Luke 1:26-38

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed[a] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”[b] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[c]

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant[e] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

From this passage I hear God asking me:
Like Zechariah, Mary questions an angel’s message.
Do you find this odd?
Mary thought her virginity would be a problem.
What did I have planned for her?
Was her virginity a problem for me?
“Nothing will be impossible with God.(v. 37)
What do I have planned for you?
Will your ________ be a problem for me?
“Do not be afraid!” (v. 30)

Present Your Bodies: Your Hands

Photo by Katy C

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  –Romans 12:1-2 ESV

I was raised in the Restoration Movement “non-denomination.” Raising hands in worship wasn’t something I remember ever seeing until I was in my 20’s. I’m not exactly sure why, but I sort of got the idea that it was something we didn’t do. I think maybe it was considered sort of showy, or something. The thing is, scripture has a lot to say about lifting our hands in worship.

Look at your hands for a moment. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

They really are an amazing piece of engineering, aren’t they?

Who gave us these hands? Well, of course, God did.

What kinds of things do we do with our hands? Well, we work with our hands. We feed ourselves. We play. We give gifts. We receive gifts. We show affection.

We also fight with our hands. We sin with our hands.

I suppose it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that a huge part of “presenting our hands” has to do with using them in positive ways. For helping, and not hurting. For reaching out, and not holding back. For bringing honor to God and his people, and not dishonor.

But, since our hands are so useful, and so expressive, why is it that so many of us are hesitant to worship with our hands?

Lifting our hands to God is biblical. It’s a physical demonstration of a spiritual truth. By lifting our hands to Him, we are presenting our bodies to God as a spiritual act of worship.

Yes, it’s true that expressing worship begins on the inside, with a mind and heart transformed by God. Ultimately, it is the posture of our hearts that makes the difference. In John 4:23 Jesus says that the Father is looking for worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. God wants honesty, not showmanship. It is possible to have your hands raised on the outside but to have your fists clenched in defiance on the inside.

The condition of our hearts is what truly matters. Paul says that we should “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” But, on the other side of the same coin, if your heart and mind have been transformed…if, indeed you are kneeling on the inside…if, deep in your spirit, your will is surrendered to God…then, why not demonstrate that physically?

Worship shouldn’t remain on the inside. It’s got to come out.

There are several images that come to my mind when I think of lifted hands:

-A small child running to her dad.
-An enemy, or an outlaw surrendering to an authority.
-A person volunteering for something.

Any, or all of these, and others, may be appropriate at different times. In any case, when you worship privately, or when we come together, I encourage you to offer your hands as a living sacrifice to God.

If you’re new to lifting your hands in worship, and you feel a little uncomfortable, I have a little exercise I’d like to suggest. It doesn’t involve anything dramatic and showy, but it does involve your hands.

About eight years ago, I participated in a worship time, led by Buddy Owens, where he led us in this time of prayer. He said it was something he borrowed from the Quakers. Since then, I’ve led it myself several times in a few different settings. You could do this in your own private devotional time, or at church during communion time, or other quiet time.

Begin by extending your hands in front of you with your palms up. Imagine your burdens and requests in your hands as you present them to God. Maybe there is a specific sin there that you need to confess.

Keep your palms up as you pray something like this:

“Father, thank you for your kindness and the gift of life. Thank you for your love and faithfulness. Thank you for accepting me as I am, and for doing the continuing work of transforming me into the likeness of Christ. I’m offering myself to you right now, body, soul and spirit. I give you my strengths and my weaknesses, my successes and my failures, my hopes and fears, my dreams and nightmares, my joys and my burdens.”

Now turn your palms down and pray something like this:

“Now, by faith, I’m obeying your command to cast all my cares on you. I release them all to you and trust that you’ll do with them as you see fit. May your will be done in me today.”

It may take a few minutes for you to actually let go of this stuff, but when you do turn your palms up again and pray something like this:

“Father, now I’m open to receive all that your grace has in store for me: strength for my weakness, peace for my fear, forgiveness for my sins, and grace to forgive those who have done me harm. Guide my steps, direct my thoughts, and protect me from the evil one. Let me be an extension of your love and mercy to the people I meet today, and I look to you to meet all my needs. I’m yours, Lord, use me to bring you glory.”

Remember, the specific words are only suggestions. God is not impressed with our language skills, but he does want our honesty.

Try it. I think you’ll find it meaningful.



I owe these thoughts to Buddy Owens and his little book called The Way of a Worshiper, which I heartily recommend.




Tuesday Picks ~ 11-29-2016


This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

Man, this article conjured up some memories I’d just as soon forget. But this is great advice for worship leaders…

Growing In Your UnflappabilityJamie Brown
One of the truest truths of worship leading is that you never know what’s going to happen on a Sunday morning. You can prepare, plan, rehearse, and practice until you’re blue in the face, but when Sunday morning comes, literally anything could happen…

It’s hard not to get completely sidetracked, distracted, worked up, and even a little bit angry or annoyed…

But I’ve found that the best way to grow in becoming more unflappable on Sundays is simply to put your money where your theology is…

Don’t leave the label, leave the baggage…

On Leaving EvangelicalismBarnabas Piper distance yourself from a label is to distance yourself from the baggage it carries, sure. But it is also to distance yourself from the history it carries, the values it carries, and the theology it represents. Evangelicalism has a complex past and present, loaded with richness and putridity. I understand the desire to remove one’s self from the latter, but not the former. To say “I am not an evangelical” while still retaining as much of the richness as possible s like a child disliking her name and saying “call me Rainbow.” Her name has not changed nor has her family. She is simply trying to distance herself from a reality she cannot change.

If we disapprove of what a label stands for we only have two options. Leave it behind entirely along with its circle of influence and imprint. Or seek to better represent it so that when people meet us their perception my change by a degree or two. If the label stands for good things at its core then it is worth doing the latter.

5 Things The Decline of Radio and TV Can Tell Us About the Future of the ChurchCarey Nieuwhof
future of radioIn all of human history, people have never had access to more information than they do today. But somewhere in the midst of it, meaning has been lost.

The crisis our culture is facing is not a crisis of information. It’s a crisis of meaning.

This is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities for the church in history. No one should be better at providing meaning, hope and perspective.

I don’t mean jumping on Facebook and offering your half-formed opinion on politics, supreme court decisions and anything else you want to rant about. That just adds to the noise and detracts from the Gospel.

I mean sharing intelligent, honest, transparent, soul-nourishing, grace and truth that springs from and points to the source of all wisdom—Jesus Christ.

The Gospel satisfies the deepest needs of the human heart and mind for meaning. And no one should be better at proffering meaning into a culture so desperately in need of it than the church.

Sometimes I think life is hard, but I’ve never had to pump gas without arms. Have you?

Stress test…

Luke 1:1-25

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

I finished Deuteronomy yesterday and, with the approaching Christmas season, decided to start one of the Gospels. I opted for Luke simply because it contains what is arguably the best known account of Christ’s birth.

Luke 1:1-25
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,[a] of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

From this passage I hear God asking me:
Try to imagine what it would be like to see an angel in person.
You can’t really do it, can you?
Would you be afraid?
Consider: Zechariah is talking to an angel, yet he asks, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.
Zechariah thought maybe his age would be a problem.
What problems do you have for me?
“Do not be afraid!” (v. 13)

Monday Picks ~ 11-28-2016

Picks Monday

This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

What, really, is the gospel we proclaim?

Glennon Doyle Melton’s Gospel of Self-Fulfillment
Jen Pollock Michel
To be clear, I am not writing this essay to wag my moral finger at Melton, nor am I arguing the wrongness of gay and lesbian relationships (although I do believe they are wrong). No, I am writing this essay to plead pastorally with the church to make better sense of the story of desire than Melton and Gilbert. I am writing to remind us, as Taylor astutely does, of the sometimes irreducible gap between “thy will be done” and “let humans flourish.” God wills human flourishing, for sure. But that doesn’t mean he values our momentary happiness above everything else. Indeed, the Christian story is not just one of flourishing but renunciation. We deny ourselves to follow Jesus. We deny ourselves to serve our neighbor. And while holiness does surely reap happiness (in the next life if not this one), we must recognize moments—today—when it becomes necessary to forgo our flourishing as an act, not just of obedience, but of “repairing the world” (Taylor again). This is the only way to make sense of the Cross—both the one Jesus bore and the one we ourselves take up. This is the story of desire as the gospel tells it.

More on the same subject from Trevin Wax…

Don’t Settle for the Gospel of Self-FulfillmentTrevin Wax
LightstockThis is not Christianity. It’s a Christianized form of expressive individualism that you can find in just about any self-help book—an inspirational, feel-good message that makes perfect sense in Western cultures, but leaves traditional societies, many of them Eastern, aghast at its sanction of selfishness…

Now, before you readers who agree with me nod your heads too vigorously, let me hold up a mirror. It would be silly and irresponsible to speak about this expressive individualistic philosophy leading to sexual hedonism as if it were just a problem out there, with those people. And it would be the height of hypocrisy to think that this is an issue primarily for our LGBT friends and neighbors, but not for the rest of the church…

When churches sanction expressive individualism everywhere else (money, marriage, sexuality, career path, etc.) but draw the line at same-sex relationships, it does indeed look like we are singling out homosexuality as “the sin above all sins.” You may be closer to the gospel of self-fulfillment than you think.

Can we learn these lessons from the 2016 election?

Ten Resolutions for the Next ElectionNicholas McDonald
This election season, Christians made mistakes.

I don’t mean white/black/conservative/libertarian/liberal/unaffiliated Christians. All of us. Every one.

Here are some things we need to do differently…

Anyone up for a road trip?

The United States of Burgers: The Best Burgers From Each of the 50 StatesGeorge Motz
I’m sure you’ve already asked yourself—does the burger-loving public need another list? Of course it does. I’m not sure who makes those other lists, so in an effort to provide some clarity and sift through the rubble, I offer this heartfelt, well-researched guide. The American burger is not simply one thing. Regional methods for cooking and slight tweaks to ingredients have created a diverse and tasty array of burgers all over America.

One thing to remember—with this list you’ve only just scratched the surface. Go deeper, get in there, meet my hamburger heroes, hear their stories, and walk away with a better understanding of why Americans identify with this proletarian comfort food. Then go eat a kale salad.

Here are the best burgers from each of the 50 states… 

More updated classics…
Wrong Hands – Click image for a larger view.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him[a] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit[b] of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

From this passage I hear God asking me:
Read vs. 10-12 again.
So, why didn’t I let him in the Promised Land?
Before you answer, consider all the people I did let in.
They didn’t lead, they didn’t even follow that well.
Why them, and not him?
Would I have let you in?
What kind of a God do you think I am?
Where would you be without the gospel?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Reflections of ChristPhotography by Mark Mabry

“When we are having difficulty conjuring up an appropriate Christmas spirit, we need only picture the God of eternity, too glorious for mortal eyes to look upon and live, enduring that filthy and incredibly humiliating setting. It was His love for us that put Him in that manger, though He despised the shame of it. Could He say ‘I love you’ any clearer?

Is there something truly wrong with this picture? If I didn’t understand the love of God, I would be forced to laugh out loud. But instead I begin to sense a profound wisdom in this act. For as I picture Him lying in a manger I suddenly see something I’d never have understood otherwise.

If the infinite and perfect God had arrived in the company of thousands of angels, too glorious to look upon…He would still have been humbling himself, but I wouldn’t have understood it. I would never have gotten the idea that God was willing to intentionally demean His perfect glory to save someone like me.”

Dan Schaeffer

Hacksaw Ridge saw Hacksaw Ridge this evening with a few good friends. I felt like we needed to have a small group discussion afterward, but a movie theater is an awkward place for that sort of thing, plus everyone needed to get home to get ready for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Day festivities. I decided to settle for trying to put a few of my thoughts into words.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s a movie based on the real life Private First Class Desmond Doss. Private Doss was a WWII Conscientious Objector (He termed himself a conscientious cooperator.) who nevertheless enlisted out his desire to serve his nation. He trained as an army medic. His religious faith, as well as a traumatic childhood, were the things that drove his moral resolve to never touch a weapon. In spite of ridicule and abuse for his faith, and his assumed cowardice, from his fellow soldiers and his commanders, he stuck it out. Eventually he saved the lives of many of those same fellow soldiers on the bloody battlefield of Hacksaw Ridge. Because of his tireless and courageous work over a few days, he was able to bring around 75 soldiers off the battlefield to safety. Because of this, those who originally thought of him as a coward now praised him as the bravest man they ever knew. Also, he became the only Conscientious Objector from WWII to receive the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award.

First of all, the movie is very well done. It is directed by Mel Gibson. This story of a man doing his best to live out his faith in horrific circumstances, and with unimaginable opposition, is perfectly suited to his direction. I should say that if you get queasy at the sight of blood this movie may not be for you. However, I think the realistic depiction of war is what gives power to the difficult moral choice faced by PFC Doss.

Some have compared this movie to Saving Private Ryan, and certainly the scenes of wartime fighting are the most graphic I’ve seen since that great movie. This one might even take it a step further. But other than that, and the fact that they are both set in WWII, these movies are completely different.

Hacksaw Ridge does not leave you with the patriotic, heart-stirring feelings of Saving Private Ryan. It challenged me on a much deeper level. I came away asking questions about my own faith. What do I believe? To what degree will I be willing to live by those beliefs in the face of opposition? Am I willing to reach out in love, to those who have opposed me, regardless of whether they agree with me? Even if it could cost me my life?

To me, this movie speaks directly to 21st century Christians. Ok, maybe not directly, but we shouldn’t miss it. Those of us who believe the Bible, and do our best, however faltering that may be, to live out a biblical ethic in every area of our lives, are very much in the minority. Not only that, we are often viewed with suspicion. Our morality is increasingly seen as antiquated and silly, or at times, downright hateful and dangerous.

Can we change their minds about this? Maybe.

But it won’t be done with our words, our moral outrage, or even our flawless logic.

It will only be done when, like Desmond Doss, we pray, “Lord, help me get one more.”

Then we lay down our lives for them.

Interestingly, that’s exactly what Jesus told us to do, anyway.

I don’t know if this was the main point of the movie or not, but it’s what I came away thinking about.