probably knew the personality and character of Jesus better than anyone. John paints a vivid portrait of Jesus in his book, a picture that quite literally compels us to love Him.
In John 14 we see Jesus comforting and supporting his followers – who are heading into a very traumatic season in their lives with “Do not let your hearts be troubled…”
“Do not let…” Of course our hearts, our emotions and our will, given the slightest chance tend to drift and dwell on troubling thoughts. Fears come naturally to us. But Jesus challenges us to refuse to give in to an inner state of anxiety. And he seems to believe there’s at least some choice in the matter…
If our hearts are not at peace, it’s because we have let them go their own natural way.
Paul, another follower of Jesus urges us to “capture every thought,” scrutinize it, interrogate it, and kick it out if it’s not anchored in love, peace, joy. “Let peace be your umpire,” Paul is saying. And when our thoughts don’t comply with peace, we yell, “You’re out!”
“Father, it’s true, my thoughts are not your thoughts. Yet you’ve also said that “I have the mind of Christ.” Wow. I will take that promise in faith today. When I don’t know what to feel or think I will receive your disciplined mind, devoted to love, trust, and joy. So direct my thought today, and may they reflect your peace and tranquility, joy and zeal, love and forgiveness. In Jesus…”
President Obama is re-elected, and I’m kicking myself for caring.
A 51% – 49% chasm divides America. It’s a canyon politics cannot span. I knew this of course but I deluded myself into imagining that an election might heal us, that we humans might yet right our own course. The cold truth: no election fixes things; our problems are too ominous for that. We are – I am – dealing with a chronic terminal disease and taking two aspirin and calling the doctor won’t work when we need a heart transplant.
I confess, I yielded to the seduction of a political salvation. I vested time and energy watching polls, fixating on debates, calculating complicated electoral scenarios, as if any of it really matters. And of course my heart followed this wayward investment. As Jesus warned me, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This morning I find my heart anchored to a faulty, crumbled foundation. I invested in what “moths and rust… destroy and… what thieves… steal.” I could have, I should have spent all those hours praying, where real change happens!
Minnesota Viking’s fans bear a 14 year old mortal wound – the 1998 NFC championship game loss to the dreaded Atlanta Falcons.
My then eight year old daughter Elisabeth and I were attending a Sunday afternoon team meeting for a trip to an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico. Before the gathering we watched the last quarter of the game. To our horror, the Vikings blew the lead. We were ere stunned and sickened, some even cried. Personally, I felt like someone close to me had died.
Why? Why “grieve” over a football game? Because I’d put time an energy into it! My heart had followed my treasure. I’d given my passion to a fickle suitor.
Worse, the loss left me emotionally vacant. As we gathered we watched a video of students working in Juarez, battling entrenched poverty, caring for parentless children, sharing their lives and the love of Jesus. It was a powerful picture of a REAL battle for life and death. But… I didn’t care. I couldn’t feel anything! I was spent. I had vented my heart on that football game and had nothing left for what really counted.
Behold, my state this morning after. There’s a cost when I parcel out my treasures to things that don’t matter, or matter only a little. Where my treasure is, there my heart will be. Yesterday my treasure was too much in politics; today my heart is paying the price!
Now I need to adjust, I repent, and reallocate battered resources into a new investment strategy. Instead of politicking, I will pray.
Kissing seems is a theme in my Bible reading these days. (Mark and I follow the Moravian daily texts, reading through the Bible every two years, and we just finished Absalom’s rebellion.) It’s got me thinking…
Kissing has long been a political strategy used to win loyalty. I saw this scene played over and over on television recently: a prominent political candidate kissing the baby. How sweet. He’s not the first. Absalom used this tactic very successfully, and if his long hair wouldn’t have gotten in the way of a large tree branch, he might have won the battle and secured the throne for himself.
Kissing has been misused throughout history, and we see this played out in the Bible as well:
Absalom kissed David and then proceeded to turn on him, rebel against his authority and finally usurp his throne. 2 Samuel 14:33
Absalom’s strategy to rise to the throne of Israel involved kissing the king’s subjects to win over their political loyalty. 2 Samuel 15:5.
And there are other forms of kissing in the Bible as well…
The Kiss of death.
Judas’ kiss betrayed Jesus to his death, being the indicating factor of Jesus’ identity (it was dark and many in the crowd who were sent to arrest him would not have recognized him otherwise). Mark 14:44,45
An immoral woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears; she let her hair down (a shocking act in itself), wiped his feet with her hair, and kept kissing his feet while pouring perfume on them. Luke 7:36-47
“Kiss me and kiss me again, for your love is sweeter than wine.” 1 Song of Songs 1:2. Enough said.
“David blessed Barzillai and kissed him.” 2 Sam 19:39. David was indebted to this good man for being one of three thoughtful gentlemen who supplied David and his loyal troops with provisions while they waited out Absalom’s tantrum.
The kiss of reconciliation and forgiveness.
The offended, discarded father of the prodigal was the first to run and embrace and kiss his rebel son. Luke 15:20
And then there is this…
In the New Testament letters Paul the Apostle encourages followers of Jesus the “greet one another with a holy kiss.”
A holy kiss.
My New Living Translation Study Bible notes that, “Kissing on the cheek or forehead was a common form of greeting that reflected such sentiments as honor, friendship, and love among family members… The kiss of peace became a standard feature of the Christian liturgy by the second century.” Kisses were a mark of family belonging… When I was a child I recall my Aunt Anna planting kisses on my cheek, and she always made me realize I was one of the family. Family… Tenderness, touch, a graceful intimacy… These are to mark our relationships in the family of God.
So today let’s extend the family blessing with a “holy kiss.” That’s my mission today… To spread the blessing of our Father’s family to those who come into my life…
Hugs and kisses.
The Bible is a miracle. Yes, it’s words on a page, ink on paper, in old human languages set in cultures we don’t easily understand and crafted by humans who somehow, in spite of their personal failings partnered with the Spirit of God to document God’s very own words. The Bible is a miracle door into the heart of God.
Some people believe there are many portals between our physical world and spiritual dimensions. The ancient Celts of Ireland call these “thin places.” They tended to see these doors in geographic terms. A dark caverns, an ancient grove of oak trees, a foggy bog might open a “door” to another realm.
Christians see “thin places” in a less mystical, more “down to earth” way. Instead of traveling to a sacred space, we finds door (and windows) right inside our ordinary lives. Our own emotions, our relationships, common gifts like an apple, a bird singing in a tree, a phone from a friend can open a door to wonder. Access to God is this simple because we believe God has come to earth in Jesus. We don’t have treasure hunt our way to him; heaven has come down to us!
One of the most accessible and common doors is the Bible itself. As we read the words we can find ourselves falling “between the lines” of scripture the lines and into the “thin places” of eternity. And this can happen right in our own living rooms, with a cup of coffee and a dog on our lap. Here God’s own words are framed in our own words, and the words themselves create – as God’s words always do – a pathway to LIFE.
Today, grab a Bible and open a page. Read, ponder, wait, then read again and wait again. As you do, a door will open somewhere within your soul. As it does, step up, step in, step through. God will be there waiting in the “thin place” of the ordinary words of Scripture.
“One Day At A Time,” my mug tells me, steaming with licorice tea. My daughter, Emily gave me that mug shortly after my dad took his leave.
Dad died four weeks ago, a mere 91 years old. Letting go of him, was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. Holding his hand all these years has given me such comfort, joy, and quiet confidence, a hallmark of his own beloved character.
I loved his hands so much. They were an exquisite demonstration of his skilled craftsmanship – slightly and stiffly curved from all the years of carefully clenching crystal goblets as he held them to the spinning stone wheel to embellish with his designs. I am a glasscutter’s daughter.
They were the hands of a farmer gone gardener. After leaving the farm and moving to the big city, his garden took up a good deal of our tiny back yard in South Minneapolis, leaving us just enough room to play catch with him. The fruit of his garden graced our kitchen table throughout the year and kept Mom busy canning well into fall.
His hands patiently held so many small hands. He always had time to totter around the backyard with his grandchildren, watching butterflies, stuffing tiny mouths with handfuls of raspberries, and demonstrating to little ones how to plant potatoes. I am a farmer’s daughter.
Several months ago, I asked my dad, failing as he was, what in the world I was ever going to do without him. He answered as he always did with any important subject: wisely and succinctly. “You’ll take it one day at a time.”
“Okay,” I said to him, tears streaming down my face. “That’s what I’ll do, Dad.” That was his assignment for me, and I am working to obey him. How easy he made it to be obedient. Who in their right mind would ever want to disappoint such a genuinely nice guy? For me, he solved the mystery of the meaning of the fear of the Lord. That’s it.
Mom taught us the same thing. When I’d be worried about something coming up in a tomorrow, I’d hear her quote from the kitchen, fingers coated with bread dough, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, Jill!” Huh? Finally I got it.
One day at a time. That’s my goal today. Sometimes one moment at a time – until I get to see him again. Swell day, that will be.
Thanks, Emily, for my favorite mug.
I am so glad I have you, dearest of all dads, closer than a brother are you, and flawless. Help me to love you, fear you, and walk with you One Day At A Time.
When our son was four years old, he declared one of the most profound and true things I’ve ever heard. He was sitting in the back seat of the car (It’s so embedded in my mind that I can even recall where I was on Highway 96): “If you think you’re stupid, you’ll be stupid tomorrow.” How in the world did he know at that age that, “As a man thinketh, so is he?”
There are so many options of things to occupy my mind. Paul laid out a filter for my thoughts in Philippians 4:8,9. If the subject matter I am pondering doesn’t fit one or all of these criteria, then I need to arrest that thought, hand-cuff it, take it captive, and send it to Jesus to obey His direction.
Here are the standards for what I can allow my mind to dwell on (Phil. 4:8,9). These things are:
True. I need to dwell in reality. Insane as it is, sometimes I let me mind wander into the world of “what if’s”. These are fearful thoughts. I create scenarios of disaster in my mind of things that could happen. These meditations send me into a downward spiral of dread and despair and, ultimately, if I continue in this vein, depression.
Honorable. Some thoughts can pass for true, but are not honorable. For example, it may be true that someone’s bad habit is irritating to me, but it isn’t honorable to dwell on that. That thought must is, therefore, disqualified.
Right. Whatever I’m thinking about, needs to be in line with God’s standard of rightness. For this, I need to study, become familiar with, and dwell on His rules of conduct in Scripture, rules that are boundaries of safety, ensuring a life of joy.
Pure. Keep it clean. Pure thoughts take me away from moral disaster. Whenever we allow our thoughts to lead to immoral thinking, we live to regret it. Purity is losing popularity in our culture, much to our demise. My dad who passed away almost a month ago was brilliant at keeping the world clean, and that included his mind and words. For as long as I can remember he picked up trash wherever he was and disposed of it. As a godly man who lived God’s principles, he did the same thing with his thoughts. He kept the world a little bit cleaner. May God deliver His church from porn. The secret is to think His thoughts, and to hate what he hates: things that cause us to self-destruct.
Lovely. Years ago I played the part of Peter Pan in the musical of the same name. When Peter was teaching the children to fly, he sang these words, “Now, think lovely thoughts, and up you’ll go.” Two of the three kids soared immediately. Michael wasn’t there yet. “Lovelier thoughts, Michael,” Peter instructed. Then Michael hit on it: “Christmas!” That did it, he floated then and there. Think lovely thoughts. This takes discipline.
Admirable. I need to ponder things, people, and situations that I admire. Things that bring me joy and satisfaction. While a certain subject may be true, like something I did or said in the past that I regret, that thought has to be eliminated under Paul’s instruction; it isn’t admirable.
Excellent. “Set your mind on things above.” Things that are superior – not rubbish or even things that pass for mediocre. David said, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.” I need to think thoughts that are worth something.
Worthy of Praise. This really limits what I can think about, but I can meditate on the Lord, His ways, and His Word to my heart’s content. He certainly fulfills all the criteria Paul lays out. The Psalmist determined within himself to think about God’s instructions all day long (Psalm 119:97). He said, “I am always thinking of your laws.” (verse 99). “I will quietly keep my mind on your laws.” (verse 95)
So, don’t spend your precious moments thinking you’re stupid or that anyone else is stupid. Instead, think about how wise God is! And how He can and will make you wise, as you ponder His Word and His ways.
Father, help me today to set my mind on things above. I desire to obey Your Word, to use this criteria as a sieve that filters out all thoughts that don’t pass inspection. Grant me the self-discipline to take every thought captive and make it obey you. Help me to command my mind, not allowing it to wander aimlessly, to my demise.