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The Fruits of Repentance

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. … Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same. … Don’t collect any more than you are required to. … Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:8, 11, 13, 14 NIV).

Repentance is usually seen as something between God and us. We sin and disobey; we come to Him in repentance. John the Baptist led a spiritual revival calling the people to repent and return to God. For him, repentance had to bear the fruits of repentance as evidence that the people’s repentance was genuine.

While John called the people to return to God—“Prepare the way of the Lord”—when they inquired what they should do to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” he gave them rather practical actions. Perhaps even more significant than their practicality is that the actions John advised all pertained to how they related with others instead of God: Give clothes and food to those who are without, don’t extort, don’t rob.

As Christians, we often compartmentalize our spirituality from our daily life. When I’m spiritual, that pertains to my relationship with God. How I behave as I go through my day, well, that’s just life. Yet the biblical view does not accept such segregation. The way to God is through others. In other words, the true evidence of my spirituality and relationship with God is manifested in how I treat others, including practical issues like caring for the poor and hungry and conducting business relationships and interactions.

John not only called the people to repent, preparing the way of the Lord; he also instructed them to bear the fruits of repentance. And what were those? How they treated one another. How they cared for the poor and hungry. How they behaved in business dealings with each other.

Too often we broadcast our love for God, even seeing ourselves as His defenders within our current age, yet our treatment of those around us, those we encounter in our daily lives, does not bear the fruit of the relationship we claim. John expected those who embraced his movement to show in their treatment of others the fruit born from their repentance.

PRAYER

Father, as we turn to You today, may we bear the fruit of our repentance in our daily lives and relationships, with family, friends, and strangers. Amen.

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How Do You Treat Your Enemies?

“Don’t gloat when your enemy falls, and don’t let your heart rejoice when he stumbles, or the Lord will see, be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him” (Proverbs 24:17-18 NCSB).

How we treat our enemies says a lot about our relationship with God. Society today takes great joy in the falling and stumbling of those seen as our adversaries or opponents. Such attitudes permeate our civil and political discourse. We rejoice whenever our enemies fail.

We grow up like this. How often, as kids, did we mock someone who physically fell or stumbled? It’s natural that as adults we rejoice in the falling of our enemies. Sometimes we even attach divine justice to their stumbling as proof that God prefers us and looks out for us against our enemies. Such sentiments, however, are evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Jesus commanded His followers, “I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Luke 6:27-28 NLT). He called upon His followers to love their enemies; in fact, for Him, this was the principal characteristic for those belonging to the kingdom of Heaven—love your enemies.

While rejoicing in our enemy’s failures and failings is simple human nature, love of our enemies requires our obedience to Jesus. In a world where the misfortune of our enemies provides cause for rejoicing, Jesus demands His followers to live differently, to love their enemies. Even the misfortunes of those hostile to our faith and God we cannot celebrate, for God causes His rain and sun to come upon the righteous and unrighteous alike (Matthew 5:45). God does not distinguish between friend and foe in His mercy, and neither can we (Luke 6:36).

The test of our faith is not how we treat those who think like us, act like us, or even like us. The test of whether we are true followers of Jesus is how we love those who don’t think like us, who are not like us, and who don’t even like us. “Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble.”

PRAYER

Father, may I walk in obedience to You today by loving my enemies and showing mercy to them, as You show mercy to them. Amen.

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The Fruit of the Spirit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 niv).

We have a problem: The world we live in does not produce the fruit of the Spirit, and too often we fall into the trap of allowing it to inhibit their growth in us. While our world talks about love, in actuality it shows very little true love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 niv).

Watch the news, look on social media, or just take a walk down the street. Our world is filled with the anti-fruit of the Spirit. Instead of love, we express hate or indifference; instead of joy, misery and despair. Violence and restlessness are predominant over peace. We struggle to show patience to others or ourselves. And so on and so forth.

Two important things we should note about the fruit of the Spirit. First, they don’t grow naturally. If we do not nurture them in our lives, they will not grow. If we do not obey God’s commands and the Spirit’s leading, we will not produce them. We have to choose to grow them and manifest them in our lives. They do not happen naturally, and our world does not foster or encourage their growth. Second, the fruit of the Spirit pertain primarily to our relationships with others. We don’t manifest gentleness with God; we show it to those around us. If we are truly walking by the Spirit, we should produce these fruits in our relationships with family, friends, strangers, and even our enemies.

Our world may not naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit but does recognize them whenever they genuinely see and experience them. The world may not encourage their growth, even in us, but does respond to their sweet taste. Take a look at your life today. Where can you choose to allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow in you and your relationships?

PRAYER

Father, lead us in Your ways, so that Your fruit will grow in us. Help us to choose to walk in obedience to You. Amen.

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How’s Your Light?

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 niv).

We live in a world where people like to talk. Our lives are filled with the noise of communication. Our news, sports, and even weather are filled with talking heads that all have something to say. Social media provides a platform for everyone to talk and express themselves. As followers of the Lord, too often we assume that we display our light through what we say, the causes we defend, and even the arguments we have on God’s behalf.

Light shines. It provides illumination in the darkness. It just does; that’s its nature. It doesn’t have to announce itself or let everyone know what it’s going to do. It shines and is visible to all.

Many of us who grew up in church were told that the way our light would shine was by sharing with our words, but that’s not what Jesus says. He equates letting our light shine with our good works. Thus, it’s not what we say; it’s what we do. Our actions, deeds, and works cause those around us to give glory to our Father in heaven.

As the saying goes, talk is cheap. We live in a world filled with cheap talk, quite often even by those who are followers of the Lord. We complain about the rise of anti-religious attitudes and secularism in our society, and we think that we need to speak out all the louder to stem this growing tide. Perhaps, if we take Jesus more seriously, we should let our light shine by doing good works. People can argue with our words; they cannot argue with our actions aligned with the teachings of Jesus.

Do our good works cause people around us to give glory to God every day? Do we realize that perhaps the reason our world doesn’t glorify God is because we lack good works, or our light isn’t shining brightly enough? Maybe we should focus more on what our works communicate than our words. So, how’s your light; how’s our light?

PRAYER
Father, may we live our lives today obediently submitted to Your will and commands, so that those around us may see our good works and give glory to You. Amen.

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The Killing of the Innocents

“Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. … Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.’ Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel” (Matthew 2:16, 19-21 nkjv).

Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus includes the figure of Herod the Great. Matthew tells how, after the wise men came to Jerusalem seeking the child born “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), Herod ordered the murder of all male children in Bethlehem that were two years of age and under (Matthew 2:16). Herod’s actions as described by Matthew fit what we know of Herod’s personality from other ancient witnesses.

The story of Herod’s killing of the boys two and under in Bethlehem only appears in the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-18). Yet, Matthew’s portrayal of Herod’s character fits the paranoia of Herod at the end of his life and his use of brutal force in order to preserve his throne. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, relates a story that happened prior to the birth of Jesus that is relevant to the Gospel account of Herod’s killing the children in Bethlehem.

There were Pharisees who prophesied to the wife of Pheroras, the brother of Herod, that he and his wife would soon inherit Herod’s throne and kingdom. When Herod found out about the prophecy, he immediately acted and put those Pharisees to death. Then he killed everyone in his own household who had approved of the prophecy from the Pharisees (Antiquities 17.41-45). In response to the potential threat to his throne, Herod brutally killed those who had made the prophecy as well as any sympathetic to it.

Matthew presents an identical picture. When Herod heard of a potential messianic claimant to his throne, he used swift and brutal force to make sure that the child born in Bethlehem would not grow into a threat. Miraculously, God protected Jesus by warning Joseph in a dream and sending him and his family to Egypt until after the death of Herod (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23).

The Bible reflects the historical realities of its world, but its message extends to us today. God protected Jesus and his family despite Herod’s designs for the baby’s destruction. The story of the Bible is about God acting in human history; that’s the message of the birth of Jesus. And, if God acted to protect His son, even in the face of the powers of the day, He will watch over and protect us.

Herod sought to use violence and coercion to protect his power and throne. Jesus willfully submitted to the will of God, and by His submission, He gained an eternal throne.

PRAYER

Father, thank You for Your nearness! Thank You for sending Your son Jesus to show us the way to You. May we live in submitted obedience to Your rule and reign every day. Amen.

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Song of the Angels

“‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:10-14 nkjv).

We frequently sing, “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains” at Christmas. The season would not be complete without “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”—Glory to God in the highest. Yet how often do we reflect upon the meaning of the words the angels declared?

The praise of the angels to the shepherds recorded in Luke’s Gospel (2:13-14) underscored the reality of God’s nearness in the birth of Jesus, as well as embodying Jewish redemptive hopes of the first century. It also gives voice to the hope for redemption shared by Jews and Christians through the centuries. With the advent of Jesus, God draws near to His people—His goodwill is for everyone. His reign dawns through those who obey His will. He demonstrates that He is Immanuel—God with us.

The angels told the shepherds that their message of good news “will be to all people” (Luke 2:10). God’s goodwill is not simply for the elect; it extends to everyone, for “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45 nasb). His merciful will reaches out to all mankind to bring peace, completeness, and wholeness. And, in the birth of Jesus, God has drawn near to demonstrate within the bounds of history what His will is, to give voice and example to His will (see Hebrews 1:1-2).

God’s will is for all humankind. In the birth of Jesus, His glory, peace, and favor have drawn near to everyone. This is the good news the angels proclaimed: God is for us!

The message of the angels was an announcement of God’s nearness. God is for us, and He has drawn near to us. God is a part of human history; therefore, there is hope. God has not turned a blind eye to the suffering of the righteous or a deaf ear to the cry of the afflicted. His mercy extends to all mankind: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:13-14 nkjv).

PRAYER

Father, in this Advent season, as we reflect on Your nearness and goodwill toward us, may we extend Your mercy and goodwill to everyone around us, even those who are away from you. And, in so doing, may we truly proclaim with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Amen.

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Mary’s Song of Praise

“He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1:51-55 nkjv).

Our versions of the Christmas story are typically depicted as serene, sweet, and majestic. Our Christmas art and music aid us in creating the warm and sentimental feelings of the season. Nevertheless, even if it’s unintentional, we sometimes sanitize the events of Christmas. We talk about Jesus being born among the animals, and God stooping from His throne to become one of us—from a heavenly throne to a manger. But how often do we forget the real world and context

Jesus was born into?

Mary’s song echoes the hopes and yearnings of her people, the Jewish people, that God’s redemption would upset and overturn the status quo. Those in power would no longer remain there, but the lowly would be exalted. The hungry would be filled, and the rich would be made poor. Mary uttered a radical song of praise.

In her mind, God’s redemption was not merely inward and personal. Rather, God’s redemption impacted all of His people and manifested itself in visible, tangible ways within the social and political order. Mary’s words are anything but safe; they are subversive. Israel’s long-awaited hope for redemption has now come, and it will disrupt the established world that had been.

Admittedly, our reflections of Christmas often focus more on ourselves—what God has done for me. In doing so, we sometimes fail to feel the collective sense of hope and upheaval that the message of Christmas originally articulated. It’s there in Mary’s song; in the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist; in the angelic proclamation; and even in Simeon’s utterance about the newborn Jesus in the Temple.

God is fulfilling His promises to Israel’s fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with the birth of Jesus. The hopes of His people, and the world, are being realized in the baby in Bethlehem. But this redemption will upset the social and political order of the day.

It’s hard for us sometimes—wrapped in the lights, sounds, and smells of Christmas—to hear the disruptive tone of the first Christmas. But we need to. What God did in sending Jesus was for more than our personal spirituality. It manifests itself in visible and tangible ways within the social order of our world. 

How might our understanding and celebrations of Christmas differ if we remembered and took to heart the ancient message of redemption uttered by Mary?

PRAYER

Father, manifest Your redemption this Christmas in our world among the hurting, suffering, poor, and oppressed. And help us to be present where You are. Amen.

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The Birth of Jesus Foretold

“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ 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 will be called holy—the Son of God’” (Luke 1:34-35 esv).

By the time of the Angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, the land of Israel found itself under Roman rule, which at times could be oppressive. The reality posed by Rome challenged the widely held belief among the Jews that our God is the only god, and we are His chosen people. The present reality produced a widespread yearning for God’s redemption, which many thought His Messiah would accomplish.

Gabriel announced a message to Mary that had been anticipated and hoped for by many. So, on the one hand, she was prepared to hear it and receive it. There was only one problem. She was to be the vessel of God’s redemption, giving birth to His Son. And she was a virgin: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Gabriel then proceeded to relay how this would be accomplished, concluding with the reminder, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 esv). The Jews found themselves in a difficult period awaiting God’s redemption, and Mary found herself incapable of seeing how she could fulfill what Gabriel told her.

The message of Advent is God entering into human history in a way that previously He had not done. At the moment when things looked the bleakest for His people and impossible for Mary, He provided a way. He entered their story. Upon hearing what God intended to do, Mary’s response was one of trust and obedience: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 esv).

Throughout the Bible, God showed up to deliver His people. When circumstances seemed the darkest, He sent messages of hope. When things seemed impossible, He sent deliverance. God is for us. The annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary proclaims that He is with us.

Will we choose to respond to God, like Mary, with trust and obedience? Even when we don’t understand how He will accomplish His purposes, will we choose to act as His servants? Mary chose to trust what God told her and to submit to His will. Her choice led to the redemption of the world. This Advent, do we trust God regardless of the appearance of our external circumstances? Will we obediently submit to His will for Him to bring hope and deliverance in our lives?

PRAYER

Father, thank You for sending Your Son. Regardless of how difficult the circumstances appeared, You made a way. Lord, may we submit to You as Your servants to bring Your light and hope to our world. Amen.

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Do You Want to Be Blessed?

“How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the Lord’s instruction! Happy are those who keep His decrees and seek Him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they follow His ways” (Psalm 119:1-3 hcsb).

Hebrew poetry, like the psalms, uses a form known as “parallelism.” Parallelism within poetry offers a way of saying something and providing either a statement of equivalent meaning, a statement of antithetical meaning, or an expanded meaning. The first verses of Psalm 119 offer parallelism that provides an equivalent meaning.

For example, “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless” equals those “who walk according to the law of the Lord.” In other words, those whose ways are blameless walk according to the law of the Lord. Notice that this parallelism also brings clarity to what the psalmist meant about a way that is blameless. How does one have a blameless way? By walking in the law of the Lord, i.e., obeying God’s commands. And this is where verse 2 begins: “Blessed are those who keep His statutes.”

Verse 2, then, continues the parallelism of verse 1: Those whose ways are blameless equal those who walk according to the law of the Lord equal those who keep His statutes. Verse 2 also has its own parallelism between the first and second parts of the verse: Those who keep His statutes are those who seek Him with all their heart.

Once you become aware of this technique with Hebrew poetry (in Psalms, Proverbs, and the prophets especially), it helps to clarify a lot of “spiritual” language of the Bible. For example, how often do we hear a call to seek God? But how does one do that? It’s right here in Psalm 119:2—we seek God with our whole heart by keeping His commands. The thought of verse 2, however, continues into verse 3: “They do no wrong but follow His ways.” This also explains how one seeks God with their whole heart, by doing no wrong, which is walking in His ways. As we already noticed, a person’s way is blameless when they walk in the law of the Lord, which means keeping His statutes and commands. 

The Psalmist provided us with the path of blessing, to walk in the law of the Lord, to keep His ways, which means that we seek Him with our whole heart. Then we will be blessed.

PRAYER

Lord, may we seek You with our whole heart by keeping Your statutes and commands. Amen.

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Far from the Promise

“David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there” (1 Samuel 22:1 niv).

David found himself for a period of his life having to flee from Saul. Saul pursued him wherever he went. David felt so pressed that he even had to seek refuge with Achish, the Philistine king of Gath (Goliath’s hometown). As you can imagine, the Philistines mistrusted David and did not welcome him warmly. So, David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.

Adullam sits on the border between the Philistine territory of Gath and the tribal territory of Judah (David’s tribe). It overlooks the Elah Valley where David defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath (1 Samuel 17). So, David flees from Saul, unaccepted even by Saul’s enemies, and finds himself in the cave at Adullam overlooking the site of his greatest victory.

When David defeated Goliath, he found himself at the top. He defeated Goliath, saved Israel, defended the honor of God and Israel, and was taken into Saul’s court. Also, he had been secretly anointed the future king by Samuel. Things looked promising. You have to wonder whether David thought his path from his victory in the Elah Valley to the throne was going to be a smooth, straight shot. To a certain extent, when he stood over the body of Goliath, cutting his head off with Goliath’s sword, the Philistine army fleeing with the Israelites in pursuit, he stood very close to God’s promise to him of the kingship, there in the Elah Valley.

When he found himself in the cave of Adullam, overlooking the same valley, the location of his greatest triumph, he was the furthest from the throne and God’s promise than he had ever been. Every morning when he woke, he looked over the scene of his victory, and you wonder whether he found himself despairing of God’s promise. “Has God really said?” “Because I certainly don’t see the path from where I am today to what he promised me.” “Me, a king?” “I’m running for my life and living in a cave, hardly the house of a king.”

Have you ever found yourself in a place where you feel an overwhelming sense of despair? The vision that God gave you for your life, your future, seems a million miles away, and God Himself seems even further away. You remember your victories, those moments when you felt triumph that God was right with you. But now all of that seems like a dream, and you find yourself in despair.

The cave of Adullam was not the end of David’s story. Nor will your times of despair be the end of your story. God is faithful. Rarely does He bring us straight from the victory field to the throne. Rather, He leads us on a winding journey where we learn to trust Him and His promises, even when He and they seem far away. God is at work; therefore, we will not despair forever.

PRAYER

Father, wherever we find ourselves, lead us in Your ways and to Your promises. Amen.

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