The Contemplative New Testament: Luke 2

As a PhD candidate in Christian Origins, I spend a lot of my time in the Bible. What this means is that if you would trust a first year med student to operate on your brain, you will feel comfortable using these for your devotional life.  I have translated the texts with two main angles always in mind:  God’s Kingdom and Christian Spirituality.  I trust you will find these new paraphrases enlightening as you live out God’s counter-intuitive ways on earth as it is in heaven.
 

Luke 2.7-14

And there were shepherds in their fields.  It was the night watch.  They were dwelling there and guarding their sheep. And an angel of the Lord was sent to them.  And the glory of the Lord embraced them. And they trembled with a great fear.

So the angel spoke to them: “Don’t be afraid.  For behold, I bring news to you that will send rejoicing through your heart.  And it is for all the people. A sign of salvation has entered the earth, near you in the city of David. The Lord Messiah has come.

If you go there, you will find for yourself the sign: a baby swaddled and laying in a manger.

And suddenly out of nowhere there was with the angel a multitude of the hosts of heaven.  They were praising God and saying, “Everything is as it should be in the highest with God.  So let peace also be found on earth among humanity.”

The Contemplative New Testament: Luke 2

As a PhD candidate in Christian Origins, I spend a lot of my time in the Bible. What this means is that if you would trust a first year med student to operate on your brain, you will feel comfortable using these for your devotional life.  I have translated the texts with two main angles always in mind:  God’s Kingdom and Christian Spirituality.  I trust you will find these new paraphrases enlightening as you live out God’s counter-intuitive ways on earth as it is in heaven.
 

Luke 2.1-7

And the months passed.  And it happened one day that a message was delivered by Caesar Augustus.  He was taking a census of the whole world.

It was the first census ever before the one when Kurenios was ruling Syria.

And everybody packed their things to register, each to the city where his family came from.

And Joseph set off to register too.  He went with his fiancée Mary who was now eight months pregnant.  They set off from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth.  They went to Judea into a city of David, called Bethlehem.  They went there because Joseph was from that land and it used to be his father David’s.

And while they were there, Mary went into labor.  And she gave birth to her son, to the firstborn.  And she swaddled him and set him in a manger crib, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Thursday Reflections with Pastor Ryan Strebeck: on Matthew 26:1-16

Pastor Ryan Strebeck shares “The Final Week: Part 3” (19:15). Click Here.

Find more of Rev. Strebeck’s Sermons: Here

Matthew 26:1-16 (NIV)

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

20 Least Life Altering Ways to Worship While you Whistle

The Shakers lived a lifestyle of worship.  And if they ever were to meet the 7 Dwarfs, I think they’d have a lot to talk about. Like the Dwarfs, we are a working world of busy professionals.  Like the Shakers, we all long for a lifestyle marked with meaning, with rich traditions, food, and relationships.  And unlike the Disney characters or the easy caricatures of the Shaker life, the everyday working person lives in a constant pressure cooker.  Are there not some easy ways to worship/ reflect/ center our spirits while we  blast through our morning routines, push through our 9 to 5’s, and endure through dinner and dusk?  Easy? No. Least life altering? Yes.

  1. Favorite Things:  After our dinner prayers, each person in my family shares their 1 favorite thing from the day.  It gets our conversation into appreciative tones and links together what could be an otherwise fragmented day.
  2. Interruptions into Invitations: When your nose is buried in an essential, career changing project, try to turn interruptions into invitations from God.  Unwanted extraverts can be invitations to remember that your life and happiness is not dependent on your effort alone.  God’s got your back. Then get back to work (this can take as little as 3 seconds, if you keep focused).
  3. Start Your Meetings Off With a Bit of Silence:  Organizational specialists stress the importance of inspiration.  People need to stay connected with why they do what they do.  Taking 5 minutes of silence at the beginning of a meeting can make a big difference in tone and positive energy.
  4. Kiddie Devotion: Read your children a kid’s Bible every night before bed.  When life is rushed, make it your devotion too.  Sometimes you have to go whole months doing this. I’d recommend: the Jesus Storybook Bible.
  5. Meal Contemplation: Everybody eats.  During your meals, take a few moments and try and think about the journey that your food has taken from its origin.  Just think about a frozen pizza: plants and animals grew, gave milk for cheese, people picked and diced the veggies, pasteurized the milk, made it into cheese.  Somebody packaged then delivered the food to someone else who sprinkled and spread. Somebody froze it. Another person delivered it to a market.  Another person stocked it.  You bought it, thawed it, and gnawed it.  It’s a humbling practice, contemplating at meal time
  6. Be Still and Know that I am God: Okay, for the people who thought I’d never get to God directly.  Taking a few breaks a day (for 2 seconds) and repeating in your head, “Be Still and Know that I am God,” can make a big difference.
  7. Find Joy in Cooking: Another food idea.  If you want, you can find joy in menial tasks.  Start with cooking, if that’s not too life-altering.  Appreciate how different tastes go together and the creativity of it all.  Once in a while put down the recipe and go for your own, trusting your intuition. Try to laugh when it turns out disgusting.  Eat your concoction or throw it out and contemplate over that frozen pizza.
  8. Worship Playlist. If you can listen to your iTunes during work…make a worship playlist of four or five of the songs that most inspire you/ remind you of God, His story, and his mission in the world. Play through it twice a day while you write emails.
  9. Posture. Pay attention to your posture.  Are you hunching over?  Let it be a signal that your spirit may be striving too much.  Are your shoulders by your ears?  Maybe your are putting too much pressure on yourself.  Let your posture guide you back to easiness of spirit.
  10. Prayer’s of the Saints: Take a moment to pray a prayer written by a saint.  If you don’t know any, try this link“Prayers of the Saints” is built for you.
  11. Carpenter’s Wink: Sometimes God wants you to keep focus and keep working.  I once was typing away at a manuscript.  I felt guilty that I was focusing too much on my work, too little on God.  I imagined Him working at a saw-bench beside me, with safety goggles and all.  I caught His attention as if to say, “I love you.” He stretched upright, pulled his eye protection off, gave a wink, and went straight back to work. So did I.
  12. Sabbath. Take at least one day of your week to rest.  Saturday or Sunday is the best, since a lot of people still take these days off. Resting in community is so much better than doing it alone.
  13. Breath Prayers. When you are driving or riding home, catch yourself taking intentional deep breaths.  When you breath in, think to yourself, “God be with me.”  When you breath out, think “away all that was meant for evil.”
  14. Crying and Sleeping Babies.  Our little bundles of joy can be great teachers.  Whether your little chap is fussing in your arms (he is alive after all, and has been given a voice) or your little princess is sleeping away (have you ever felt the palm of a sleeping baby?) you can turn these moments into deep places of thanksgiving.
  15. Appreciate Your Limits. Ever feel ultra-guilty that you can’t find time for God?  It’s okay.  Don’t beat yourself up or try and turn yourself into a spiritual Master overnight.  Sometimes trusting that God has you right where he needs you in this moment is the best thing for you. (Okay, now I am moving into some suggestions that may be a little more life altering. I’m assuming that God is the one who is turning  you into a spiritual master and that it might work).
  16. JNI. These are Just Noticeable Improvements.  When it comes to worship and intimacy with God. Keep going. Don’t give up.  Catch yourself making just noticeable improvements.  The spiritual life is far more about waking up one day and realizing that God has changed you and your habits than it is about mastering any one or the other spiritual discipline.
  17. Appreciation and Thanksgiving. As you progress in your spiritual life, try to find God’s invitations more and more.  Find them in the things you are successful with.  Find them in the obstacles you face.  Find them in the joys you experience.  Find them even in your deepest disappointments.
  18. Make Time for Prayer.  8 Hours Sleeping, 8 Hours Working, 8 Hours Playing. Do the math.  Make subtle adjustments for the equation to fit you.  If you are more than three or four hours off in any area, you might be a bit unbalanced.
  19. Make a Routine. 1 hour a day.  1 day a week. 1 week a year.  1 year of 7.  Rest and delight in this life God has given you.  This is a workaday master’s life plan (with room for you to adjust).  Wake up when you are 60 and find your life is filled rich traditions, food, and relationships.  And realize that your life is about more than your own happiness.  You are called, in your particular way, to help others with their JNI’s and sometimes to stand up when people live under rulers and systems that take away their potential for routine, flowering, and worship.
  20. Your ideas? What are some other ways that you worship while you whistle…

The Contemplative New Testament: Luke 1

As a PhD candidate in Christian Origins, I spend a lot of my time in the Bible. What this means is that if you would trust a first year med student to operate on your brain, you will feel comfortable using these for your devotional life.  I have translated the texts with two main angles always in mind:  God’s Kingdom and Christian Spirituality.  I trust you will find these new paraphrases enlightening as you live out God’s counter-intuitive ways on earth as it is in heaven.
 

Luke 1.57-80

And the time came for Elizabeth to have her child.  She brought forth a son. And the people that were living near her house and then her relatives heard that the child’s Lord showed great mercy to Elizabeth.  They rejoiced with her.

And when the eighth day came, they made the “in God’s people” cut on the child.  And they said, “we will call him Zachariah, after his father.”

And his Mother responded, “Not this.  He will be called John.”

And they said to her, “There is nobody in your family called John.”

And Zechariah heard them saying, “What should we call him?” And asking for a little tablet, he spoke while he wrote it: “His name is John.”

Everybody was amazed.  And he was able to speak again. And before he spoke any more words, he called out praises to God.

And all the neighbors were fearful.  And what happened in Zachariah’s family spread throughout the whole mountain of Judea.  All those who heard it treasured it in their hearts saying, “Who will this child be?  For the hand of the Lord is with him.”

And Zachariah, John’s father, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and holding John he prophesied saying,

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he sheltered us and made a way out of bondage for his people.  God lifted the horn of salvation for us from the house of his son David.  He made good on the promise of salvation he spoke through the mouth of his timeless prophet.  The message was twofold: First, he is making mercy with our fathers.  Second, he remembered his Holy covenant.  And what is our salvation? It means that we are saved from the hands of our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us.

In the covenant, he swore an oath to our Father Abraham for our day too, to embolden us out of the hands of our enemies, rescuing us for this reason: so that we might dedicate ourselves to worship him and be righteous before him.

And you boy, you will be called a prophet of the most high.  For you will serve as a prophet before the Lord in two ways: first, to prepare His way and second to give the knowledge of salvation to his people, which will come through the forgiveness of their sins and from the heartfelt mercies of our God.

And it is from those mercies that the rising dawn of salvation will choose to grace us.  It will give light to those sitting in darkness even in the darkness of death.  The sun will guide our feet to the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in his spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his making known to Israel.

 

Thursday Reflections with Pastor Ryan Strebeck: on Matthew 22:1-14

Pastor Ryan Strebeck shares “The Last Week: Part 2” (27:48). Click Here.

Find more of Rev. Strebeck’s Sermons: Here

Matthew 22:1-14 (NIV)

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The Contemplative New Testament: Romans 4

As a PhD candidate in Christian Origins, I spend a lot of my time in the Bible. What this means is that if you would trust a first year med student to operate on your brain, you will feel comfortable using these for your devotional life.  I have translated the texts with two main angles always in mind:  God’s Kingdom and Christian Spirituality.  I trust you will find these new paraphrases enlightening as you live out God’s counter-intuitive ways on earth as it is in heaven. (Note…this is dense and difficult passage.  Good luck!)
 

Romans 4.1-25

What therefore can we say using human thinking? Can we discover our father Abraham? For if Abraham considered himself righteous through works, he has pride.  And it is not from God.  For what does the writing say, “and Abraham believed in God and it was calculated as righteousness to him.”

For usually wages are not calculated according to grace but according to what is owed—to the one who works. And to the one who did not work: His faithfulness is calculated into righteousness through being faithful to the One who makes the ungodly righteous.

And David talks precisely about this. He blesses the happiness of the man who God considers righteous without works. “Blessed are those who stop their lawless ways.  And blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.  Blessed is the man whose life the Lord does not calculate as sinful.”

Is the person who leans upon his status as “God’s people” or even the one who leans upon his “not part of God’s people” status therefore somehow happy?

Therefore, how is it that we discover who is “in God’s people” or who is “not in God’s people” or “not in God’s people” but in “not God’s people”? Get it? Is it not by saying that faith was calculated to Abraham as righteousness?

For he received a sign in his flesh which was a seal of the righteousness of faithfulness.  The seal was literally sliced into his “not in God’s people” body part.  And this seal was righteousness for those also who received it and became fathers of God’s people, to those who were not part of God’s people.  But not only this, it also became righteousness to those who behaved, to those who sliced the sign on their “in God’s people part.” It was all because of the faithfulness of our father Abraham.  He is the father of all who are faithful as they move from “not in God’s people” to “in God’s people.”  Still with me?

Now, the agreement made for Abraham (or really to his offspring) was that he would be heir of the world. And this agreement was not through the law but through the righteousness of faithfulness.  For if the role of “heir” was accomplished from the law, then faith has been emptied and the agreement made void.

For the law works wrath and where there is no law there is no transgression.  This is from faithfulness, so that according to grace we verify the promise to all the offspring—the promise is not only by the works of the law but also through the substance of Abraham’s faithfulness.  Remember he is the father of all of us.

Just as it is written: “You have been made a father to many nations.”  It happened before the throne of Him in who you believed. It happened before God who pulls life out of the dead ones.  The God who can call out something from nothing. The God in whom the father of many nations pledged his faith, hope against hope.  The God who blessed him just as it was spoken to him, “just as it will be for your offspring.”

The pledge of faithfulness gets deeper.  And though he was not ill, he thought about his body (already nearly dead, close to a hundred years, it was).  And this isn’t even to mention the nearly dead body of Mother Sarah.

But even that did not cause him to be faithless about God’s promise. But faith welled up in him, as he gave glory to God.  He was filled. He chose this option because the powerful promise was given even to him.

Therefore, this was calculated to him as righteousness.  And it was not written for him only.  It was calculated to him and for us.  God will calculate righteousness to us, to those who are faithful.  And it will happen to us upon the resurrecting of our Lord Jesus from the dead.  He was given over because of our transgressions.  And he was raided for our righteousness.