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Opis ebooka Spiritual Trilogy - Stephen W. Hiemstra

This trilogy combines three books published previously: A Christian Guide to Spirituality, Life in Tension, and Called Along the Way. Together they chronicle a spiritual journey during the period from 2013 through 2017. The first two books focus on the question—who is God?—while the third book focuses on the question—who are we? The call to faith and ministry is personal but it is also corporal, being informed by the community of faith at one time and in one place.The original books have been reproduced as published. Offering them together makes them available more economically and draws attention to their common purpose. Because spirituality is lived belief, it is important to reflect on what we say we believe and what we actually practice. This reflective process is inherently stressful but it is a normal part of our Christian journey as we prepare in this life for the next.Hear the words; walk the steps; experience the joy!Author Stephen W. Hiemstra (MDiv, PhD) is a slave of Christ, husband, father, tentmaker, writer, and speaker. He lives with Maryam, his wife of 30+ years, in Centreville, VA and they have three grown children.Key words for this book include: Beatitudes, Christianity, spirituality, memoir, Christian memoir, Jesus, Bible, devotion, spiritual growth, and faith.Other books by T2Pneuma Publishers LLC include:A Christian Guide to Spirituality (2014)Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad (2015)My Travel Through Life (2016)Oraciones ( 2016)Prayers (2016)Life in Tension (2016)Prayers of a Life in Tension (2016)Called Along the Way (2017)See: T2Pneuma.com for more details. ****************** What people are saying...Stephen provides a helpful, accessible guide using the classic catechetical structure of the Apostles' Creed,  the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.- David A. Currie, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary   (In reference to A Christian Guide to Spirituality) We live in a fallen world. It leads to life in tension, and sometimes a life full of stress. Stephen Hiemstra takes us on a needed tour of the kind of character it takes to face such a life. -  Darrell L. Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary     (In reference to Life in Tension)Have you ever wondered if the church in America is mortally wounded? Is God really dead as the infamous 1966 Time magazine cover reported? This memoir offers evidence to the contrary. — Aaron Gordon, Pastor      (In reference to Called Along the Way) 

Opinie o ebooku Spiritual Trilogy - Stephen W. Hiemstra

Fragment ebooka Spiritual Trilogy - Stephen W. Hiemstra

Spiritual Trilogy

A Compilation

Stephen W. Hiemstra

SPIRITUAL TRIOLOGY:A Compilation

Copyright © 2018 Stephen W. Hiemstra.

ISNI: 0000-0000-2902-8171

All rights reserved. With the exception of short excerpts used in articles and critical review, no part of this work may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in any form whatsoever, printed or electronic, without prior written permission of the publisher.

T2Pneuma Publishers LLC

P.O. Box 230564, Centreville, Virginia 20120

www.T2Pneuma.com

ISBN: 978-1-942199-27-4 (EPUB)

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to use the following materials:

Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Book of Confessions, Part I. Used by permission.

Reprinted with permission from The Heidelberg Catechism450th Anniversary Edition © Faith Alive Christian Resources, October 2013

The image on the front cover is a 12th century mosaic known as the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) from a basilica of the same name in Istanbul, Turkey. The electronic image is licensed from iStockPhoto (www.iStockPhoto.com) of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

Cover design and photographs by SWH

Created with Vellum

Contents

Preface

BOOK I: A CHRISTIAN GUIDE TO SPIRITUALITY

Endorsements

Copyright

Dedication

Foreword

Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Overview

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

The Apostle’s Creed

Overview

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Day 10

Day 11

Day 12

Day 13

Day 14

Day 15

Day 16

Day 17

Day 18

Day 19

Day 20

The Lord’s Prayer

Overview

Day 21

Day 22

Day 23

Day 24

Day 25

Day 26

Day 27

Day 28

Day 29

The Ten Commandments

Overview

Day 30

Day 31

Day 32

Day 33

Day 34

Day 35

Day 36

Day 37

Day 38

Day 39

Day 40

Spiritual Disciplines

Overview

Day 41

Day 42

Day 43

Day 44

Day 45

Day 46

Day 47

Day 48

Conclusions

Day 49

Day 50

References

BOOK II : LIFE IN TENSION

Endorsements

Copyright

Foreword

Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Gospel as Divine Template

Tension with Ourselves

Tension with God

Tension with Others

The Beatitudes

Part A: Tension With Ourselves

1. Honored Are The Poor In Spirit

1.1: Honored are the Poor in Spirit

1.2: Jesus’ Mission Statement Gives Us Hope

1.3: Be Humble, Be Salt and Light

1:4: Living Out Poor in Spirit

2. Honored Are Those That Mourn

2.1: Joy in Sorrow

2.2: Lament over Sin

2.3: Death Means Resurrection

2.4: Grief Builds Character, Defines Identity

3. Honored Are The Meek

3.1: Resolve Tension into Identity

3.2: Meekness Speaks Volumes

3.3: Meek is the Pastoral Gene

3.4: Lead Out of Meekness

Part B: Tension With God

4. HONORED ARE THOSE THAT HUNGER AND THIRST

4.1: Jesus: Passionately Seek the Kingdom of God

4.2: Hunger and Thirst for God

4.3: Fools for Christ

4.4: In Jesus Completeness is Restored

5. Honored Are The Merciful

5.1: Show Mercy, Receive Mercy

5.2: God’s Core Values

5.3: Mercy as a Path to Salvation

5.4: Jesus Models Image Ethics

6. Honored Are The Pure In Heart

6.1: Be Holy For I am Holy

6.2: A Right Spirit and Clean Heart

6.3: Prune, Intensify, and Apply

6.4: Living into Our Call

Part C: Tension With Others

7. Honored Are The Peacemakers

7.1: Make Peace—Embody Shalom

7.2: Prince of Peace

7.3: Trinity of Peace

7.4: Peace on God’s Terms

8. Honored Are The Persecuted

8.1: Promote Righteousness

8.2: Righteous Suffering

8.3: Christian Paradox

8.4: Bless Those that Persecute

9. Honored Are The Reviled

9.1: Persecution Gets Personal

9.2: Suffering Often Predates Salvation

9.3: Persecution Can Be Transformative

9.4: Persecution and Lethargy

Conclusions

Surprising Priorities

Spiritual Links and Tensions

The Road Ahead

References

BOOK III: CALLED ALONG THE WAY

Endorsements

Copyright

Preface

A Dream

Part I: Awakening

Formation Years

Iowa Snow

Pammel Court, Ames, Iowa

Ever Present

Grandpa’s Farm in Iowa

Albany, California

Oakland, California

The Seat

Christmas in Iowa

Mad Dog

Yellow Wax Beans

Driving Lesson

Family Origin

My Name

Kaffietijd

The Other Stephen Hiemstra

A Bit of Irish

Diane Sue

John David

My Lovely Wife

Elementary School

King Street

Prince George’s Post

Cowboys and Indians

My Friend Charlie

Nemesis

Salvation on Trexler Road

Music Lessons

Between Sundays

Fifth Grade

Part II: Never Alone

Junior and Senior High School

Shaken and Stirred

Personal Fitness Merit Badge

The Camera

The Daily Roster

The Owl

It’s Academic

Joyriding

The Art and Joy of Reading

A Dank Sunrise

Vietnam

College

The Audition

The Detour

INPIRG Volunteer

Hitch Hiking

Listening and Talking

Dish Machine

Why Finish College?

Return to the Commonwealth

Navigators

Economic HIstory

Senior Year Transition

Food and Development

Cornell University

The Divine Gift of Sledding

The Journal to Puerto Rico

Island Adventure

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

Latin American Missions

The Road to Germany

Evangelische Kirche

To Postmodern and Back

Summer Youth Group

Unprepared

Michigan State Universary

Dress for Success

Managing the International’s Playbook

The Killer Instinct

First Fruits

Iranian New Years

Field Work

Part III: Life Together

Washington Aggie

Reconciling Trade Statistics

Congressional Detail

From Trade to Finance

New Kind of Mentor

Summer Doldrums

Farmer Mac

Living and Modeling Stress

Bank Examiner

Early Married Life

Courtship

Engagement, Wedding, and Honeymoon

Wedding Gift

Wonder Woman

New Church Plant

Christine Arrives

Wake Up Call

Breech Birth

Late One Night

Land of BOS

Ocean Breakers

Transition into the Economics Department

Troika

The Bank Calculator

The Tissue Box

Boundaries Revisited

Part IV: Fully Present

Journey to Seminary

Return to Leadership

Mentor

Visit to Princeton

Diane’s Passing

Changes in Routine

Looking the Part

Traveling Partners

My Diet

A Difficult Trip

The Goads

Early Ministry

Oaks of Righteousness

Pastoral Intern

Providence Hospital

Hispanic Ministry

Epilog

References

Afterword

About the Author

T2Pneuma Publishers LLC

Preface

This trilogy combines three books that I published previously: A Christian Guide to Spirituality, Life in Tension, and Called Along the Way. Together they chronicle my own spiritual journey from 2013 through 2017. The first two books focus on the question: who is God? The third book focuses on the question: who are we? In this latter respect I reflect on my own call to faith and ministry, but answering the second question (who are we) is informed by our answer the first (who is God). I am not the first one to observe that over time each of us grows more like the god that we worship.

In compiling these books I have not changed the original books as published, but offer them together to make them available more economically and to draw attention to their common purpose in trying to understand Christian spirituality more fully. Because spirituality is lived belief, it is important to reflect on what we say we believe and what we actually practice. This reflective process is inherently stressful but it is a normal part of our Christian journey as we prepare in this life for the next.

Hear the words; walk the steps; experience the joy!

BOOK I: A CHRISTIAN GUIDE TO SPIRITUALITY

Endorsements

“You have my blessing. It’s a book that needed to be written. It will do a lot of good”.

Dr. Peter John Kreeft

Professor of Philosophy, Boston College

Boston, Massachusetts

“Spirituality can seem like an amorphous, impractical, and un-Presbyterian pursuit. But historically nothing could be farther from the truth. For anyone seeking to explore the ‘how’s’ of the Christian life, Stephen Hiemstra has provided a helpful, accessible guide using the classic catechetical structure of the Apostles’ Creed (how Christians should believe), the Lord’s Prayer (how Christians should pray), and the Ten Commandments (how Christians should live)”.

Rev. David A. Currie, Ph.D.

Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program and

Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Hamilton, Massachusetts

“With the rule of faith—Apostles Creed, 10 Commandments and Lord’s Prayer—as his backdrop, Hiemstra opens up the subject of Christian spirituality with theological acumen and practical application. This is a book for those who want to understand how best to have a living faith and an ever deepening devotional and experiential knowledge of God.”

Dr. Stephen Macchia

Founder and president of Leadership Transformations and director of the Pierce Center for Disciple-Building at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Author of several books, most notably Becoming A Healthy Church (Baker) and Crafting A Rule of Life (InterVarsity/Formatio).

Hamilton, Massachusetts

Copyright

A CHRISTIAN GUIDE TO SPIRITUALITY

Foundations for Disciples

Copyright © 2014 Stephen W. Hiemstra.

ISNI: 0000-0000-2902-8171

All rights reserved. With the exception of short excerpts used in articles and critical review, no part of this work may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in any form whatsoever, printed or electronic, without prior written permission of the publisher.

T2Pneuma Publishers LLC

P.O. Box 230564, Centreville, Virginia 20120

www.T2Pneuma.com

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014915642

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to use the following materials:

Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Book of Confessions, Part I. Used by permission.

Reprinted with permission from The Heidelberg Catechism450th Anniversary Edition © Faith Alive Christian Resources, October 2013

The image on the front cover is a 12th century mosaic known as the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) from a basilica of the same name in Istanbul, Turkey. The electronic image is licensed from iStockPhoto (www.iStockPhoto.com) of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

Cover design and photographs by SWH

Dedication

To my wife, Maryam, and to our children, Christine, Narsis, and Reza, who inspired me to attend seminary and to write this book.

Foreword

By Neal D. Presa

In 1991, the late Howard Rice, one of my distinguished, moderatorial predecessors, wrote a groundbreaking volume titled: Reformed Spirituality: An Introduction for Believers. He was one of the pioneers in the Presbyterian Church and at San Francisco Theological Seminary, where he taught in the emerging academic fields of spiritual direction and spiritual formation. His volume was ground-breaking, as Morton Kelsey wrote in his own Foreword to the book: “Rice has opened the door to a long-neglected treasury of Reformed spiritual practice.”

In the Reformed tradition we are often associated with systematic theologies, dogmatics, and distinctive worship styles and liturgical theologies. But speak of spirituality, and you will receive stares. One can think of Roman Catholic expressions of spirituality (such as Ignatian), Eastern Orthodox, patristic theologies, or Methodist pietism; but within the panoply of the Christian household, let alone Protestantism specifically, the Reformed tradition has neglected this part of our DNA.

Yet, our 16th century Reformation forbears emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s relationship to the Christian life and our lifelong discipleship of Jesus Christ. Both John Calvin and Martin Bucer wrote extensively on the person and work of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of Katharina Zell in Strasbourg with her husband Martin, and her own perspective on the Holy Spirit. In our own day, the insightful Participation in Christ: An Entry into Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics by Adam Neder (2009) and Calvin, Participation and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ by J. Todd Billings (2009) demonstrate the active interest and wide receptivity of the Church in engaging more deeply and fully Christian spirituality, our connection to the triune God through and in the Holy Spirit, and what that all means for our communal life and our faith in Jesus Christ.

We cannot have it any other way. To be a believer, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, as sealed in our baptisms and whenever we gather at the Eucharistic Table, is to belong to the community of the triune God—both the community of the Trinity and the community of people that the Trinity has created, redeemed, and presently calls to bear witness of the Good News.

Jesus Christ spoke of the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit as: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26, NRSV)

We are anchored to the heart and life of the triune God, united to the ascended Christ, connected inextricably to the communion of saints in all times and in all places because of the Holy Spirit. We in the Reformed traditions neglect the person and work of the Holy Spirit at our peril. It is the Holy Spirit in whom, by whom, and through whom the duality of certainty and mystery are intertwined: the certainty of the sure promises of God in Christ and Christ’s teachings; and the mystery of the when and where and how of following. Thus, the Holy Spirit mediates both the present absence of Christ and the present presence of Christ. We can, therefore, confess simultaneously without contradiction: Christ is fully absent from us as He is ascended, and Christ is fully present with us. Who enables us to live confidently, with faith, hope, and love, in that tension of certainty-mystery, absence-presence, is the Holy Spirit. And what the Holy Spirit does on this side of eternity is to apprentice our lives to the way of God the Father as revealed in Jesus Christ.

That has been the journey of all believers, of all disciples of Jesus Christ—to have hearts that pulse after God’s own, to have the mind of Christ, and to do the will of the Father. The ancient mystics sought it; the prophets declared it; monastic communities embodied it. We in the Reformed tradition don’t customarily use prayer beads, incense, icons, and altars, although there has been a surge of Pottery Barn-style candles, the use of prayer labyrinths, and a desire to fully engage all of our senses in worship, or recapture what Hans Urs von Balthasar aptly described as theological aesthetics, beauty.

For ages, believers, communities of Christ’s disciples saw in the the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments unique and distinct gifts from God for the people of God. These three sources commonly called the “rule of faith” (regula fidei) were utilized for nearly two millennia as a means to apprentice the faith.

The Creed provided a brief summary of the Gospel. The Gospel was, at its core and circumference, that which the Creed spoke about; or that whom the Creed describes: namely the Triune God. The Gospel is the Triune God Himself. God reveals; God gives. The reality that we as human beings are recipients of God’s self-revelation and self-giving, that is great news! The Creed, referred to in many ancient liturgies and church manuals, became the document for baptismal preparation. Those who were to join the body of Christ would be taught the Creed, would commit it to memory, and would demonstrate that the Creed was fully metabolized in their hearts and minds by reciting it in the presence of the bishop, elders, and deacons.

The Lord’s Prayer is apprenticeship language. Praying “Our Father…” was to kneel down next to our brother, our Lord, our Savior, who, likewise, prays that prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is learning the language of the Holy Son, who desires to commune with our heavenly Father.

The Ten Commandments expressed the ethics of the community of disciples. In it are contained the exhortations to and prohibitions for the holy community to be the distinctive people of almighty God. It was law and ordinance, but it was also Good News because the Commandments emanated from the heart and life of God. God is truthful; God does not bear false witness; God does not kill; God is holy; God does not covet unholy things. To be recipients of the Ten Commandments, to practice it, to live it, to write it on our foreheads and doorposts was to be marked by God.

Each one of the components of the “rule of faith”— the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments—and all of them together, shape and form and anchor us as disciples precisely and only because of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who writes upon our hearts and renews our minds. It is the Holy Spirit who unites us so fully to the living Lord and to one another, making possible and real that mysterious but real communion.

Stephen W. Hiemstra in A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples gives us in the Reformed traditions and the Church ecumenical a usable and user-friendly guide that is devotional, pastoral, educational, and deeply theological. Combining Scripture, anecdotal reflections, study questions, and prayer—he framed the book with the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Decalogue as the infrastructure. Any book that invites and deepens our discipleship of the triune God through the “rule of faith” is always a good thing. What this book does that I very much appreciate is that it presents the Gospel again and again. The Gospel is the very fountain and foundation of our faith; because in it and through it, it is encountering the living God again and again.

Preface

Spirituality is lived belief. When we pray, worship, or reach out to our neighbors, we live out our beliefs. Our beliefs structure our spirituality like skin stretched over the bones of our bodies. These beliefs start with faith in God the Father through Jesus Christ as revealed through the Holy Spirit in scripture, the church, and daily life. Our theology orders our beliefs. Without a coherent theology, we lose our identity in space and time having no map or compass to guide us on our way. In the end, we focus on ourselves, not God.

Christian spirituality accordingly starts with God, not with us. Like the woman Jesus cured of a spinal disfiguration, our only response can be to glorify God with songs of praise (Luke 13:13). This is why lasting Christian joy is experienced, not with recognizing Christ as savior, but with recognizing Christ as Lord. Spiritual disciplines and experiences are part of this spirituality, but they are not necessarily the focus (1 Cor 13:8).

This focus on what God has done begins in verse one of Genesis where God is pictured creating the heavens and the earth. What exactly have we done to deserve being created? Nothing. In fact, our first independent act was to sin. What exactly have we done to warrant forgiveness? Nothing. Christ died for our sins. The only meaningful response to these gifts of creation and salvation is praise.

The early church interpreted and summarized God’s revelations in the biblical text and early creeds. The catechisms were developed later to summarize key church doctrines. The Heidelberg Catechism, Luther’s catechism, and the Catholic catechism focus on three key statements of faith: the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments (Chan 2006, 108). Not surprisingly, Sunday morning worship has for centuries focused on these three faith statements, often being memorized and put to music. The Heidelberg Catechism, for example, encourages a focus on worship and is itself divided into 52 sermon topics for weekly use.

The key spiritual discipline in the Christian faith naturally is Sunday morning worship. The worship service includes prayer, readings from scripture, the spoken word, the sacraments, music, statements of faith, and other expressions of faithful worship. In worship, music binds our hearts and minds.

This worship experience is strengthened daily through personal devotions as well as devotions with our spouses, families, and other small groups. The original small group is the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—our template for healthy community. And when we take our spirituality into the work world, it too becomes an opportunity for worship.

The pages that follow discuss Christian spirituality in the form of daily devotions. Each topic is treated with a scriptural reference, reflection, prayer, and questions for discussion. When appropriate, references are provided for further study. The first four chapters (Introduction, Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments) cover 40 days, making them suitable as a Lenten study. The entire study is 50 days, consistent with beginning a study on Easter and running through Pentecost.

My prayer is that this book will encourage readers both to understand Christian spirituality better and to nurture their walk with the Lord. There is no such thing as quality time with the Lord; there is only time. The living God speaks to us in many ways, but especially through scripture, and, having initiated a dialog, expects our response (Thielicke 1962, 34).

Hear the words; walk the steps; experience the joy!

Acknowledgments

As Christians and as pastors, we are nurtured by many saints in ways that can sometimes be hard to enumerate. After a point, however, we come to realize that the Holy Spirit is the true author of the illumination and the inspiration of the work that we call ours. This study has truly blessed me.

November 15, 2013 marked the 450th anniversary of the publishing of the Heidelberg Catechism. While some have described this book as a devotional commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, it is more correct to say that the book and the catechism share a common focus on the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. The catechism was helpful, however, in developing these reflections. Special thanks to the Reformed Church in America for making the scriptural references to the Heidelberg Catechism available on its website.

I want to thank all of my reviewers. Special thanks to go to Rev. Dr. John E. Hiemstra of the Reformed Church in America, to Rev. Thomas J. Smith with I.T.E.M. Inc., to Nohemi Zerbi of Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA, and to Rev. Sindile Dlamini, Chaplain: Howard University Hospital and Minister: Michigan Park Christian Ministries also in Washington, DC.

Special thanks also to Reid Satterfield who has been my mentor and editor. Reid is the former coordinator of the Pierce Center for Disciple Building at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC and in that role he recruited me into the fellowship. The Pierce Fellowship became my home away from home in seminary and helped develop my passion for discipling and spiritual development which matured into this book.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge Lynne K. Zusman, my attorney, for her helpful business advice, legal counsel, and constant encouragement.

Introduction

Why is Spirituality important?

Who is God?

Who are We?

What Should We Do?

Ħow do we Know?

Overview

Spirituality is lived belief. Even if we are not always fully aware of it, each of us has a theology we practice. When we insist on doing things our own way, for example, we deny God’s sovereignty over that portion of our life, creating a blind spot. If circumstances later force us to rethink what we have done, then we may find ourselves living out a theology we would not choose given more time to reflect.

A helpful framework for reflecting on our personal theology comes in the form of four questions taken from philosophy. These questions are:

1. Who is God? (metaphysics);

2. Who are we? (anthropology);

3. What should we do? (ethics); and

4. How do we know? (epistemology).

In beginning our devotions we will focus on these questions and then return to them, from time to time, to see what we can learn.

Day 1

DAY 1: Why is spirituality important?

Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

(John 14:6)

Some questions defy pat answers: Who is God? Who am I? What must I do? How do I know?

At one point in world competition among marathon runners, Ethiopians ruled. The Kenyans had talent, but Ethiopians trained harder and trained better. Training at high altitudes built their strength; training as a team built their competitiveness.

Africans were not always allowed to compete in these games. The right to compete did not come all at once, but it started with efforts to abolish slavery. William Wilberforce, a devout Christian, spent most of his life leading the effort to abolish slavery in nineteenth century Great Britain. He later wrote about the need for spiritual training saying:

no one expects to attain the height of learning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or military glory, without vigorous resolution, and strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance. Yet we expect to be Christians without labor, study, or inquiry. (Wilberforce 2006, 5–6)

Wilberforce must have had me in mind. For years, I professed Christ as savior, but did not embrace him as Lord. My faith was incomplete. As I learned to apply the lordship of Christ to my life, I experienced a more sustained sense of Christian joy.

The content of faith is critical. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) If I have faith that eggshells are white, I have only defined eggshell color. But, if I have faith that Christ rose from the dead, my whole world changes—God exists and death no longer has the final word. The call to faith defines our identity in Christ.

The idea of Christian faith has become unfashionable. The postmodern world we live in is often like the Sahara desert where mountains of sand blow about daily. Direction in a world of shifting sand requires a surveyor’s marker that establishes location. Standing on a marker, a map shows both direction and distance. Without the marker, however, a map becomes a puzzle—like words without definitions—whose pieces have meaning only relative to one another. Scripture is our map; our marker is Jesus Christ.

The sun does not always shine; neither does it rain every day. Spirituality is living out what we know to be true on good days andbad.

Almighty Father—Thank you for the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who lived as a role model for sinners; who died as a ransom for sin; and whose resurrection gives us the hope of salvation. In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words written and illumine the words read. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions

What led you to study this book?How are physical and spiritual training similar?Who was William Wilberforce and why do we remember him?What is faith? Why does it matter what we believe?What uncertainties do you experience in life?Why is scripture like a map? How is Jesus like a marker?

Day 2

DAY 2: Who is God?

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

(Ps 19:1-3)

When I was young, I wanted to be a pilot. I learned to read a map, work with a compass, and navigate by the stars in pursuit of my goal. The idea that God would use a star to guide the wise men to the baby Jesus fascinated me. Equally fascinating is how God reveals himself to us in the creation story. The Bible starts telling us that: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) What do these simple words tell us about God?

The phrase—in the beginning—tells us that God is eternal. If creation has a beginning, then it must also have an end. This implies that creation is not eternal, but the God who created it must be. If our eternal God created time, both the beginning and the end, then everything God created belongs to God. Just as the potter is master over the pottery he makes, God is sovereign over creation (Jer 18:4-6). God did not win creation in an arm-wrestling match or buy it online or find it on the street, he created it—God is a worker.

God’s sovereignty is reinforced in the second half of the sentence when it says: God created the heavens and the earth. Here heaven and earth form a poetic construction called a merism. A merism is a literary device that can be compared to defining a line segment by referring to its end points. The expression—heaven and earth—therefore means that God created everything. Because he created everything, he is sovereign over creation; and sovereignty implies ownership.

So, from the first sentence in the Bible we know that God is eternal and he is sovereign. We also know that he is holy. Why? Are heaven and earth equal? No. Heaven is God’s residence. From the story of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush (Exod 3:5), we learn that any place where God is becomes holy in the sense of being set apart or sacred. Because God resides in heaven, it must be holy. Earth is not. Still, God created both and is sovereign over both (Rev 4:11).

Genesis paints two other important pictures of God.

The first picture arises in Genesis 1:2; here the breath, or spirit of God, is pictured like a bird hovering over the waters. Hovering requires time and effort suggesting ongoing participation in and care for creation. The Bible speaks exhaustively about God providing for us—God’s provision. Breath translates as Holy Spirit in the original languages of the Bible—both Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament).

The second picture appears in Genesis 2, which retells the story of creation in more personal terms. As a potter works with clay (Isa 64:8), God forms Adam and puts him in a garden. Then, he talks to Adam and directs him to give the animals names. And when Adam gets lonely, God creates Eve from Adam’s rib or side—a place close to his heart.

Genesis 1 and 2, accordingly, paint three pictures of God: 1. God as a mighty creator; 2. God who meticulously attends to his creation; and 3. God who walks with us like a friend. While the Trinity is not fully articulated in scripture until the New Testament, God’s self-disclosure as the Trinity appears from the beginning (Chan 1998, 41).

The Lord’s Prayer casts a new perspective on Genesis 1:1when Jesus says: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10) Because we are created in God’s image, we want our home to modeled after God’s.

Heavenly Father—We praise you for creating heaven and earth;for creating all that is, that was, and that is to come; for creating things seen and unseen. We praise you for sharing yourself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; our role model in life, redeemer in death, and hope for the future. We praise you for the Holy Spirit, who is present with us showering us with spiritual gifts and sustaining all things. Open our hearts; illumine our minds; strengthen our hands in your service. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions

What part of the creation story is most meaningful to you?How is merism helpful in understanding God’s nature? How does it differ from the idea of image?How does God relate to time? How do we know?What is special about heaven? How do we know?What are God’s attributes? What do holy, eternal, and sovereign mean?

Day 3

DAY 3: Who are we?

Who do people say that I am? And they told him, John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets. And he asked them, But who do you say that I am? Peter answered him, You are the Christ. (Mark 8:27-29)

Who is Jesus Christ to you?

Jesus’ question to the disciples—who do people say that I am—is a question that demands a response. Is Jesus a good teacher; a prophet; a savior; or Lord of Lords? Our response depends on our belief about Jesus’ identity (Chan 1998, 40). It also informs us as to who we once were, who we are now, and who we will become in the future.

If Jesus is merely a good teacher, then our actions are motivated primarily by abstract obligation. We might as easily be guided by the Ten Commandments. Law has the virtue of being clear and concrete. The Ten Commandments outline moral law while other parts of the first five books of the Bible give us both ceremonial law (how to worship) and case law (what to do in special situations). However, the abstract nature of this obligation means that it is contingent on the commitment of the heart. The mind acknowledges the obligation, but the heart is uncommitted.

If Jesus is only a prophet, then our actions are motivated by abstract expectation. A focus on law is possible because the role of an Old Testament prophet was, primarily, to remind people of their obligation under the law. However, both head and heart are contingent—we do not know if the prophecy will take place or if we care. In short, we are conflicted and uncommitted.

If Jesus is only a savior, then our actions are motivated primarily by the act of receiving. We cherish the assurance of salvation, but never count the cost (Luke 14:27-30). In effect, we have become fans—long on enthusiasm, but short on commitment. Fans want entertainment and a good show—they want a winning team. The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments are all things that we have committed to memory, but when things become inconvenient our resolve dissipates.

If Jesus is Lord of lords, then our actions are motivated by an obligation of loyalty. In this case, our response is qualitatively different because both our hearts and minds are committed. We want to be just like Jesus. We want to act like Jesus; we want to pray like Jesus; we want to tell Jesus’ life story. Suddenly, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments start looking like important clues as to how to pray, to live our lives, and to discuss our faith with others.

Jesus is also the perfect match between form (being divine and human) and content (without sin). In the Hebrew mind, this perfect match makes Him both good and beautiful (Dyrness 2001, 81). Loyalty is a fitting characteristic for a servant and is a characteristic of Christ himself (Phil 2:5-11). Our loyalty to God accordingly allows us to share in Christ’s goodness and his beauty—has anyone told you lately that you are beautiful? (Isa 62:5)

The church is composed of people who mostly share one thing in common—we are forgiven. Each of us must walk the path of faith alone, but at no step along the way are we truly alone because Jesus walks with us. If we persist in the walk of faith, our perception of Jesus will evolve from teacher to prophet to savior, and Lord of Lords. As we make this journey, our response to restoration and identity as persons will likewise evolve.

Almighty Father, beloved son, ever-present Spirit—We praise you for creating us in your image, for walking with us even as we sin, and for patiently restoring us into your favor. Strengthen our sense of your identity. In the power of your Holy Spirit, unstop our ears; uncover our eyes; soften our hearts; illumine our minds. Shape us more and more in your image that we also might grow.In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Questions

Who is Jesus Christ to you?What are the dominant images of Jesus that we see? How does our image of Jesus affect what we do?What is the thing that everyone in the church shares in common?How did your life change when you came to faith? What milestones have occurred since then? What hurdles are you dealing with now?

Day 4

DAY 4: What should we do?

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

Have you accepted Christ into all aspects of your life?

Walking into an office, whose picture normally hangs on the wall? The picture on the wall usually depicts the one casting the vision of the company. It could be the founder, the current president, or a chief executive. Why? It is helpful to remind us who is in charge and what we are about.

Assume you are a new office manager. Suppose when your supervisor was out of the office, a stranger walked in and questioned your supervisor’s instructions, saying—you are in charge now: take it easy. Then, being naive, you declared independence, kicked the feet up on the desk, and slept all afternoon. What would happen when your supervisor returned? What would you think then if the supervisor, even as you are being fired and walked to the door, made a promise—when my oldest son comes, you can come back and he will make sure that stranger does not bother you anymore?

This is essentially the story of Adam and Eve. The story has three parts: creation with great expectations (hired), fall into temptation (fired), and promise of restoration through divine intervention (second chance).

Creation. Just like the business with the picture on the wall, in our hearts we have a picture of God because God created us in his image. This family resemblance gives us human dignity. We were created with great prospects and a bright future.

The emphasis in Genesis 1:27 is on being created in the image of God together with our spouses. We were created to live in families with one man and one woman. To prevent any misunderstanding, Adam and Eve were blessed, put in charge on earth, and given a mission: “Be fruitful and multiple.” (Gen 1:28)

Fall. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with just one restriction that came with a penalty: do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil under penalty of death (Gen 2:17). In deceiving Eve, Satan questioned God’s integrity saying that the penalty was a lie: you will not die (Gen 3:4). In giving into this temptation, Adam and Even sinned and rebelled against God. God then expelled them from the Garden of Eden. Left outside Eden, Adam and Eve faced life outside of God’s presence and the penalty of death.

Restoration. In God’s curse of Satan, he prophesied the coming of Christ. Satan’s usurped kingdom will be over-thrown by a descendant of Eve (Gen 3:15).

What does the story of Adam and Eve say about our identity? Tension arises in our lives because we do not live up to God’s expectations. Our dignity arises from being created in God’s image; yet, we sin and rebel against God. The Good News is that when Christ died for our sins, he overthrew the rule of Satan in our lives and restored our relationship with God, just as it was in the beginning.

Eternal and Compassionate Father—Help us to accept You into all aspects of our lives. Thank you for creating us in your image. Bless our families. Forgive our sin and rebellion. In the power of your Holy Spirit, restore to us the joy of your salvation and empower us to act out of our identity in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions

In your own words, explain the story of Adam and EveWhat are the three parts of the story?Why is the story of Adam and Eve meaningful to us today?What sins do you struggle with now?

Day 5

DAY 5: How do we know?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the people of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

In the Koran, Christians are described as people of the book. Part of the reason for this distinction may be that the New Testament was the first text bound as a book. Books were cheaper to produce and more portable than scrolls, which continued to be used, for example, to record the Hebrew Bible. It is noteworthy that more New Testament texts have survived from ancient times than any other ancient manuscripts.

Athanasius suggested the twenty-seven books which now make up the New Testament in his Easter letter of AD 367 was later confirmed by the Council of Carthage in AD 397. The common denominator in these books is that their authors were known to have been an apostle or associated closely with an apostle of Jesus. Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome to prepare an authoritative translation of the Bible into Latin in AD 382 commonly known as the Vulgate (Evans 2005, 162). The Vulgate remained the authoritative Biblical text for the church until the time of the Reformation when the reformers began translating the Bible into common languages.

During the reformation Martin Luther, for example, translated the New Testament into German in 1522 and followed with an Old Testament translation in 1532. Luther kept the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, but followed the Masoretic (Hebrew Old Testament) rather than the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) in selecting books for the Old Testament. The books left out became known as the Apocrypha. These books continue to distinguish the Catholic (Apocrypha included) from Protestant Bible translations (Apocrypha excluded) to this day. The list given below, which excludes the Apocrypha, is taken from the Westminster Confession:

OLD TESTAMENT

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

NEW TESTAMENT

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation

In our study of the Bible, Jesus’ attitude about scripture guides our thinking. Jesus said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matt 5:17-18).

The Law of Moses refers to the Law (first five books of the Bible) and the Prophets (the other books).

The last book in the Old Testament to be written was likely Malachi which was written about four hundred years before the birth of Christ. The last book in the New Testament to be written was likely the book of Revelation which was written around 90 AD.

The Bible represents the work of many authors, yet its contents are uniquely consistent. This consistency adds weight to our belief that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father—Breathe on us your breath of life. Soften our hearts to receive your word and bolster our minds to understand it. Restore to us the joy of your salvation. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Questions

How old is the Bible?Why was the Bible assembled into a book?What rule was used to collect the books of the New Testament? How about the OT?What was Jesus’ view of scripture?Why do we say that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit?

The Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Creator of Heaven and Earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Begotten Son, our Lord,

who was Conceived by the Ħoly Spirit

and Born of the Virgin Mary.

Ħe Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was Crucified, Died, and was Buried;

He Descended to Hell. The Third Day He Rose again from the Dead.

Ħe Ascended to Heaven and is Seated at the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty.

From there He will come to Judge the Living and the Dead.

I believe in the Ħoly Spirit,

the Holy Catholic Church,

the Communion of Saints,

the Forgiveness of Sins;

the Resurrection of the Body,

and the Life Everlasting. Amen.

Overview

The Apostle’s Creed is a statement faith focused on the question: Who is God? The answer given is that God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who created the universe around us, lived among us, and dwells in us.

The Apostle’s Creed also answers the other three philosophical questions:

Who are we? We are disciples of Christ who sit at his feet to learn from him and follow his example.

What do we do about it? We believe in God and live out his plan for our lives. In this process, we learn about God’s healthy boundaries for our lives.

How do we know? Individually and through the church, we relate directly with God and understand his will for our lives through scripture.

Unlike the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed summarizes the story of Jesus, which the New Testament describes as the Gospel.

Day 6

DAY 6: What do you believe about God?

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

(Jer 31:33)

Once as a youth leader, I asked each member of the group to write out a personal statement of faith. This assignment kept us busy all evening. In the end, most kids had statements resembling the Apostle’s Creed. For the Christian faith, this creed is foundational.

The Apostle’s Creed began as a baptismal statement of faith in the fourth century (Rogers 1991, 61–62). It has evolved into a key statement of faith that is often memorized and proclaimed in worship services around the world.

The Apostle’s Creed divides into three parts: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each part helps us to understand and to identify better to each person of the Trinity. The confession about the Father focuses on his role as creator. The confession about the Son recounts the story of Jesus Christ—conception, birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. The confession about the Holy Spirit links the Spirit to the work and key doctrines of the church.

The Apostle’s Creed primarily tells the story of Jesus. Other parts of the creed appear simply to bracket the story of Jesus. This is not an accident. The four Gospel narratives each focus on the story of Jesus. Early church sermons, recorded in the Book of Acts, also often focus on telling Jesus’ life story. In general, the New Testament focuses on telling Jesus’ life story and applying his story to our lives.

When is the last time that you shared Jesus’ life story? How has Jesus’ life become a model for your life?

Heavenly Father—We praise you for shepherding us and resting with us in lush gardens. Feed our hungering and thirsting souls as we confront sickness and death. Shelter us in your strong arms as we shelter the weak among us. Prosper us in righteousness as we model your love to those around us. Grant us your mercy through the storms of life until you lead us home (Ps 23). In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Questions

If you wrote a statement of your faith, what elements should be included?What are the three parts to the Apostle’s Creed? Which is the longest?Find a sermon in Acts that recites the story of Jesus.

Day 7

DAY 7: Almighty Creator

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth Ω

God’s humility expressed through the incarnation in Jesus Christ shines a light on His sovereignty (Matt 21:5). Truly powerful people can be fearlessly humble—they have nothing to prove and no one dares to challenge their authority. Their inherent strength and self-confidence makes them easy to work for. By analogy, an almighty God is generous and can be approached easily. Why should we be any different?

When King David wrote—“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1), he did not just have creation’s beauty in mind. The order of the universe points to the glory and sovereignty of God. Everywhere that scientists have studied, the same laws of physics apply. Why should there only be one set of physical laws?

As David implies, the order and stability of the created universe testifies to God’s existence and sovereignty. Kurt Gödel, a Czech mathematician, who was born in 1906, educated in Vienna, and taught at Princeton University, is famous for his incompleteness theorem published in 1931. This theorem states that stability in any closed, logical system requires that at least one assumption be taken from outside that system. If creation is a closed, logical system (having only one set of physical laws suggests that it is) and exhibits stability, then it too must contain at least one external assumption. God, himself, fulfills that assumption (Smith 2001, 89).

God’s sovereignty anchors His goodness. Three reasons can be cited. First, because God’s authority flows out of His creative work (not through coercion, deception, or random events), it is legitimate (Jer 18:4). Legitimate authority is inherently good. Second, God’s authority as law-maker implies that if God says creation is good, then it is—by fiat—good (Gen 1:10). Third, in a practical sense, God’s sovereignty reduces uncertainty; and stability is good.

As sons and daughters of God, we are to take comfort in His sovereignty because, as heirs to His kingdom, His image is also our image (Gen 1:27). Therefore, we can be confident in our ability to deal with life’s challenges because God is for us and with us (Rom 8:28). What greater blessing could there be?

Almighty God—We praise you for creating the heavens and the earth; creating all that is, was, or will ever be; and creating things seen and unseen. We look on the order and beauty of your creation and break forth singing your praises. Grant us strength for each new day to reflect your goodness in joyful praise to those around us. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Questions

Why is humility a sign of God’s sovereignty?How does the order of the universe point to God’s existence and sovereignty?If God were weak, how would it affect His goodness?How does God’s authority and power directly benefit us? Why?

Day 8

DAY 8: Jesus Christ

I believe in Jesus Christ,

his only begotten Son,

our Lord. Ω

Names often tell a story. The name, Jesus Christ, is no exception.

When we use the name, Jesus, in English, we are transliterating the Greek of the New Testament. Jesus’ given name was actually Joshua which means “he saves” in Hebrew. However, because Greek does not have an “SH” sound, Joshua could not be accurately transliterated in New Testament Greek. Consequently, we borrowed Jesus from the Greek.

Joshua’s role in the Old Testament is instructive. Moses commissioned Joshua to lead the nation of Israel with these words:

And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.” (Deut 31:23)

Jesus’ given name, Joshua, summarizes his commission. However, Jesus’ salvation arises as he brings us, not into the Promised Land, but into Heaven (Heb 4:1-11). This salvation, furthermore, arises not from law, but from grace (Phil 3:2-11).

When we use the name, Jesus Christ, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Christ translates the Hebrew word, Messiah, into Greek and it means anointed one because during the commissioning process oil was poured on your head. Priests, prophets, and kings were anointed. The New Testament pictures Jesus fulfilling the roles of each of these three types of messiahs.

Jesus’ messianic role is highlighted in the Book of Hebrews where we read:

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 5:5-6)

Melchizedek was the king of Salem (later called Jerusalem) and he was also a priest (Gen 14:18). Saying that Jesus is a priest of the order of Melchizedek expresses the idea that he is also a king. In Matthew 24:1-2 Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which occurred later in AD 70, confirming his prophetic role.

When we confess that Jesus is the only son of God, we acknowledge Jesus’ divinity and exclusivity as savior (John 3:16-17). God’s infinite nature poses a problem for us because we are finite. Only someone divine can cross the divide between the infinite and the finite. In Jesus Christ, God crosses the divide to initiate the conversation and mediate for us—an act of grace—as high priest (Heb 5:1).

Heavenly Father—We praise you for graciously sending your son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We give glory to his name—our perfect priest, prophet, and king. In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us also to listen to his voice and obey his commands. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions

Where does the name, Jesus, come from? What does it mean?What does Christ mean? What are the three types of messiah?Who is Melchizedek and why is he special?Why is communication with God difficult? Why is Christ’s mediating role exclusive?

Day 9

DAY 9: Holy Conception

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.Ω

Do you ever feel isolated from God?

This isolation is not an accident. In the absence of Christ, two gaps exist between God and humanity: a gap in being (infinite versus finite) and a gap in holiness. The conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit (Holy Conception) allows Jesus to bridge both gaps (Matt 1:18ff).

The first gap requires that a mediator be both divine and human. In bridging the first gap, the Holy Conception introduces the divinity of Christ before his birth. He is then born by the usual means. Jesus could then serve as a bridge between an infinite God and finite humanity. As the angel told Mary: “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

The second gap requires that any mediator between humanity and God be without sin—holy. Jesus also bridges the second gap by living a sinless life. This work starts when Mary assents to the angel’s request (Luke 1:38) and continues through Jesus’ lifelong work of teaching, healing, and reflecting God. Jesus’ work ended on the cross when he declared: “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Jesus’ birth follows the promise-fulfillment motif in the Old Testament record. The prophecy—“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14)—reminds us of several miraculous pregnancies. The pattern of prophecy and pregnancy (e.g. promise-fulfillment) occurs again in births of Isaac (Gen 17:17), Jacob, the prophet Samuel and of John the Baptist. However, in the case of Jesus, the role of prophecy was amplified.

For example, in the case of Isaac, both the timing and means (miraculous pregnancy) were prophesied. For Jesus, the instrumentality (virgin birth—Isa 7:14), his character (Isa 9:6), covenantal role, the place of birth (Bethlehem—Mic 5:2), and his lineage (House of David—2 Sam 7:12-16) were all prophesied. The elaborate birth narratives of Matthew and Luke testify to the humble nature of Jesus’ birth. The prophecies point to his divine nature.

The Holy Conception also reminds us of the absolute and creative sovereignty of God. When God creates the heaven and the earth, he creates them ex nihilo—out of nothing (Gen 1:1). The idea that Jesus is conceived ex-nihilo (without a biological father) at birth and then resurrected after death expresses God’s absolute and creative sovereignty. It also suggests that, through Jesus Christ, God remains actively present in our lives too. This is very good news!

God of all wonders—We praise you for Mary’s faithfulness and Jesus’ miraculous birth. Bridge the gaps of holiness, time, and space between us. Open our minds to the miracles that we experience daily but neglect to think about. Open our hearts to accept your will for our lives. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Questions

What two gaps did Jesus cross that we cannot cross for ourselves?What miracle births do we read about in scripture?What was the role of prophecy in Jesus’s birth?

Day 10

DAY 10: Suffering

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. Ω

Why do we care about Christ’s suffering on the cross?

The Apostle Peter said it best: “By his wounds you have been healed”. (1 Pet 2:24)

The Jewish authorities said that Jesus claimed to be a king and charged Jesus with sedition (Mark 15:2). In fact, Jesus was a king (messiah) in the Jewish sense, but not a king (political rival) in a Roman sense. For this reason, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate cross examined Jesus publicly and concluded: “I find no guilt in him.” (John 19:4)

Jesus’ link to Pontius Pilate underscores the credibility of his innocent suffering because, even by Roman standards, Pilate was corrupt and brutal—Pilate had Jesus both flogged and crucified solely to satisfy the blood lust of a crowd. The link to Pilate also links Jesus (and the Apostle’s Creed) to a known, historical person. Not only is Pilate mentioned in Josephus, an inscription bearing the phrase “Pontius Pilate Prefect of Judea” was found in 1961 in the excavation of a theatre in Caesarea.

Jesus’ death on the cross underscores his extreme suffering. The Romans devised crucifixion as a method of execution by torture—it amplified the suffering inflicted. It was a slow, painful death. Crucifixion was so horrific that Roman law forbade Roman citizens from being crucified.