Friday, August 7, 2020

The Lord will again comfort Zion — Zechariah 1:17

He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope. — 2 Corinthians 1:10

2020 has been a hard year defined by illness, loss, insecurity, violence, and injustice, in both ongoing and unforeseen ways. Whether you’re experiencing it personally or hearing it from someone else, there is a weariness and a fear that have infused our consciousness. Many of us are feeling discouraged and disappointed, disoriented and uncertain. Many wonder where God is in the midst of it. We wonder how to make sense of suffering that seems senseless.

Today’s passages, together, remind us of God’s character and action in the midst of human suffering. They show us that when people suffer, God does respond. In the Zechariah passage, we’re reminded of God’s comfort, of God’s nearness to us when we are in pain. We’re reminded that, like a loving parent, God hurts with us and holds us close. In the 2 Corinthians passage, we’re reminded of God’s deliverance, of God’s power to intervene and save us from suffering. We’re reminded of the ultimate and eternal rescue, from sin and death, on which we can rely. As we experience or witness suffering, sometimes we see deliverance and are released from suffering; at other times, suffering is endured, and God sits with his children, offering comfort and healing. God’s responses may feel mysterious, but we can be confident in the certainty of his active and attentive presence.

Both of today’s passages also remind us that God doesn’t comfort and rescue us just once or twice; the words “again” (from Zechariah) and “continue” (from 2 Corinthians) emphasize that these are God’s habitual responses. God is consistently, reliably present.

God’s active presence in our lives is transformative. Scott J. Haefmann writes this about Paul’s understanding of his own suffering: “suffering is a page in the textbook used in God’s school of faith. It is not suffering itself that teaches us faith, but God who uses it as a platform to display his resurrection power in our lives, either through deliverance from suffering or by comfort within it.”

Even as suffering will draw us to places of confusion and uncertainty, may we seek and see God’s comforting and freeing presence in it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Today’s devotion was written by Aneel Trivedi.

“May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God.” 2 Chronicles 30.18-19

A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was. Luke 19.2-3

Today’s reader likely knows something about the tax collectors of Jesus’ time. Zacchaeus’s wealth was more stolen than earned and his role as the chief tax collector likely made him both very wealthy and very hated. He was both the beneficiary of a broken system and an outcast of the community from which he stole.

And so when the story of Zacchaeus eagerly climbing a tree in order to get a glimpse of Jesus is paired with the text from Chronicles, I am tempted to find some encouragement in the low bar of this type of “seeking God”. Because I too want to see who Jesus is as he passes by. I too might even climb a tree to see him, although I suspect my tree-climbing days are well behind me. I too have wealth and privilege as the beneficiary of broken systems. And so a pardon granted on this kind of low-cost seeking sounds pretty good.

But the gospel of Luke also reminds us that everyone who seeks will find (Luke 11:10) and Zacchaeus’ low-bar seeking was met by an encounter with Christ himself. Jesus entered his home and Zacchaeus was freed to not just stop stealing but freed also to make good on the ways his sin affected the community – he returned fourfold to anyone he had defrauded.

Zacchaeus’s move toward justice was not a requirement for his pardon, but his four-fold repayment to those he defrauded flowed directly from his encounter with Christ. Zacchaeus climbed the tree, but Christ found Zacchaeus. God’s gift changed Zacchaeus and called him into action.

Jesus meets us where we are and brings forgiveness and redemption – this is most certainly true. But an encounter with the risen Christ changes us, and through the encounter, God calls us into radical transformation.

Monday, August 3, 2020

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” —Philippians 2:3-4

At Redeemer, we often talk about our belief that following Jesus is a better way to live. Following Jesus is more than following a set of rules or living by a set of principles. Jesus is alive, right now, so to follow him is a relationship with a living person.

But that doesn’t mean that words and principles don’t matter. As with all healthy and thriving relationships, following Jesus wholeheartedly means living a certain way. It’s this way of living that we believe is better than any non-Jesus way of life.

In Paul’s letters to Christian believers in Philippi, he laid out what this life looks like. Paul said that followers of Jesus are to have the same mindset that Jesus had when he gave his divine life for our sake. In one of the Daily Text verses for today, Paul laid out one way to think about this. To live the Jesus way means to act as if other people are more important to you than you are to yourself.

Paul did not mean that people are not all equal in value in God’s eyes. It’s clear that we are. But what he said is that, paradoxically, the way to a good life lies not in trying to thrive as an individual but rather in concerning yourself with the well-being of other people. What Paul was talking about is the path of mutual submission. The way life works best is when I put your good ahead of my own and you put my good ahead of your own.

The mutuality is critical. I can only really live freely and generously, paying attention to other people’s good while ignoring my own, if I know that other people are looking out for me. The breakdown of this arrangement is usually what we’re talking about when we talk about “sin.” And the fulfillment and realization of this arrangement is what we’re talking about when we talk about “heaven.” This is how God designed human life to be.

This is such a world-changing concept. Can you imagine if we actually did this? Can you imagine voting without giving a second thought to your own interests but instead concerning yourself only with the welfare of others? Can you imagine budgeting based on an others-first principle? Can you picture what your calendar would look like if we could really live like this?

The Jesus way in this broken world is to keep taking steps toward this reality. Sometimes there will be a breakdown. Sometimes we’ll get self-centered. Sometimes we’ll be taken advantage of because no one was watching our backs. Sometimes we’ll be tempted to give up because this whole system just seems hopelessly naive.

But other ways of living don’t work. This way, this way of the beloved community, of the kingdom of heaven, this Jesus way, works.