It’s Wednesday, the 28th of December, in the first week of Christmas. It is the fourth day of Christmas.
May the peace of Christ dwell within your soul, today!
Four days until 2023.
I have a feeling it’s going to be a rather lazy day around here. C is still off work, taking vacation, and I don’t go back to work until Friday morning.
TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS
The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law. (Psalms 119:69-70 ESV)
O Lord God, we thank you for everything you allow us to see and hear. May our hearts become awake and alive through all we receive so that we await your final revelation and recognize your ultimate will for all people, for all nations and races on earth. Hear us in these days, for we know your kingdom is coming. Your kingdom is before our eyes. Your Word, your help, is coming, and in Jesus Christ light will dawn for all the world. Praise and honor to you for all you do! May we see it all before our eyes so that our expectation of the last days is a living expectation, full of joy and blessing. We want to wait in joy, in love, and in longing for the day that is coming to your glory. Amen.
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Galatians 4:4–5, NIV
Today I am grateful:
- for a day of relaxing with not much to do
- for our cats; Trixie, Rocky (Rachmaninoff), Luna, Cleo (Cleopatra), and Maggie (Magnolia)
- that God sent His Son to redeem us, that we might receive adoption to sonship
- for the sufficiency of God’s grace in the face of my weaknesses; “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
- that the ways of God are perfect, and that He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him (Psalm 18:30)
Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.
(Ezekiel 43:1-5 ESV)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (Psalms 18:30 ESV)
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. (Psalms 19:7-9 ESV)
More thoughts from John Henry Newman on Christmas:
“It is a day of joy: it is good to be joyful–it is wrong to be otherwise. For one day we may put off the burden of our polluted consciences, and rejoice in the perfections of our Saviour Christ, without thinking of ourselves, withing thinking of our own miserable uncleanness; but contemplating His glory, His righteousness, His purity, His majesty, His overflowing love. We may rejoice in the Lord, and in all His creatures see Him. We may enjoy His temporal bounty, and partake the pleasant things of earth with Him in our thoughts; we may rejoice in our friends for His sake, loving them most especially because He has loved them.” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, quoted in Spiritual Classics, by Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin)
For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.
(1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 NRSV)
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 2:4-5 NRSV)
What is a “spiritual sacrifice?” I don’t have a deep theological answer to that. But I believe it can be almost anything. What it is not is a physical sacrifice. It is not a literal sacrifice. Jesus Christ is our only literal, physical sacrifice. We need no other.
When I read the 1 Peter passage, I also think of Romans 12.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
(Romans 12:1-2 NRSV)
We are to be a “living” sacrifice, which means that we stay alive, presenting ourselves to the Lord, “holy and acceptable to God.” How can I become holy and acceptable? Only through Jesus, by walking in His commands. I cannot become holy and acceptable by actions or works. I cannot pray enough to be holy; I cannot confess enough to be holy; I cannot abstain from anything enough to be holy. I can only be made holy by Jesus and His sacrifice for me/us.
The spiritual sacrifice involves what is presented in Romans 12:2, though. It involves not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It involves discerning what the will of God is, and learning what is “good and acceptable and perfect.”
In short, I suppose it means what Jesus said when He told us that we must take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him. That is a “spiritual sacrifice.”
And while those photos that we see, occasionally, of some person dragging a real cross down the side of the road (sometimes cheating by putting a wheel on it), can be moving and inspiring, they are also rather pointless.
That is not what Jesus meant when He told us to take up our cross. He was not, I assure you, speaking of a literal cross. For goodness sake, He did that FOR us!
But it is also important to note that Jesus was also not talking about something that happens to us, over which we have no control. Usually, when someone says, “Well, I guess that’s just my cross to bear,” it isn’t. Because usually, they are referring to something that they cannot control or choose. A horrible disease, for example. Cancer is not anyone’s “cross to bear.” You don’t “choose” cancer.
But we do choose to not allow ourselves to be conformed to the world. We can choose to renew our minds through meditating on the Word of God, which is all of those things described in Psalm 19, above.
Another thing that is important is to know that, when we do take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus, we do it joyfully! Remember what Jesus said about fasting, which is one of those sacrificial things which we can choose to do.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:16-18 NRSV)
So, yes. Take up your cross. Deny yourself. Make that spiritual sacrifice. Follow Christ.
And don’t complain about how miserable it makes you. Bear the cross joyfully, celebrating Christ in all things.
Father, help us to take up our crosses, whatever it may be for each of us, individually. And help us to do it joyfully, celebrating Christ in our lives. May we never try to draw attention to our “spiritual sacrifice” or our suffering that may come because of it. If I am fasting, yes, I will be hungry. But I should not talk about how hungry I am, so as to draw attention to it.
Help me to always remember the words of Christ, who told us that, if we do those things, visibly, in order to be recognized by men, that will be the extent of our reward. Rather, let us be joyful when we do these things. Let us show the world joy in our relationship with You and Christ. No one wants to be involved with any “god” who is constantly making his people miserable. So why would we act that way?
Teach us joyfulness in all things, Father. Help us to be grateful and thankful in all circumstances, that we might display the life of Christ and spread the good news of the Gospel of Christ to all the world.
Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!
Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you,
all things will pass away.
God never changes;
patience obtains all things,
whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
(St. Teresa of Avila)
Grace and peace, friends.