Gen 29:1-20 Jacob’s heavenly encounter with God and angels at Bethel has energized him as he journeys to Haran with eager anticipation of what God might have in store. Approaching the city, he encounters a beautiful girl by a well, a typical scene in the Bible that initiates a betrothal. The story strikes a resonant chord in every man, who wants to be a “prince charming”, and every woman who longs to be a beauty worth searching for. But deeper still, the story speaks to the longing of our hearts to be sought and courted by God.
Gen 28:10-22 We come to place in the Jacob story that is every parent’s nightmare, when a son or daughter goes off into exile. The conditions are anything but ideal. “The security of the sun has been replaced by the dangers of night. The comfort of his parents’ tents has been replaced by a rock. Behind him lays Beersheba, where Esau waits to kill him; ahead of him is Haran, where Laban waits to exploit him. He is situated between a death camp and a hard-labor camp” (Bruce Waltke). Though terrifying, exile can be a place of profound transformation. When we are offstage in extreme loneliness, we are better to hear the tender voice of God pursuing us. Once Jacob hears God’s word, his ordinary journey is transformed into a holy pilgrimage. May it be true of us as well.
Gen 27:1-29 In this week’s text we are drawn into the intimacies of a sacred meal where the patriarchal blessing, with all its eternal promises, will be passed down from one generation to the next through the chosen son. Sadly however, the sanctity of the occasion is crushed by dysfunctional family dynamics, where each party serves their personal interests through deceit, blasphemy, manipulation, and a literal “coverup.” How will God intervene to further his kingdom when the chosen family has all but denied God’s presence? There is so much in this text that speaks to family dynamics, birth order, competition, favoritism and the “coveted blessing” we all long for. I wish I had three weeks to tease our all of its implications.
Gen 25:19-34 This week we begin a new series on the Life of Jacob: Encountering God in the ordinary and often messy stuff of life. Paul Stevens writes, “As we travel through all the stages of Jacob’s life we discover that God is with Jacob in every aspect of his journey. The Bible is not an instruction manual that contains principles of spirituality. It is a story, a story about God in search of humankind and his progressive establishment of his kingdom on earth. And the amazing thing about this God is that he condescends to come right into the midst of our mundane, messy worlds of home, work and play as the stage where this ‘holy’ work occurs.” Each week we will discover how God is at work forging Jacob’s identity in the midst of a very dysfunctional and fragmented family, one that may be strikingly similar to our own.
Phil 1:27–30 Paul has been catching the Philippians up on the state of his life. While things look hard on the outside (he’s in jail awaiting a trial that could lead to his death) he remains strong in the Lord. He’s settled on his life mantra moving forward: To live is Christ and to die is gain. Paul will now turn his attention to the Philippians and what their lives should look like as citizens of God’s Kingdom, a lifestyle that he is modeling for them, and by extension, us.
Phil 1:19–26 Paul has let the Philippian Christians know that although he is in chains, Christ is being preached, the gospel is gaining ground, and so he rejoices. As Paul shifts his focus to his own predicament, we learn he isn’t totally sure if his imprisonment will end in freedom via deliverance from his chains or salvation via death. Knowing God will orchestrate his life’s journey, whether it be through a fruitful ministry on earth, or by receiving the crown of life after being faithful unto death, Paul, in all ways, will always rejoice! Can we follow his lead in living our lives on this side of eternity!?
Phil 1:12–18 After giving thanks and praying for his friends in the Philippian church, Paul seeks to update his koinonia partners on his well-being. But, in an unexpected twist, Paul doesn’t speak to his well-being while in Roman chains. The apostle instead focuses on the fact that the gospel is gaining ground in spite of his circumstances. There are some around Paul that are gaining clarity as to the reason for his imprisonment (preaching the gospel of Jesus) and some others that are gaining confidence. For Paul himself, he’s able to look beyond his hard circumstances and see the growth of the gospel, and this, for Paul, is a reason to rejoice! What an example we have to follow when our life circumstances are less than ideal!
Phil 1:1–11 We will begin the first month of 2020 by walking through the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This first Sunday we will read of the partnership Paul shares with the church in Philippi and the great joy it brings to him in spite of his current circumstances: imprisonment. From prison Paul prays for the new Christians of Philippi as they learn to balance their new call to follow Christ as citizens of Rome. In a day and age where our feelings are often dictated by our circumstances, Paul’s letter to the Philippians should serve as a great source of encouragement for us to find our joy in Jesus and our heavenly citizenship, no matter our circumstances!
Memory and Hope: We live in the present between memory and hope. The past lives on in memory, for good or for ill, enabling or debilitating us for the future which looms ahead. Do we see an open doorway to hope, or is the door closed? The last Sunday of the year is a good time to pause and pay attention to our memories of the past year and our hopes for the new year. We will have a time of body life to share memories and hopes for which we can give thanks and offer prayers.
John 1:19-34 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory” (1:14). After writing the most astounding good news to ever be written “the Word became flesh,” why does John then say, “and we beheld his glory?” Why didn’t John say something like, “and we received the gift of eternal life?” Or, why didn’t John say something like, “and God and humanity were reconciled?” Why does John say, “and we beheld his glory?” Come Sunday as we conclude our Advent series discussing this important phrase in John’s prologue.
John 1:14-18 Before time and space began, God was already as a community of perfect Love: Father, Son and Spirit, fully present to one another. Out of the generosity of this great love, God through the Word, created a cosmos to experience his presence. In the fullness of time he sent his beloved, his One and Only, into the world, into space and time. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He did not abhor the Virgin’s womb, but dwelt there for nine months. In the man Jesus Christ, God was present to his people in love. God drew near: his One and Only has made him known.
John 1:6-13 Like a musical overture to a symphony, the prologue to John’s gospel introduces the major themes of his work — the pre-existent Word, light, life, witness, darkness, rejection, believing, birth, glory. It is poetic — prose, dense with layers of meaning, ambiguity and especially surprise. After we are initially captivated and seized by awe with John’s exalted view of the the Word — preexistent, creator of all things, equal with God (John 1:1-5) — we can’t help but wonder, How will the Word make its grand entrance on planet earth? What kind of reception will the Word receive? What impact will it have in a world shrouded in darkness? The answers John gives are not what we would expect, but equip us with realistic expectations and tools for how to spread God’s light and love in a hostile world.