Work in Progress

Read Philippians 1:3-11.

In this reading, Paul celebrates with joy the change and the growth he sees among the followers of Jesus at Philippi. In verse 6 he says, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will be faithful to bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” This affirms the idea that we are all a work in progress.

If someone were taking an inventory of the change God has brought to your life, what might they find? In what ways has following Jesus changed you? What new understandings or insights have you gained along your spiritual journey? Have you found it to be a smooth, steady walk or has yours been full of fits and starts, hills and valleys? If you could describe your understanding of what it would look like to be completed in faith, what would you include?

Today, offer a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s continued transformative work in your spirit.


Breaking Light

Read Luke 1:68-79.

In one of the devotions last week, we thought about appreciating and being attentive to present moments. Here, Zechariah sings praise for what God has done and what God will do. Maybe reflecting on God’s work in the past and looking forward to God’s continuing work in the future is a helpful way for God’s work in the present to be revealed to us.

Today, write down a sentence of praise for something God has done in the past. Next, write down something you hope God will do in the future. Imagine a thread running between these two ideas. Can you think of something that is ongoing even now that might be a connecting point for the two?

Today, offer your own song of praise for what God has done or one of expectation for what God will do. It may be in the form of a favorite hymn, an original poem, a painting, or a quilt block. However you praise God, be creative!


The Messenger

Read Malachi 3:1-4.

In 1928, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave an Advent sermon that connects well with this passage. In it he said this: “It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming, so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God . . . We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for every one who has a conscience.

“Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.”

What do you think it means for God to lay claim to us? To what extent do you agree that the coming of God should be frightening to everyone who has a conscience? What areas of your life need to be “purified” or “refined” before the light of Christ can shine in its full glory? Offer a prayer of confession and find hope in God’s assurance of pardon.


Be Present

Read Luke 21:25-36.

As Jesus describes his coming reign, he advises his listeners not to get too caught up in the brokenness, fear, and chaos that was and is a part of the world. Instead, we should be present to each moment, living as if this were the day that the kingdom of God would come in its fullest expression.

As he wrote about “the sacrament of the present moment,” Jean-Pierre de Coussade said this: “This discovery of divine action in everything that happens, each moment, is the most subtle wisdom possible regarding the ways of God in this life.” Rather than looking back nostalgically at the past or longingly at the future, how can we live appreciatively and attentively in the present?

If today was the last day of this life as you know it, what might you do differently, what might you let go of completely, and what part of your life would you present to God as an offering? Today, make it a point to appreciate even small moments throughout the day.


Abounding in Love

Read 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13.

These verses are a celebration of a healthy church. The church at Thessalonica brings Paul and his companions great joy as they function together to be the body of Christ. And even though it is not perfect (see the end of vs. 10: “…and restore whatever is lacking in your faith”), God is working through them, giving Paul reason for rejoicing.

Because of what the church has brought to Paul’s spirit, he turns to blessing. The blessing isn’t, “And may you become the biggest church in town” or “May your giving increase ten-fold.” Instead, his prayer is that the church may increase and abound in love for each other and for all people, to  increase in holiness and to stand before God without blemish. For Paul, this is the ideal – the measure of success for the body of Christ.

What gifts does the church bring to you? What, about the church, brings you joy? In what ways does our church function in healthy ways and what are the indications that there might be something lacking in our faith? Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the church – both the local and the global church. Pray a blessing over her work.


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Clean Slate

Read Psalm 25:1-10.

In verse 7, the psalmist pleads, “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions.” It seems that many of us have a hard time forgetting or forgiving the sins of our own youth. I have known many who live as if their past sins define them and their relationships for the rest of their lives.

The hope found in this psalm is that our past sins do not define us. Instead, a loving, steadfast, and merciful God offers us a new identity: beloved. Because of the One who allows us to begin each day with a clean slate, we can live fully into that identity. Our thoughts, words, and actions can spring up from that identity. Forgiven and accepted as we are, we can be open to God’s leading and instruction, seeking to be more and more like the Source of Our Being.

Offer a prayer of confession for those sins that you cannot seem to forget or forgive. Find assurance in the promise that because of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, in Christ, you are forgiven.


Righteous Branch

Read Jeremiah 33:14-16.

This promise comes from God as Jerusalem is sitting in ruins, most of its inhabitants having been carried off to Babylon. Yet, even as God allows the children of Judah to suffer the consequences of their actions, God’s care and love remains steadfast. In fact, God promises that things will get better and we, of course, read this as the promise of Jesus, the true branch of God’s righteousness.

Are there areas in your life or in the world that feel like they are “in ruins”? Are there any hopeful signs of new life springing forth? How does the promise in this reading affect the way you view these situations?

In prayer, offer these situations up to God and find reassurance that all will be well.


Kingdoms and Truth

Read John 18:33-37.

In this discourse between Pilate and Jesus, we have a contrast between earthly kingdoms and the kingdom the Jesus taught and lived. In contrast to the world’s kingdoms, in which power over others is the definition of success, Jesus’ kingdom is characterized by humility and service. This conversation reminds us that we follow a different kind of king – one who sacrificed his very life for all of humankind. He submitted himself to the powers that be as the ultimate expression of love.

It seems like submission has become a dirty word in our world today. Pride and ego seem to be a driving force in many of the interactions we either witness or are a part of. In this exchange, Jesus doesn’t exhibit any of that. He’s calm and he’s honest, despite having a very good grasp of what is at stake. What does this teach us? In the verse following our reading, Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

What do you think Jesus means when he speaks of truth? What evidence is there in your life that you “belong to the truth”?

Today, pray for a spirit of humility as you go through the day and offer thanks for the leadership and example of Jesus.


A New Turn

Read Revelation 1:4b-8.

Many who read Revelation look at it as a terrifying fever dream of doom and gloom. Some interpret it as some sort of futuristic forecast of the end times, full of fire and brimstone. Some use it to deepen the us/them chasm where “we” are good, destined to walk the streets of gold and “they” are bad, condemned to an eternity in hell. All of this misses the radical message of hope in this book. Barbara Rossing, in her commentary on this passage writes, “Revelation’s message is not that the world is about to end, but that the world is about to turn.”

Could it be that the devastation, strife, and chaos that seem to be the hallmarks of these days are actually signs that the world is turning towards a new age of Jesus’ reign – one characterized by justice, equity, and peace? What if the focus of our faith was less on what happens after we die and more on living the values of God’s kingdom here and now?

Spend some time in quiet today, cataloging your reasons for hope that Jesus is doing something new in this world.