Posted in Advent devotions, Devotions

Advent devotion: Wrestling with the Lord

“Live and in person” Advent devotion for December 2, 2020. Read Genesis 32:22-32 and Psalm 3.

Photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash

Jacob ran away from home twenty years ago. After cheating his brother Esau and deceiving his father Isaac, he literally had to run for his life. Now with two wives and a boatload of kids, it’s time to return. The night before the reunion, he wrestles all night with a man later identified as God himself, a unique pre-incarnational appearance of the Lord.

If there was ever a person who could make you say “uncle,” it would be the Almighty. But Jacob will not give up. He said, “I will not let go unless you bless me” (32:26). And God does! He blesses Jacob, who will now be known as Israel (32:29). Until this moment, who would have thought you could wrestle a blessing out of God?

In one of his lessons on prayer, Jesus taught his disciples to always pray and not lose heart, just like the proverbial widow who wouldn’t stop bothering a judge until she got justice (Luke 18:1-8). With boldness and confidence we call God “our Father” when we come to Him in prayer because we are His dear children. The point is, you really don’t have to try that hard to wrestle a blessing out of God. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?

I remember wrestling with my kids. When they were little they loved hanging on me, climbing on me, jumping on me, and rolling around on the floor with me. The blessing was in the wrestling! They knew they couldn’t win, and I didn’t want to win. It’s reassuring to know that your father has strength you can count on when you need him! Just like Jacob needed to fully realize the power and the promises of God.

Did anyone else in the bible wrestle? Rachel “wrestled” with her sister Leah who was able to have more kids than her (Genesis 30:8). Samson kind of wrestled with a lion, tearing it to pieces with his bare hands (Judges 14:5,6). Paul writes that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with evil spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12). That’s scary!

But you know what? Once you’ve wrestled with God, you know He can handle those spiritual enemies, and nothing can ever separate you from His love!

Lord, I think I’ll just hang on to you with every ounce of faith I have, for you are the One who blesses me with every good and perfect gift from above! Amen.

Posted in Advent devotions, Devotions

Advent devotion: A drink and a snack

“Live and in person” Advent devotion for December 1, 2020. Read Genesis 18:1-22 and Psalm 19.

So Abraham is just chilling in his tent by the oaks of Mamre when three men show up. The gracious host in him shifts into high gear and he invites them in for a drink and a snack. And what a snack that was! Freshly baked bread, a little cottage cheese and veal.

The conversation turns to Sarah, listening in the tent as “the Lord” says, “Congratulations! You’re gong to have a son next year!” Sarah must have overheard the conversation, and chuckled to herself, “I’m a little old for that!” (18:12) “The Lord”  heard her and wondered why she was laughing. Such a blessing isn’t too hard for someone like the Lord!

Anyway, two of the men head towards Sodom to see if it’s as evil as everyone says it is. In 19:1, we learn that they are angels. But one, the Lord, stays behind to let know Abraham know about the destruction to come (18:22). After Abraham tries to bargain for the survival of the righteous in Sodom, “the Lord went His way” (18:33). I am certain Abraham never forgot the day the Lord stopped by his tent!

If Jesus stopped by your house for coffee and cake, how do you imagine the conversation would go? Would you have the guts to ask Him all those questions you say that you want to ask Him? Would you make sure you told Him why you didn’t make it to church last week? Or apologize for some of the things that have come out of your mouth recently? Show him pictures of the family? While I would love to know about unexpected blessings on my way next year, I wouldn’t be as excited to hear forecasts about imminent devastation and destruction.

That “snack” we have in worship, the Lord’s Supper, is accompanied by words of blessing and judgment. The body and blood of Christ bore God’s judgment for our sins on the cross. But it is also ours to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation, the most unlikely and surprising blessings we could ever receive from the Lord.

I love the bible’s banquet imagery of heaven. At that occasion, the Lord is the host with a table full of blessings like no other. We won’t be talking about judgment. That will all be in the past. We won’t have to dig deep to believe the good news, either. It will – He will – be right there before our eyes, live and in person!

Thanks, Lord, for inviting me to the meal that speak both law and gospel. And thanks, too, for the invite to the ultimate banquet of heaven! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Advent devotions, Devotions

Advent devotion: The Offspring

“Live and in person” Advent devotion for November 29, 2020. Read Genesis 3:15 and Psalm 85.

Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash

The consequences of the first disobedience and fall into sin are immediate and varied. The man and the woman cover their nakedness, hide from the presence of God in the garden, and make excuses for their behavior. But the effects of sin will go much further, affecting families and relationships, what it means to work the ground to produce food, and making life finite. After all that, you will die. Or as God puts it, “to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:16-19).

Before all that, though, God addresses the serpent, whom John will identify as the devil and Satan in Revelation. He condemns the serpent saying, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock, and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go and dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). God goes on to say, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” In other words, you’re now the enemy. That hostility will span generations, “between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).  One day an offspring, a descendant of the woman will step on the head of the enemy, an image of victory over an opponent.

One of the first things I do when I see a bug in the house is step on it. Problem solved. Well, most of the time. I once stepped on a wolf spider whose babies scattered in all different directions! It’s not always as easy as it seems.

A descendant of the woman, Jesus of Nazareth, stomped on the head of Satan and won a decisive victory over sin, death and the devil’s power. But it wasn’t easy. The Son of God, live and in person, experienced the same struggles of life that we do. When He showed up, it seemed like the demons came out of the woodwork like swarming insects (or arachnids). His ministry quickly took Him to the cross, a Good Friday death, and a Sunday resurrection that swallowed up death forever.

From “way back when,” God intended to come and take care of the problem Himself, live and in person. The eternal Word would indeed become flesh to not only live among us but overcome death for us, too.

A virtual doctor’s appointment might be able to prescribe something for your sore throat. But you’ll need the hands of a surgeon to take out those tonsils. Or a visit from a pest control person to really take care of those spiders. And a Savior, live and in person, to give us life.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the amazing gospel promise wrapped up in Your condemnation of the serpent so long ago. Thank You for the fulfillment of that promise in the birth, life death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.

Posted in Advent devotions, Devotions

Advent devotions: Live and in person!

Special 2020 Advent devotions prequel

This has been a crazy year of quarantine, shelter-in-place, distancing and masks. I’ve preached to an empty sanctuary. You’ve worshiped online. I’ve taught and led meetings via Zoom.

But it’s just not the same, is it?

From the very beginning, God said it wasn’t good for his created people to be alone. That’s why he created the woman. In those Edenic days, God would walk through the garden he had created, personally interacting with the man and the woman. Until that one day, Adam and Eve attempted to “quarantine” themselves with some leaves in the bushes because they had disobeyed the prime directive to not eat from that tree.

That changed everything. But God knew that was not the way it was supposed to be. In that moment, he initiated a plan to restore the relationship between Him and His creation. He promised to be a part of their lives.

Advent is a powerful time in the church year to remember God’s journey into this world as flesh and blood, as a person, as a baby. Scripture is filled with images and foreshadowing of the incarnation when the Word would indeed become flesh. This year my Advent devotions are intended to help you reflect upon the power, comfort and assurance that God has not abandoned you, but has come to be with you. It’s not just on paper. it’s not just a story. It is God in the flesh, live and in person!

In the past few months, some of your doctor visits have been through windows or via Skype. You have virtually celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and graduations via Zoom. Perhaps you have appeared before a judge online. Yes, we can get it done that way. But it’s just not the same, is it? It’s frustrating, isolating, quiet, confining, claustrophobic and lonely.

God’s word says we are much stronger when we are together than when we are apart. Two or three together cannot be easily broken!

Isolation threatens our faith. It weakens us. It undermines our faith, friendships and perceptions.

Job knew that not even death could take away his personal connection with God. He knew he would see his Redeemer in the flesh one day. We too look forward to that day!

I pray that this year’s devotions will bless you. I hope they will help you grasp the amazing grace of God that refuses to let us live apart form His love!