Advent Devotionals

I have decided to take a break from Morning Reflections for most of Advent.  For one thing, I have a Clerk’s Colloquium coming up that takes me out of pocket for a few days.  Then there is the annual family Christmas in New Orleans.

I will be back up and running for the 12 Days of Christmas.

OK, let me encourage you: A number of our seminaries have Advent devotionals.  Let Advent be a change of pace for you, and engage with one of them.  Pittsburgh’s is nice, free, easy to access, and written by many of their doctoral students.  You can download the whole PDF, or download their app.

pittsburghThe Pittsburgh Seminary’s Advent Devotional is available through a free app for your Android or Apple device. Look for an icon like the one on the left.  Visit the Google Play Store or iTunes Store and search for “Devotions – Advent & Lent” or follow these link from your mobile device: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=edu.pts.devotions (Android) or https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/devotions-advent-lent/id945697533?ls=1&mt=8 (Apple).

May this time of waiting and preparation become for you a time of anticipation and joy.

-Matt

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St. Andrew

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Isa. 24:14-231 Pet. 3:13-4:6Matt. 20:17-28

St. Andrew:
AM: Psalm 34; Isaiah 49:1-61 Corinthians 4:1-16
PM: Psalm 96100Isaiah 55:1-5John 1:35-42

St. Andrew’s Day is one of the few Saints’ days that I know Presbyterians still recognize around the world.  Being the national saint of Scotland has its privileges!  Often you will see this festival celebrated in Episcopal or Presbyterian Churches with bagpipes and great fanfare.  Westminster Pres here in OKC used to get the “good bagpipers” on St. Andrew’s Day and First Pres got them on Reformation Sunday.  Guess which “holiday” was bigger at Westminster?  You got it.

St. Andrew is honored in the national flag of Scotland.  Did you know that?  Thought to be crucified on a Cross Saltire, or an “X”-shaped cross, the flag of Scotland portrays just that, a white “X” cross on a blue background.

Andrew attained this status when a few centuries after his death some of his relics were brought to Scotland by a missionary named Rule.  It is that simple.  It was not a deep theological decision, or that Andrew had some deep philosophical or genetic roots to Scotland.  No.

In fact, I find it somewhat ironic that Andrew has come to be associated with a celebration and encouragement of personal evangelism, bringing friends and neighbors to a knowledge of Christ, something that Presbyterians don’t necessarily boast about.

Andrew shows up mostly in a listing of the twelve disciples.  He is only referred to specifically in the Bible a few times.  One is our John reading today.

John reports that the first two disciples who connect to Jesus (Jn 1:35-42) are Andrew and another disciple (whom John does not name, but probably John himself).  Having met Jesus, Andrew goes to find his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus.  He is, in many ways, the first evangelist, instrumental in bringing others to meet Jesus.

So often we think of “evangelism” as “getting saved”Frankly, I don’t know what that last part means.  These two terms are worlds apart!  Take the phrase “getting saved” – Yes, I have been saved by the Blood of the Lamb.  Yes, I am being saved from the wretchedness of sin in this life.  And yes, I am being saved all the time by the power of evil in this world, and will ultimately be saved by all of it.  But that is exactly it, being saved is past, present, and future, all wrapped up into one.  I am still waiting to hear about evangelism!

Evangelism, as best I can tell, is precisely what Andrew did.  It isn’t saving people, for salvation belongs to God, but it is a zeal and a fire for winning people over, or reviving their souls, to this new way.  Andrew was on fire for what he had seen and heard.  A big piece of the evangelistic puzzle then is fiery zeal and excitement about his own life.  It is a telling of good news.  It is not a scare tactic or bad news.

So often, especially down South, I hear of fire and brimstone.  Evangelism based on fear is something that offends God.  I have seen the effects of this in many of my friends, but especially among my gay friends.  They have no need for Christianity.  They have heard enough.  The hypocrites speaking supposed “good news” but telling none of it, only focusing on fire that consumes and destroys lives, have only led to my friends shutting down.  It is unfortunate that a bunch of bad apples have poisoned the well for them.  That is not Christianity!

Evangelism begins with GOOD news, and if one has not experienced much, it is hard to share.

And so I entrust the Apostle Andrew to you.  May his zeal and boldness inspire you.  Walk in his shoes for a while, and envision such powerfully good news that it transformed every fiber of his being.  That is some mighty fine news!

-Matt

P.S. Yesterday was the official saint day for St. Andrew but I missed it because I got distracted by other parts of God’s Word.  Go figure.  Anyway, I didn’t want to overlook this mighty saint of God’s good news

Are We There Yet?

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Obadiah 15-211 Pet. 2:1-10Matt. 19:23-30

“Are we there yet?”  This was the cry of nearly every youth in the van on the long journey from Norman to Albuquerque.  Then there was the whiny “How much longer?”  No matter how far it was, my answer called out from the driver’s seat was almost always the same: “15 more minutes!”  After a few hours, they finally stopped asking.

The same tension of “anticipation, yet waiting,” this “already but not yet” is evident in our scripture readings this morning.

Obadiah, similar to other prophets, speaks of the utopian “day of the Lord”.  It is a promised time when the Lord will finally set everything right.

In 1 Peter, discipleship is described in terms of being like newborn infants, longing for pure spiritual milk.  Christ is referred to as a living stone, and we as the chosen people, called to spiritual sacrifices and to be a holy priesthood.

The day of the Lord and discipleship are both themes of Matthew as well, as he continues speaking of the rich young man of yesterday, who could not attain salvation because he could not give away all he had.

“Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?”  Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

We discover the first will be last and the last first.

Often scripture begs the question, “Are we there yet?”  The tension is constant between the “already” and the “not yet”.  Yes, the light is breaking through our darkness, but the darkness still exists.  So exists the tension.

We as Christians are called to long for a better world, not only for ourselves, but for the whole world.  It is a time of discipleship, of calling, to proclaim the renewal of all things is at hand, and to offer it to all.

I know I have longed for things to get better.  I have been down lately.  The stresses at work and at home have become a burden for so many of my friends, and for me.  The month of December can bring added stress to many.  It is easy to relate to the tension of  “already but not yet”.  In this time of Thanksgiving, I am hoping I am able to reclaim the joy of the kingdom that is already upon us, a harvest of such abundance and plenty.  This means sacrifice.  It means embracing the tension of this life fully.

Truly God has blessed us, and we are called to a life of spiritual sacrifice, not only to honor God, but to bless others.

-Matt

God and Money

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Nahum 1:1-131 Pet. 1:13-25Matt. 19:13-22

In today’s lesson, the rich young man turns away from Jesus, unable to fulfill the law.   He asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus says that he must love God with all his heart, by not murdering, committing adultery, not stealing, not lying, and loving his neighbor as himself.  Feeling like he has done all these things, he says, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”

Jesus goes on to tell him that in order to inherit eternal life he must sell his possessions and give his money to the poor, and then come and follow him.

This story is one of great trouble to a culture built on consumerism and commercialism.  Must we sell all we have?  Must we give away all we have to the poor?  I have heard this text preached a number of times here in America, usually filled with justifications about how the rich young ruler is different than we are.  There are justifications of how we can really keep our money, and excuses given to how the rich young man’s real problem was that he loved his money more than God.  It wasn’t his possessions that were the problem, but his mindset.

My rebuttal is simple: How is that different from this country?   Is our mindset any different?  Here we are, gearing up for Christmas already.  And how?  With the biggest shopping day of the year – Black Friday.

We horde as many things as we can, so much so that our houses are not big enough and we have to get a storage unit just to house it all.  Do we really love our possessions less than the rich young ruler?  Do we love our money any less than the rich young man?

Suze Orman, the financial guru, has a saying that has stuck with me, and which I mentioned in a recent sermon.  Decades ago, our values were such that we loved the following three things in this order: 1) People, 2) Money, 3) Things.  These days, she argues, we have mixed those up, so that in our secular culture today it is: 1) Things, 2) People, 3) Money.

I find this to be true.  If Suze and I are right, we have problems!  First, People no longer come first, with Things vaulting in importance to People.  Secondly, and perhaps more troubling, Things are valued more than Money.  This is partly why we have sky high credit card debt and mortgages that eat us alive.  I believe she is right.

What are we to do with this story of the rich young ruler?  How are we to respond?  Is there anything we need to do to amend our lives?   Are we challenged in any way?  Or are we OK with justifying how we live and not changing at all.

Ultimately I believe that God wants all of us to be rich.  God wants us to enjoy life, and enjoy it fully.  But it cannot come at the expense of others.  And until we are all rich, our job is not done.  Now if that sounds dangerously close to socialism, perhaps it is because it is.

Yes, the gospel is scary.  It shakes our country’s values to its foundation.  It rattles cages.  It makes some mad.  It leaves some of us exasperated.  But there it is: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

-Matt

In God We Trust

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Joel 3:1-2,9-171 Pet. 1:1-12Matt. 19:1-12

Joel is filled with distressing and vivid metaphors.  A book that begins with a swarm of locusts, then a bitter lamentation of the “day of the Lord”, followed by the priests weeping and abruptly hearing of promised joy, today’s passage comes at a time of judgment (although we will have a happy ending).

There is much military imagery, and a gathering of troops.  Then in an ironic reversal of images, the plowshares are beat into swords, and the pruning hooks into spears (opposite of Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4).  Judgment is coming on Israel’s neighbors, as the legions of troops gather in Israel to do battle with God’s warriors.  “But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.”

With the “day of the Lord” being near, it becomes apparent that God is the only true defense – the only stronghold of worth.  In colorful language, the scene is drawn up.  “The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake.  But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.”

All this begs the question: Where are our allegiances?  In whom do we put our trust?  In these days of much need, the scripture compels us to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans.  We are called to reflect on our true Lord and Master.  Is it the State?  Or is it God?  Whose plans are we more willing to follow?

I am no prophet when I tell you all: It is not easy trusting in God.  Many spend years renewing their trust in God, never quite satisfied with the results.  In that sense, the words of the prophet Joel come as a great comfort.  Our human failings and longings are inconsequential to our actions.  God overcomes it all – not just the military might of the armies of foes, but of all human shortcoming.  It is immaterial how much we trust in God ultimately, because God assures us that He is “a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people….”

-Matt

A Thanksgiving Prayer

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AM Psalm 105:1-22; PM Psalm 105:23-45
1 Macc. 4:1-25Rev. 21:22-22:5Matt. 18:1-9

Thanksgiving Day:
AM: Psalm 147Deut. 26:1-11John 6:26-35
PM: Psalm 145Joel 2:21-271 Thess. 5:12-24

The reading in Matthew is one of my favorites – Jesus calls a little child to him and answers the questions of “Who is the greatest?” and saying that unless we change and become like children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Children are playful and carefree – they are insightful and creative.

I see this all the time in ministry, like the years I have witnessed the lead up to the Christmas Play.  The children are gearing up, excited.  Often as a pastor I am sitting back in a rehearsal, enjoying the free spirits and somewhat oblivious, only to look over at some of the moms and dads who are anxiety-ridden, borderline on the edge – thinking their child is chaos incarnate.  I only see energy, enthusiasm, and a spirit of teamwork being born.  I often share my smiles and confident spirit that this year’s chaos is just like the last, and it will all come together and be fine.

The lead up to Thanksgiving can be like this too.  It is a time of anxiety for many of us, with cooking duties and insane relatives.  But the children embrace the day often with much more anticipation and curiosity, pretending to be grossed out by this, that, or the other food, or acting bored, only to run to Snapchat or Instagram to share their true excitement of this very different day with their friends.

May we all capture the spirit of children in this Thanksgiving Season.  And my prayer for each of you is that today you may we be filled with curiosity, wonder, joy, and most of all THANKS.

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

-Matt

 

Starbucks Ruined Christmas

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Starbucks, once again you have come out with your holiday cups, and once again  Christmas is completely ruined.

In what has become an annual freakout for me over your cups, this year takes the cake (umm, scone).  Your cups will probably end my ministry.  Your coffee cup seared my brain, stripped my soul of color, and leaves me completely without words and unable to preach all month.

There is no point of me preaching any of December anyway, because without a bombard of green and red at every turn I am sure my entire flock, drinking from these almost colorless “holiday” cups, will completely forget Christmas, and miss church.  They will surely be at home coloring their black-and-white cups, you evil coffee brainwashing monsters!

I got really mad yesterday when my conservative brothers in Christ (no sisters allowed!) pointed out to me on Twitter how these cups are a complete abomination of gayness.  Your cups embrace a gay agenda with those two gender-neutral hands holding.  Your assault on Christmas has begun again!

You and your gay agenda, Starbucks!  How dare you have those two hands holding.  No one will have a take-away of love, because they will be so distracted by the lack of gender.  That’s what everyone sees, straight away.  They don’t see the heart in between.  Their minds go right to sex.

When I pointed out the lack of clear gender identity to my child, she muttered something under her breath about how I was getting hysterical again over nothing, but I could see it in her eyes.  She became a lesbian the exact moment you forced this cup on me.  You have that kind of power.  Our impressionable youth!  Think of the children!  This obvious assault on traditional family values leaves me speechless, as you can see.

And then there is your intentional design which encourages customers to “add their own color” as you put it.  This leaves me absolutely no power as a pastor.  How am I supposed to control my people if they are encouraged to think for themselves?  Freedom and independence were not principles this country was founded on!  And how dare you, especially at this time of year, when the Pilgrims came along and saved the “Indians” from a life of freedom and independence and helped them see the joy of cholera, control, and stuffed turkeys.

I personally was held captive by the busy details of that evil, colorless, cartoon cup.  It had me longing for your all red cups of 2015, when your War on Christmas was just in 1st gear.  In 2015 you started my brainwash.  I sat the whole month muttering “red, red, red” unable to function the entire Advent season.

Our President promised we would be able to say Christmas again, but with you naming them as “holiday” cups, our hands are once again tied.  Stripping them almost completely of color without even a picture of a little baby Jesus to guide me or at least the word Christmas, my Christian faith has completely evaporated.

I dream of the day when I can type or say Christmas once again.

“We know the holidays mean something different to everyone.” Really, Starbucks?  I thought it was about one thing, and one thing only – the little baby Jesus buying me Christmas presents.  Or was that Santa?  (First you disrupted my already weak faith with your sugary drinks, and now this holiday stunt – I MEAN CHRISTMAS stunt!  This is obviously  just a ploy to sell me more over-priced drinks, you greedy capitalist pigs.  You are 100% responsible for me being completely flustered to the point I can’t distinguish between Santa and Jesus.  I have no responsibility in this whatsoever.  It is all someone else’s fault.)  You got me off topic.  Everyone should just believe and do as I say.  There, everyone’s the same.  Problem solved.

To make matters worse, I am horrified that you have an illustration of a decorated tree, but without labeling it as a CHRISTMAS tree I am assuming it is a pagan tree.  In fact, the whole cup is cluttered with Christian symbols like doves and stars, but you didn’t label them!!!  Shame on you!  It is your job to give me something to read, so while I am sipping my coffee I don’t have to read anymore about pedophiles, politics, tax scams, or things that matter.

With your direct assault on Christmas, I just know you intended that unlabeled tree as a Viking evergreen tree to the sun god Balder.  You ruined that part of Christmas too.  Now every time I walk into the front living room, I will be forced to see our tree as a Viking sun god tree, all because of your mind-controlling cup.

You have completely ruined Christmas!

I hope and pray next year you will take all this into consideration.

This year’s “Stop Complaining and Get Your Crayons” cup was supposed to calm me down for sure, but only succeeded in revving me up.  Should have given me decaf, Starbucks.

-Matt

The Rev. Dr. Matt Meinke is a Presbyterian minister who has obviously had too little or too much coffee this morning, and when he is not writing things tongue-in-cheek, his Morning Reflections follow the lectionary Bible readings much more closely.  His congregation of independent-thinking, enlightened followers of Christ is in Duncan, Oklahoma.