The Desert (6.24.2017)

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80


Before this section of Luke I presumed what I knew what the focus of my reflection would be.  Those untold stories will remain just that because my attention was hijacked by a phrase that appears at the end of the Gospel.  The last sentence reads, “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

I’m sorry, what?  I know Elizabeth and Zechariah were new at this parenting thing but who puts a child in a desert?  Luke chose a strange transition from cute little baby John to camel hair wearing, bug eating, John the Baptist (though a childhood spent in the desert would explain a lot).  So that’s the line with which I prayed.

As I prayed with that line I thought about the symbol of the desert.  A place for nearness with the Lord.  The desert was a place where people could go to retreat into their proper relationship with God.  In the desert priorities get straitened, frivolous competitors for our attention fade way, God’s provision becomes clearer, and the time for prayer becomes more available.  Not to mention it is intentional.  Without a care or second thought I could wander one of the metro-parks in the area, but to go out into the desert is a choice you make with a purpose in mind.  One does not go into a desert to become comfortable, we desert comfort to become purposeful, and the purpose we hope to adopt is God’s.

This brings us back to Luke’s line about John being in the desert.  When I first read it I pictured the child John, but that seemed a little absurd to me.  However, I wondered how long of a desert stay are we talking here?  Surely, he could have been home or in Jerusalem for Passover, or any number of places, but, (and I’m not saying Luke intended it this way) he had the spiritual life of one in the desert.  There was a nearness to God that required John being able to enter the desert even if he did not physically travel there until later in life.

We all need to find this desert in our life.  We need to find a way to create, at the very least, a time, if not a place that we enter the desert.  We need that time in our everyday lives when we intentionally seek the purposes of God, not to mention see His provision.  It was the man from the desert that stood on the shore of the river, and through all the distractions and noise pointed out Jesus saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.”  John might not have known everything about God that the Pharisees and scribes of that time could have taught him, but he knew Him when he saw Him because he was from the desert.

1280px-Sunset_in_the_Negev_Desert_near_Yeruham,_IsraelSo let’s find a time to enter the desert.  Maybe it is a daily time of prayer, maybe it means having a prayer corner, or it means recommitting prayer time to the pursuit of God’s priorities.  Either way, if we are to model John’s ability to identify Christ when we see him, we need to know him, and for that, we need the desert.

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Discerning the Lord’s Will

Saturday after Epiphany

Scripture Readings

Today’s first reading offers a strange relationship between our petition and God’s providence.  Here is what John says, “We have this confidence in Him that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked Him for is ours.”  This text seems like an appropriate clarification on Jesus’ “Ask and you shall receive,” but it also adds something to our side of the equation.  I not only read this and see John calling us to rely on prayer, but I sense him pushing us to discernment, particularly in three ways.

First, I should be pursuing and discerning the Lord’s will for me so that I may stand in greater confidence.  This form of discernment is more familiar to us.  This is the discernment of engaged couples, seminarians, postulants (baby sisters), and job seekers.  This is the discernment that builds off of the phrase, “God has a plan and purpose for you.”  This is good, but I think John asks us to go deeper.

Second, I need to try and understand the character and will of God, to the best of my fallible, human ability.  This level of discernment humbly recognizes that God had a will long before I ever existed.  The eternal God has me in His plan, but I’m only needed in it because He chose to create me.  This means that there is a discernible will and plan that is much larger than I.  This is important for me to pursue because it keeps my humility in check (see John the Baptist’s “I must decrease”), and it directly relates to prayer.  Scripture commands me to pray for others.  If I am to stand in confidence regarding those prayers, I need to discern God’s character beyond my own call.  The Gospel is accessible to me, and is meant for me, but it is far bigger than I alone.

Finally, discernment is necessary in the following verses.  “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life.  This is only for those whose sin is not deadly.  There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.”  These verses get tricky if: I don’t seek to understand God’s will; or I don’t try to get to know His character.  That ignorance can either make me blind to who my brothers and sisters are or make me as legalistic as the Pharisees in judging the severity of sin.  Not to mention, without discernment, how do I figure out what to do in the case of a deadly sin?

This entire section of 1 John calls me to get to know God, intimately, deeply, and in a way that I can stand in confidence.  Now in my language of discern and pursue I might make us sound a little too active.  Whether it is quieting yourself enough to pray in a posture of listening or letting the words of scripture transform your worldview, the Lord wishes to impart His will to you.

He is the bridegroom and we are the bride, let us enter into an exchange of wills with Him, so that we may stand confident in His love and His vows.

Confident Humility

Scripture Readings

It seems that whenever John the Baptist comes up in our readings, I write about humility.  I’m not saying that is bad, I’m just noticing a trend.  Let’s not break a good tradition when John’s brief coverage in the New Testament is a wellspring of wisdom about humility. Continue reading “Confident Humility”

The Tetrarch

A Reflection on Matthew 14:1-12 from August 1, 2015


Today’s gospel from Matthew’s starts with these words, “Herod the tetrarch…”  This title given to Herod might sound odd to our ears.  We are familiar with king, senator, president, duke, etc, but not tetrarch.  While it is unfamiliar to us, it would have conveyed specific meaning to Matthew’s original audience. Continue reading “The Tetrarch”

Welcome to the Jordan

A Reflection on John 1:29-51


BeholdA very wise friend of mine told me of a habit he practices while reading scripture.  He said that whenever he encounters the word “behold” he pauses.  He closes his eyes or finds a way to stop from reading ahead and he prepares his mind and heart to behold what he will read next.  It may sound like an odd habit, but it makes tremendous sense. Continue reading “Welcome to the Jordan”