What is most challenging for you in understanding the Bible?
More than 80 countries in the world have a day which commemorates the value of work, and the contributions of workers to the well-being of society. In the United States and Canada, it is the first Monday in September.
The Bible has much to say about the dignity of work, which helps us to see our labor as more than “just a job.” And, of course, we should keep in mind the labor of many who may not receive a paycheck for what they do, but whose contribution is just as valuable. Studying at the university or changing diapers or volunteering at a soup kitchen is valued labor in the eyes of God.
The first thing to notice in Scripture is that God is a laborer. Genesis 2:2-3 says: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” And what a work it was! We all would do well to have a day during our week, when we stop what we normally work at (the word “Sabbath” means “to cease”) to reflect on God and the work he is doing through us.
“The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14).
The shocking news of the suicide death of actor Robin Williams has left millions of people all over the world with a mystery: how could someone known for a whole-face smile that caused multitudes of people to laugh to the point of tears be so distraught and dark that he would take his own life? Many are perplexed, and there are many others who are saying to themselves: if anyone knew how desperately depressed I am, they would be surprised.
One of the boldest things any human being can do is to stand in front of someone else and say, “This is what I believe.” We listen, whether we are inclined to believe the same thing or not.
Belief in God and in the truths of God is a distinctive experience. It is to say, “I have come to a certain conviction. I have listened, I have watched, I have thought about it. I now believe I know something I did not before. And it isn’t so much that I have chosen to believe as that belief has been born in me by a reality greater than myself. I have a sense of certitude, and my next steps in life will be different for it. I am carried along by this truth.”
According to John Adams, July 2 marked the birth of a brand new nation, the United States of America. Two days later, July 4, the Declaration of Independence was signed, but on July 2 the Congress had voted to approve the independence of the thirteen colonies from Britain.
Writing to his beloved wife, Abigail, John Adams wrote:
“I am apt to believe that [July 2] will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
So, go ahead and tell you’re boss you’re taking off work today, to commemorate the birth of a nation on July 2, 1776.
How would the world be different if leaders were wise enough to value this?
“The wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
• “Pure” means being relatively free of mixed motives.
by Mel Lawrenz
[Op-Ed in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sunday, June 8, 2014]
Of all the shocking details about the two 12-year-old girls who allegedly stabbed a friend 19 times — the calculation, the savagery, the lunacy — the one part of the account that struck me the most is when the girls reportedly dragged their bleeding friend into the bushes and left her to die there.
No realization that they had made a terrible mistake. No change of heart. No remorse. Police said one of the girls said of the choice to abandon their friend: “The bad part of me wanted her to die; the good part of me wanted her to live.”
We will be sending out a daily email devotional, starting this Sunday, leading up to Easter Sunday. This Easter devotional is called “Knowing Him,” and is based on the premise of Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.”
The readings will get into the story of Jesus’ last week, including the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. We will also explore the meaning of forgiveness, atonement, redemption, and other things Jesus accomplished for us.
Sign up HERE [not necessary if you are already on the email list for The Brook Network].
P.S. You have permission to copy and post these readings on your own blog, send them to your own email list, or whatever. Free and open access. Pastors—use them for your church. Bloggers—use some or all 22 of them for your site. Bible study leaders—send them to your group. Please use complete text, with attribution and reference to www.thebrooknetwork.org, please.
(One of the truly great examples of people putting faith into action in a big way is the work of International Justice Mission and its founder, Gary Haugen. Every interaction I have had with their staff has been truly encouraging. 600 brave advocates work today around the world on behalf of people who cannot speak up for themselves. Today Gary’s new book, which holds the potential of being a game-changer on the topics of poverty and violence, is out. All author royalties go to the work of IJM. And this week only, $20 is being donated to the work of IJM with every copy sold.)
Reading The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence seemed like an exercise in moral obedience.
Some years back, after a young husband and father shot five young girls dead, the news coming out of the Amish community of West Nickels Mines headlined a single word: forgiveness.
This word caught the attention of the media, but what does “forgive” mean?
Some people have a hard time believing in any form of providence. They may acknowledge a creator or designer, but one who is now no longer directly involved in the creation. They don’t see a gigantic hand reaching down from the clouds, or they believe that most of what happens in life can be traced to natural cause and effect. God may be a watchmaker who produced an impressive machine, but now those gears and springs are clicking through their motions on their own.
It is the first week of January and I find myself wondering what this new year will bring. One more trip around the sun: 8,760 hours. Last year most of those hours turned out as I expected. But a few thousand did not. That’s where the excitement comes in—and the worry.
On many coins and city gates of the old Roman Empire appears a bearded figure with two faces poised in opposite directions.
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The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. -Luke 2:20
At the birth of Jesus, amidst the dirt and straw of a stable, millennia of promises, prophecies, and hopes were fulfilled. In the birth of a child, something that happens every single day all over the world, something happened that would change the world. Everything the faithful were anticipating took shape. It was the alignment of all that was meant to be. But the birth of Jesus has that power and significance only if he really is who he said he was.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. – Luke 2:6
On the night before Jesus was born, the shepherds would have seen the night sky the way they had seen it thousands of times before. That was a quiet night, in stark contrast to the following night, when an angel would appear with “the glory of the Lord,” announcing the birth of the child—then join with a great company of heavenly beings proclaiming glory and peace.
This is post #23 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.”Read more devotionals by Mel Lawrenz.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. – 1 John 1:1-2
Beginning. The Beginning. How much we all want to know about the beginning of all things, in order to understand the now of all things, and to pursue the way things are supposed to be in our lives today. The original design must be the ideal, the way things ought to be. The Bible’s opening words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” delineate between a time in which there was only God, and a new time in which his magnificent creation began (Gen. 1:1).
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For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. – Luke 2:30-32
The winter solstice on December 21, the darkest day of the year, means for many of us who live halfway between the equator and the North Pole, that we have breakfast when it is still dark outside, and that by supper, the sun has long set. That slide toward the shortest day of the year seems like sinking into a black hole. No wonder people in ancient cultures celebrated the days when the sun began to return. The prophet Malachi spoke of the healing power of light: “The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2).
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The word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. – John 1:14
Not only did the Son of God become a baby, but also he became flesh. Divinity joined to corporeal muscle, blood and bones. In this humbling of the eternal Son of God, the Word who was with God from the beginning and was God, chose to begin in the way all flesh does—as a newborn.
But what does “flesh” really mean? Doesn’t it sound a bit crass?
This is post #20 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.”Read more devotionals by Mel Lawrenz.
They went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. – Matthew 2:9-10
In Psalm 19, David gives voice to the stars:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Vss. 1-4)
If you have ever stood outside at night and looked up at the canopy of stars, away from the city, away from noise, you may have seen that the stars have a message. In silence they speak, and their voice is thunderous.
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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” – Matt. 2:1-2
Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem many months after the birth of Jesus, yet we know nothing about that time. How was Mary treating her baby, knowing she would have to submit to him as her Lord? How much attention were they getting from the townspeople? What were they telling people, if anything? We simply don’t know. But we do know that one day some travelers from the east—maybe Persia or Mesopotamia (the regions of modern day Iran or Iraq)—suddenly showed up in Bethlehem, claiming to have been guided to a new king by a star.
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And he will be called…Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6
In ancient times, princes, whether they desired it or not, often became warriors. Rulers of nations may talk about peace, but nothing is more elusive than peace. And so, when Isaiah talked about a child who would be born, a son who would be given, who would be called “Prince of Peace,” it sounded like high rhetoric, wishful thinking. Could it ever possibly happen?
This is post #17 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” Want to read more devotionals by Mel Lawrenz?
And he will be called…Everlasting Father. -Isaiah 9:6
What a remarkable string of names in Isaiah 9:6! Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Now, these were radical statements indeed, and they described the one who was coming to rule heaven and earth. A coming ruler might—if he were an ordinary ruler—simply assert his authority and prerogatives as sovereign. As we well know, a king is one who has the power because he has an army, and who has wealth because he controls the resources of his realm. That is the way of earthly rulers. But Isaiah also spoke of a ruler whom people would look to in far more personal terms: “Father.”
This is post #16 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” Want to read more devotionals by Mel Lawrenz?
And he will be called…Mighty God. – Isaiah 9:6
In the Old Testament, some of the prophecies about Christ are mysterious statements. They were so bold and so large that they were treasured through the generations, until they were fulfilled and finally understood. Isaiah’s oracle about a son who would be born—Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and all the rest—was one of those landmark prophecies. In that moment of inspiration, Isaiah revealed he would be Mighty God.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders…and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. – Isaiah 9:6-7
Government. Does that word strike a positive note in you, or negative note? The word has good and bad connotations. Over the centuries, many corrupt governments run by greedy and power-hungry people have imposed tyranny rather than justice. Their form of order is more often a form of chaos.
This is post #14 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” Past days HERE.
Mel Lawrenz is Minister at Large for Elmbrook Church and directs The Brook Network.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6
“What is the baby’s name?” The people in Bethlehem who had heard of a baby born in a stable must have stopped by to talk to Mary or Joseph. Mary and Joseph voiced the name they themselves had not chosen: Jesus. But hundreds of years earlier, other names had already been announced for the Anointed One. Among them, Isaiah spoke of one who would be called Wonderful Counselor.
This is post #13 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.”
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My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. -Luke 2:46-47
One of the worst things that can happen to a person is to live with a shrunken understanding of God, a shrunken soul. This is the perfect reason to take Christmas seriously, as our best hope for our minds and hearts to be enlarged with God’s greatness.
Mary’s response to the message that she would bear the savior was a remarkable song of praise, sometimes known as the Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55). It begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” which means that because God’s announcement opened her heart him in a way that she couldn’t have imagined, her soul was beginning to grasp the bigness of God.
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All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” -Matt. 1:22-23
My wife and I have only seriously lost track of our daughter once. We were walking through a crowded tourist town and the streets were lined with shops. It was evening and the crowds were dense. Suddenly, I noticed that neither my wife nor I had our eight-year-old daughter by the hand. We spun around, unable to spot her. With candy stores beckoning children indoors, and winding side streets all around, she could be anywhere.
This is post #11 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” Christmas Joy as eBook HERE.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. -Luke 2:4
Bethlehem was like any other town in the hills of Judea. Yet, it was the birthplace of the greatest king of Israel, David, and one thousand years later, the Messiah.
How does such honor come to the ordinary? Were the people of this town particularly worthy? Was there some great strategic advantage to where it lay? Were the people of Bethlehem politically savvy, having a long history of producing great leaders? Not at all. The little town of Bethlehem was in the shadow of great Jerusalem just six miles to the north. Even the meaning of Bethlehem, “house of bread,” is unremarkable.
Mel Lawrenz is Minister at Large at Elmbrook Church and directs The Brook Network.
Some people think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name. Jesus Christ, like Joe Johnson or Audrey Smith. If you have thought that, don’t feel bad. It is just evidence that over the centuries our understanding of Jesus as the Christ has become so solid in our thinking that we don’t think of “Jesus” without “Christ.”
This is post #9 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.”Read more devotionals by Mel Lawrenz.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. – Luke 2:7
Sometimes a name is just a name, and sometimes a name captures someone perfectly. The ancients inclined to choose names carefully, so as to make a lifelong statement about a person’s identity. “Jesus” is a name so familiar to us, that we easily forget that it was a name with an extraordinary significance. The name an angel announced should be given to Mary and Joseph’s new child. And what a name! “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.”
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Luke 2:7
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Where is the first place a baby is placed after it emerges from the mother’s womb? Today we use hyper-sterilized blankets and sanitized cribs. A Plexiglas dome, if necessary. All precautions go toward minimizing the germs the child may come into contact with.
But Mary laid Jesus in the feeding trough for an animal. The Good Shepherd took refuge that night in the sheep’s manger, and when the shepherds came to see what was announced to them, how stunned they must have been.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. -Luke 1:32-33
Christmas represents a beginning that only makes sense if we comprehend the end. The beginning is a child—a humble birth in an earthy stable. But the end… The end is an explosion of divine glory bright enough for the whole world to see—like the birth of new star. The end is a kingdom. Jesus came to forward the kingdom of God, to open people’s eyes to the power of God, to make it the central reality of their lives. “His kingdom will never end.”
This is post #6 in the Christmas devotional Christmas Joy. Receive Christmas Joy via email.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. -Matthew 1:18-19
We know so little about Joseph. He is only mentioned in the birth and childhood stories of Jesus. He was named after an ancient patriarch who used his success in Egypt to save his family and a future nation. Joseph was a carpenter who lived in the town of Nazareth. His ancestors were from Bethlehem, so when a Roman ruler, Caesar Augustus, wanted a census, Joseph had to go back to Bethlehem, even though his wife was well along in her pregnancy.
This is post #5 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” To get via email, sign up HERE.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night. – Luke 2:8
It may seem like a stretch of the imagination, but try it anyway: If you were God, and could announce the arrival of the savior of humanity, would you send your messengers to some shepherds out in the fields, as they whiled away their nighttime watch? Why not instead send angels to an assembly of the religious council in Jerusalem? Why not to the megalomaniac King Herod? How about Caesar? Wouldn’t that be a night of work—to blow opens the doorways of society, to change everything with a few simple words.
This is post #4 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” Want to read more devotionals by Mel Lawrenz?
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” -Luke 1:26-31
Can any of us fathom the immense amount of faith Mary was called on to have? She was young. She was a virgin. She was probably expecting to lead no more than an ordinary life in a no name Galilean town.
Then the message came from heaven.
To be visited by an angel would be miraculous in itself. But the words! Those powerful, surreal words: “The Lord is with you.” Certainly that is true for all of us, generally speaking, but in this case the emphasis was: The Lord is with you, Mary. The creator of the universe has handpicked “you who are highly favored”. As with Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ruth and David, God had chosen Mary to be his instrument, to do his work in the world. A high favor indeed.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21
Angel: 1). A spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God (Oxford English Dictionary).
What did Mary see when the angel Gabriel appeared to her? What kind of being came with foreknowledge of a supernatural conception and with words that would change her identity forever? “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). How would the shepherds have described the angel with the glory of the Lord shining about? How could they encapsulate “a great company of the heavenly host,” whose voices poured out a sudden tidal wave of sound, a booming chorus?: “Glory to God in the highest!” (Lk. 2:14). How would Joseph his own encounter with the angel? Or what would Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, say about their messengers? In the days leading up to the birth of Jesus, supernatural appearances and utterances were occurring like they never had before—an electric buzz of Heaven’s voices among us.
This is the second post in the devotional “Christmas Joy.” Don’t want to miss any? You can subscribe here.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” – Luke 2:13-14
Peace is a noble aspiration at any time. In times of war or in times of harmony. When you find yourself at odds with someone, or when you are feeling pretty good about your relationships. When you feel in harmony with God, or when you feel a discord. It is always important to pursue peace.
This is the first post in the devotional “Christmas Joy.” Don’t want to miss any? You can subscribe here.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:10-11
Great joy? Is it almost too much to hope for?
Where did all the Christmas joy go? How did things get so complicated? So rushed? So squeezed and cluttered? A non-stop buzz of Christmas lights and weary shoppers, boisterous television specials and pleading children. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to step aside, step into a quieter moment, and read the angel’s words that came on the night that changed the world: “I bring you news of great joy!”
In America this week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. I have always treasured this holiday because its intention is so clear and so right. It is not so cluttered with commercialism and busyness. It recalls the harvest of fields, and invites us to look for a harvest of God’s goodness in our own lives.