1 Peter 1:3-9

            Christians ought to expect suffering.  Yes, you heard that one right.  In our litigious age of claiming rights and avoiding pain at all cost, the biblical teaching can seem like some antiquated throw-back to an age we can’t relate to very well.  But Peter’s letter to the churches was all about facing and dealing with suffering.  Unfair treatment was happening, and was going to happen.  Peter would think it weird if believers were not undergoing suffering of some type.
 
            But it is not random meaningless suffering.  It is a testing of faith.  “Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire.  And these trials will prove that your faith is worth more than gold.”  Because faith is much like a muscle, it needs to be flexed, used, and exercised so that it develops and grows strong.  An absence of adversity will only lead to faith-muscle atrophy.  So, how do we endure such adverse situations of suffering?
 
            Christians deal in the currency of hope.  God has “given us new life and a hope that lives on.  God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear.”  The path forward through suffering is to know that we are being trained and developed for eternal life with Jesus.  We learn to put our hope in things which are permanent, instead of putting too much investment and stock into the temporary.  Our strengthened faith will not decay, will never be ruined, and shall not disappear.  It only makes solid spiritual sense to develop a robust life of faith in this life, since eternity awaits us.
 

 

            I praise you God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  You are so good by raising Jesus from death and giving us a permanent inheritance which can never perish, spoil, or fade.  I entrust myself to you and seek spiritual growth by means of the trials you bring into my life.  May they be used for your glory.  Amen.

Luke 1:68-79

            When I was in graduate school at a public university some years back, I was describing for my class a New Testament view of Jesus and the church’s consistent historic teaching about him.  One of my classmates spoke up and said to me, “But you don’t really believe all that, right?”  Well, actually, I really do believe all the things concerning Jesus accounted for us in the Gospels.  Why?  Because I have found the historicity of Jesus from an objective ground of evidence as reliable, as well as a subjective witness within that resonates as true.  Christians call this witness within the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
 
            Old Zechariah experienced this firsthand.  The Holy Spirit came upon him and he uttered some objective prophecy over his newborn son, John that rang exultingly true within his subjective hopeful soul:  “You, my son, will go ahead of the Lord to get everything ready for him.  You will tell his people that they can be saved when their sins are forgiven.  God’s love and kindness will shine upon us like the sun that rises in the sky.  On us who live in the dark shadow of death this light will shine to guide us into a life of peace.”
 
            Indeed, this is exactly what John the Baptist did in his ministry.  When the Spirit resonates with us and testifies to the truth of Jesus, we can find genuine deliverance from sin, death, and hell, as well as have the confidence to proclaim the name of Jesus as Savior and King.  The objective and subjective aspects are both needed:  objective evidence alone is really nothing more than facts; subjective witness alone without evidence is just gut feeling; but the objective and subjective together presents the person and work of Christ with truth and grace, fact and flavor, mind and heart, in a compelling blend of Christianity for all people.
 

 

            Praise to you, Almighty God, because you have come to save your people.  Thank you for delivering me through your Son, the Lord Jesus, and giving me your Holy Spirit.  May the confidence I have with faith, hope, and love be used for your glory and honor.  Amen.

Matthew 23:37-24:14

            Hear what the Lord Jesus said as he entered Jerusalem and faced the ignominy of the cross:  “Jerusalem! Jerusalem!  Your people have killed the prophets and have stoned the messengers who were sent to you.  I have often wanted to gather your people, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.  But you wouldn’t let me” (CEV).  Jesus went on to predict his death and what would be coming with stubborn Jerusalem’s refusal to see the hand of God.  To understand Christ’s cry of love for the city, one must be reminded that this came off a scathing rebuke of a distorted religion that was in vogue at the time.  Jesus saw the current state of worship, found it to be terribly wanting, and saw ahead to its ultimate demise.
 
            Jesus did not just pronounce woe and walk away disgusted.  No, instead, our Lord broke into a tear-filled, heart-wrenching love song for his wayward people.  Jesus blasted the establishment because of his deep concern for all people to know the true worship of God and find their ultimate purpose and meaning in him.
 
            Any religious fool can rant-on about the ills of the world, ungodly persons, and defective institutions.  But it takes a person with the heart of Jesus to weep over it all and follow him into suffering on behalf of others so that they might come to the peaceable kingdom of righteousness.  If we are not completely undone over the sin of the world, we are in no position to rant about anything because grace and mercy is the currency of God’s economy.  Let us repent like we mean it, pray as if our lives depended on it, and tell others of Jesus like there is no tomorrow.
 

 

            Loving Lord Jesus, oh, let me have your zeal for God’s house and your heart for lost people!  Change my heart, O God, and let it reflect your grace and truth in everything I say and do; through Christ my Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign forever and ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 59:15-21

            The “bystander effect,” or “bystander apathy,” is a social psychology term that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. In other words, in experiment after experiment over the past fifty years social psychologists have found that the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.  For example, researchers Bibb Latané and Judith Rodin staged an experiment in 1969 around a woman in distress. Seventy-percent of the people who were alone called out or went to help the woman after they believed she had fallen and was hurt, but when there were other people in the room only forty-percent offered help.
 
            It’s far too easy to stand with our hands our pockets when there are other people around to serve and to do what is just.  “When the LORD noticed that justice had disappeared, he became very displeased.  It disgusted him even more to learn that no one would do a thing about it.”  Our rationalizations for not becoming involved are legion:  “Someone else better qualified than me will do it.”  “But what if I screw up?”  And the ever-present “I’m just too busy” are all ways to justify ourselves into not doing the work of justice in the world.
 
            If we are apathetic to the needs of others less privileged than ourselves, then we must come back to the Old Testament prophets and give them a very serious hearing.  The prophet Isaiah lets us know that none of us are anonymous; we have all been given gifts as the people of God in order to serve the greater good.  The Lord dispenses his grace and glory primarily through active people who eschew being bystanders in the world.  God inevitably gets noticed in the public square when his people are attentive to his justice.
 

 

            Just God, you care about the people of this world receiving the things they need to live and flourish well in life.  Inspire and empower all of your people, including me, to spread a spirit of service in our local communities and churches, through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.