Advent 2017

Welcome to the Reformed Margins devotional! We begin with a devotional to minister to your heart and mind as you walk through the Advent Season. The current day’s devotion is at the top. If you want to read earlier entries, just scroll down!

Note: Ordinarily we will not post a devotional on Sunday morning. We encourage you to spend the Lord’s Day worshiping with fellow believers and mediating on the Word of God preached. 

May God bless you through the reading of and meditation on Scripture.


Second Thursday of Advent

Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. — James 5:7-8

We have seen that our waiting is a groaning, a suffering that we must embrace as part of the Christian life.

James here exhorts us to wait/groan/suffer with patience for the return of Christ.

It’s hard for us, sometimes, to believe that Jesus is coming back. We see everything going on in the world or get caught up in the busy-ness of life and grow impatient with the Lord.

Why won’t he come now?

Why come at all?

James’s exhortation has two important reminders for us.

First, remember that the Lord is coming back for us to make all things new. Even the good things in our lives are tainted with sin. Our relationships with one another, no matter how beautiful they may seem, could be better. Without a sinful selfishness that always seems to seep in, our relationships with one another will be as perfect as our new bodies in the new heavens and new earth. We do not want the good things of this life to take our focus from the mode of our Christian life: actively waiting for the return of Jesus Christ.

But for many of us, our cry is that Jesus would return sooner. Won’t you come today, Lord? Won’t you make all things new today?

We must be patient. The Lord does not count time the way that we do (2 Peter 3:8-9). He does not delay in order to make us suffer more, but to provide time for more and more sons and daughters to be found and brought home.

Our waiting is a groaning. But the Lord calls us to endure this groaning with patience. To do this well, we must rely on the ordinary means of grace God has given us (meditation on Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship). Do not try to do this on your own, but rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to provide you with the patience you need to endure your waiting.


Second Wednesday of Advent

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. — Romans 8:23

Last week we saw that the creation groans as it awaits the return of creation.

We groan too.

Our waiting is not an easy one. It is a suffering.

We do not suffer because we are currently under intense persecution (although some of our brothers and sisters are). Rather, our suffering is understood as a deprivation of glory.

We have the “firstfruits of the Spirit” within us. We are being transformed more and more into the image of the Son. And yet we still have a ways to go.

Our bodies break down. Our flesh craves sin. Our societies fall prey to sinful structures and systems. We take part in those very instruments of oppression.

We are deprived of the final glory that is ours in Jesus Christ. As Jesus suffered, so we suffer.

Yes, our waiting is a suffering.

We tend to shrink from this reality. It is, to many, an ugly one.

But it is ours. And it is true. We are a people called to suffer with Christ, even filling up his sufferings in some mysterious way.

Rather than pretend that suffering is an aberration for the Christian, would it not be better to approach suffering head-on? To welcome suffering as a sign of our faithfulness to Christ?

For the more we are at home in this world with all of its trappings and comforts, the less we groan. The more we are uncomfortable in our surroundings, the deeper the groans and the closer to Christ we become.

Yes, brother and sister Christians, our lot in this life is to suffer for Christ. But it is a suffering unto joy! For we know that Christ will return, our suffering will end, and we will enter into the fullness of the Kingdom of God clothed in the glory of Christ. What a joyful day that will be!

So we join creation in its groaning as we await our final adoption, and adoption promised in the fore running gift of the Holy Spirit. May you see your suffering today as a light and momentary affliction that will give way to glory beyond compare.


Second Tuesday of Advent

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. — Hebrews 10:24-25

One of the great privileges in the Christian life is the opportunity to meet together with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It can be hard to set aside time every week to do this. Life is always trying to get in the way.

But if we neglect this great privilege, we deny ourselves the primary means by which we grow in our spiritual maturity before the Lord.

That’s because when we meet together, we do so for worship and fellowship. In worship we sing the praises of God, pray with fellow believers, hear the word proclaimed, and participate in the sacraments. While certain elements of worship are understood to be means of grace — a medium through which Jesus gives grace to his people in the Spirit — the entire worship service can be understood to be a means of grace! For, while we are gathered, we encourage one another and stir one another up to love and good works.

That “stirring up” happens in gracious fellowship. Worship, in other words, is not complete without fellowship.

Sometimes we treat worship like a show. We sit down, do our bit, and then leave as soon as the Pastor pronounces the benediction. Get in, get what you came for, and then get out.

But this consumeristic approach to worship deprives us of the loving fellowship so vital to the Christian life.

This week, begin preparing yourself for worship. Clear some time in your schedule not only to attend, but to stick around for a few minutes. To build friendships with some of your brothers and sisters. Perhaps those friendships, available to you only if you’re willing to invest a few more minutes of your day, will become life-giving, Christ-exalting relationships that you will carry with you into glory.


Second Monday of Advent

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. — 1 John 2:28

We await the return of our King.

But how do we wait?

What characteristics mark our waiting?

The Apostle John affectionately names his fellow believers “little children.” This carries with it two meanings.

First, the Christians he is writing to are his spiritual children, the fruit of the church planting work he has done in the region.

But secondly, John knows that each and every one of these men and women have been adopted as children of God. In this sense, he is also one of the “little children” who is called to emulate their heavenly Father.

These little children, adopted sons and daughters of God, are commanded by John to abide in Christ so that when Jesus returns they may “not shrink from him in shame.”

I have felt the shame of sin. I know the displeasure my sin brings the Lord and that my sinful actions, thoughts, attitudes, and words grieve the Holy Spirit.

So how are we not to shrink from Christ when he returns? How are we to stand confident when our King comes to reign?

Spend time with God’s people.

The Church is not a helpful appendage to the Christian life, it is the organism God has created and elected unto salvation. We need our brothers and sisters.

It is within the Church that we are spurred toward holiness and encouraged in our spiritual growth. Here we use our spiritual gifts, confess our sins to one another, and live under the spiritual authority of elders and pastors that God has called as undershepherds of the flock.

And it is in the Church that we remind one another that our salvation is founded not on the intensity of our faith or the consistency of our faithfulness, but on the covenant love and faithfulness of our God. We stand boldly at the time of Christ’s coming because Christ has given us his righteousness.

Meditate on the Word of God.

The Scriptures are the lifeblood of the church. In them, God reveals himself to us and unfolds all that we need to understand for salvation and a faithful life. The pages of Scripture proclaim the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and display the mighty works of God.

And so we need to meditate on the things God has spoken in the Scriptures. As the Psalmist says, “Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints…” (Psalm 85:7-8). Let us hear what God says that we may be filled with the peace available in Jesus Christ. As this peace fills us we are reminded again that we are the adopted sons and daughters of god. And we will not shrink back from our Elder Brother when he returns to restore all things.

Prayerfully Act in Accordance with the Will of God

To abide in Christ is to remember Paul’s charge: pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Yet prayer that is unaccompanied with action is disobedient prayer, for James tells us that saying a prayer for the poor without taking action to help their station is a sign of dead faith.

Many things in this world require Christians to act. We must actively seek the good not only for our fellow brother and sister Christians, but for our neighbors and even our enemies (Matt 5:44).

And so we must lead the fight against the social ills and sins of our day (e.g. poverty, racism, sexism, etc.) We must be among the loudest voices crying out to those in power for justice and mercy.

But we must also seek the good of those in our immediate spheres of influence. It is easy to write a blog post or a social media screed. It is easy to make a phone call to a Senator or local politician.

It is more difficult to come alongside a young mother whose partner is incarcerated. It is more difficult to provide comfort to the mentally ill around us this Christmas season. It is more difficult to work with patience alongside those brothers and sisters with whom we profoundly disagree.

We are to prayerfully act in accordance with the will of God in all of these matters.

And as we work we will find that our actions conflict with the values of this world. So be it. “If they hated me they will also hate you,” our Lord said (John 15:18, paraph.) We must still prayerfully do the work of our Father in heaven that the world may see our good works and give glory to God.

There is no magic formula for abiding in Christ. To borrow from Eugene Peterson, abiding in Christ is a long obedience in the same direction.

And yet, as we abide in Christ we know that we do not have to shrink away from him at his coming. Instead, we can boldly approach his throne knowing that our righteousness is secured by his sacrifice on our behalf.

We can come to our Lord in the confidence that he has made us worthy. We will not shrink away but fall into the embrace of our King who will call us good and faithful servant.


First Saturday of Advent

you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ… — 1 Corinthians 1:7

For the first week of Advent, we have focused on who we are waiting for.

We wait for the return of our God and Savior, the chief Shepherd and righteous Judge who will one day deliver his people and his creation from strife into peace.

We await the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We don’t use the word “Lord” much in 21st century America. But it might be the most important word used to describe Jesus.

He is our sovereign King, the one who rules and reigns with compassion and power over his people. He is Lord.

It is a strange thing to wait for the return of your King.

It implies that the world we live in, run by lesser kings and lesser rulers, is not our home. We are exiles waiting for the King to come and lead us into his Kingdom.

But the Lord has not left us unequipped as we wait. He has left us with every gift we need to successfully persevere until he comes.

And so, for the next week, we will consider how we wait. What is the character of our waiting? What gifts have we been given that we might wait well?

Before we consider how we wait, let us consider first the human submission found within the word “Lord.”

To call someone “Lord” is to recognize his authority and supremacy in our lives. It is to submit to his guidance and call in our lives. It is to depend on his grace for our salvation.

We serve a good Lord who has equipped his church with every necessary gift (more on this in the coming week) as we wait for his return. Let us wait well.


First Friday of Advent

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. –1 Thessalonians 5:23

Peace.

It seems so out of reach. Political chaos, racial tensions, the oppression of the poor and marginalized; nothing seems peaceful.

And in times like these it can be tempting to believe peace isn’t possible. Like peace in the world is beyond our grasp and that inner peace eludes us.

Emotions in turmoil, families in strife. For some inner peace seems as untouchable as peace in the geopolitical world.

And yet the God who is characterized by peace will do the work of sanctifying us even as we struggle in the confusion of our lives and times.

Sanctification is a difficult, life-long process. It is one that leads us through suffering as we follow after Christ. The suffering, confusion, and lack of peace that we all experience are part of the Christian life. They are not an aberration, but part of the deal.

Thankfully, we are being sanctified by the God of peace. Of shalom. Of wholeness. Which means peace which surpasses all understanding is not ultimately elusive. It’s simply foreign to us.

Peace comes from someone else. It comes from outside of us.

And that’s a good thing. Because if it was up to us to create peace or go on a quest for peace, we would fail every time. Peace is a gift of God that sanctifies us. It guides us through temptation because we know the peace of Christ. Suffering and turmoil are worth it because we know the peace of Christ.

So as we enjoy Advent, may “Peace on Earth” be more than a slogan. May it be a divine catalyst for our sanctification that we may be presented blameless when the Lord returns for us. May peace define us as we wait for the Prince of Peace.


First Thursday of Advent

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. — Romans 8:22

We are not alone in our waiting. Creation waits too.

It’s weird to consider the created order as “waiting” for something, but according to this passage it does. Now, I’m not arguing for some animistic, “Mother Earth” philosophy. But one of the aspects of the fall is that the “creation was subjected to futility” (Rom 8:20). And now, the creation itself is awaiting renewal.

But who can restore a cursed cosmos? Is it up to us? Does this mean political activism and environmental activism? Well, in one sense, yes. We are to care for the created order and protect creation against exploitation.

But no human environmental activism will bring the creation to renewal. Only the Creator himself can bring about Recreation.

One day the creation will stop its groaning. Childbirth will give way to new birth. The curse will be removed and the New Heavens and New Earth will be our home.

We share in this waiting with the rest of creation. We await the return of our Creator. He is the one who breathed life into us and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, breathes resurrection life into all who trust in Christ for salvation.

When Christ returns, the Creator by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were created will dwell among his creation again. He will make all things new and groaning will be turned to rejoicing! We will rejoice with all of creation when the Creator reigns among the works off his hands.

This Advent, take a moment to enjoy the creative work of God. Spend a moment with the creation that groans for restoration. One day, together, we will all be made new.


First Wednesday of Advent

…wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. — 1 Thessalonians 1:10

We need a deliverer.

Our time is one of racism, misogyny, and the mistreatment of the poor. It seems that every day greets us with a new moral calamity coming from Hollywood, the world of media, the White House, corridors of power, and even the Church.

O God, we need deliverance!

And deliverance will come with the risen Son from heaven comes to rescue us.

But what is he rescuing us from? From what is our deliverance?

The wrath of God.

On that last day God will pour his wrath out on the sins of this world and the sins of the human heart. He will pour out his wrath upon racism, misogyny, and the mistreatment of the poor. The will break down structures of oppression and replace them with the gracious reign of his kingdom. He will call each of us to the way we have participated in sinful systems. He will demand an account for our personal rebellion against our Creator and Redeemer.

And we will fail the test. Each one of us.

Praise God, he has provided a way of deliverance from the wrath to come! The Son of God took on flesh and dwelled among us. He died for our sins and offers life through the power of his own resurrection.

And so, those who trust in King Jesus for our salvation will be delivered from the wrath to come and ushered into the Glory of God.

This Advent — today — spend a few moments praising God for the deliverance he provides in his Son. May the Spirit lead you to gaze upon the face of Christ in wonder for the grace he offers his children.

First Tuesday of Advent

And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. — 1 Peter 5:4

The image is simple but important: a chief shepherd hires undershepherds to provide oversight of the flock.

But Peter warns the undershepherds. Treat the flock well. Care for them. Don’t be domineering over them and certainly don’t use them for personal gain. No, the undershepherds are to lovingly, willingly, careful oversee the flock for its good and for the sake of the chief Shepherd.

For one day the chief Shepherd will return. He will come back and call the undershepherds to account. He will reward the undershepherds according to how they have treated the flock.

What does any of this have to do with Advent?

Advent is meant to be spent in the community of the local church. The church is where we are trained and guided and nurtured. It is in the church that God has set aside undershepherds, mature men and women, to oversee Christ’s church.

Many Christians have been hurt by a local church. They feel scared to ever go back and fellowship with their fellow believers. What if the pain comes again?

Peter has strong words for those leaders who would abuse the flock. But he also encourages the flock to follow the direction of good, godly leaders.

If, this Christmas season, you feel alienated from the church or too scared to come back, I encourage you to take this matter to the Lord in prayer. Your fear and alienation is not too much for him to bear.

And ask the Lord to lead you to a biblical church where servant leadership and care is practiced. Ask the Lord to work in your heart and the hearts of your leaders.

For Advent is a season of waiting for the Church of Christ. It’s something we do together. Don’t miss out.


First Monday of Advent

Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but to all who have loved his appearing.      2 Timothy 4:8

As the apostle Paul reflects on his life and prepares for his death, he considers what is waiting for him on the other side. A crown of righteousness will be his, he says, gifted to him by the righteous Judge himself, Jesus Christ.

Jesus will bestow this crown not only upon Paul but upon every man or woman who faithfully “loved his appearing.”

Why is this the metric of our judgment? Because it is integral to our faith.

The faithful longingly anticipate the return of Christ. It drives us forward. It is the hope we cling to when we suffer. One day Jesus will return.

Do you long for Christ’s return? Do you “love his appearing?” Do you wait for the righteous Judge to return, the one who will gift you with a crown of righteousness as a reward for your Spirit-wrought faith?

In a world of distraction we can often allow our eyes and hearts to drift from the Second Coming of Christ. We can drift from Christ altogether. Today, pray that the Lord would restore to your heart a love for the appearance of Christ. May that hope be what captures you this Advent season.


The First Sunday of Advent

…waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing off the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ… — Titus 2:13

Advent is a time of waiting.

For hundreds and even thousands of years, the Israelites waited.

One day, their Messiah would come.

This Advent season, we Christians find ourselves in the same situation. Yet our waiting is not for a Messiah who is yet to come. No, we wait for someone who has already come and will come again.

We are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ.

But who is Jesus? What exactly are we waiting for?

Jesus is our hope. Jesus is the embodiment of our hope. And it’s a hope we need. In a culture of racism and misogyny, the threat of war and the regularity of violence, it can feel like hope is lost! But it isn’t. Our hope is not in temporal things but in the One who is to come, Jesus Christ. And when he comes again, he will make all things new.

Jesus is our God. There is no mincing of words. Jesus is the Son of God enfleshed, God himself. He is the one who spoke the cosmos into being and created life from the dust. We do not await the return of any ordinary or even extraordinary man. We await the return of our Great God Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our Savior. As the creed says, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. But he also comes to save his people from death. He comes to rule over a resurrected people in a recreated heaven and earth. Jesus comes to save us. We are waiting for the final act of our salvation.

So while we celebrate the first act of our salvation, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, we do so with an eye toward the final act, the return of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.