Did you know God understands? Not the generic “I understand”… instead, Psalm 56 gets deeply personal with how God enters into our concerns and our hurts
In light of the weather-related cancelation of worship last Sunday, I wanted to still give you the meat of what would have been Sunday’s sermon. I’m posting on Wednesday to give you a mid-week devotional thought. Use it personally or talk as a family:
My ninth grade English teacher had our class interact with a story most of us had not heard of before that point. It was one of her favorites, and through it we observed the influential nature of a good story. It was a story of heroism, adventure, camaraderie, villains, and (of course) true love. Maybe you’ve heard of it… One of the story’s valuable lessons is avoiding a “classic blunder:” “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!” (only slightly less well known that the most famous blunder: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”) The Princess Bride is a great story, one of those that grows on you the more you watch it (this turned out to be the go-to movie for my class during holidays or to kill time toward the end of the school year!). In the movie you see the impact the story begins to have on various characters… growth in the heroes, the softening heart of the once-bad-guy to comrade, even the reluctant grandson who was sick in bed and forced to listen: he can’t stop listening and he wants more!
That’s the power of a great story. Inspiration, smiles and tears, even influence upon a person if the story is really good.
I wonder if that is how the Christmas story feels to you? We focus on it every year, so the repetition can make it feel old. In addition, our culture embraces the holiday season with strong emphasis on service, family time, and simple traditions—the Christmas story in that light is accepted as a good story for the motivation of joyful generosity. Although generosity is a good response to what we celebrate in Advent, we cannot forget that we celebrate more than a good story—we celebrate fulfilled promises. This is significant because the former can only motivate for a season, but the latter has the power and permanence to sustain for a lifetime. Tim Keller says it well:
“Christmas is not ‘once upon a time a story happened that shows us how we should live better lives.’ No! [God] broke into the world to save us. Christ the Savior is born!” (Hidden Christmas)
1. The Context of God’s Promise: A Hopeless Heart
Reading the seventh chapter of Isaiah places you on the verge of another great war between Judah and an allied Israel and Syria. Ahaz is the current king of Judah, and he is the grandson of Uzziah, a key transitional figure in Judah’s historic relationship to God from “maybe faithful” to “definitely unfaithful.” Ahaz is terrified because of the threat before him, shaking like a leaf we might say (v2). The other two kings are making their own preparation to defend against the eventual Assyrian attack by creating (forcing) a growing army. The current plan is to remove Ahaz from the throne and replace him with a puppet king, the son of Tabeel (v6). War is coming!
The combined forces approaching Jerusalem are definitely too much for the army of Judah, but the king is at the upper pool making preparations for siege anyway (v3). What choice does he have? What hope is there? You get the feel of utter distress. It is why Isaiah’s later prophecies (the content of last week’s sermon) talks about deep darkness and a dawning light (9:2).
I can’t imagine looking out across the land and seeing clouds of dust in the distance and knowing that the cloud is a result of thousands of marching soldiers… I might feel hopeless, even panic. Maybe both…
Ahaz was hopeless.
Have you felt this before? Crisis can bring this sensation; it reveals what is out of our control or it makes you feel like what was in your hand has now been taken from you… The mundane can do this as well: the daily grind of overload and stress, or monotonous boredom, again and again and again. On repeat. One more time. Both realities can be crushing. Both can bring hopelessness. Both need the power of a sustaining help.
The question is: what fills that need? What provides that strength?
Personal question: Where do you turn when you begin feeling this pinch? Think about it…
God knew what the heart of Ahaz felt. And God sent His prophet.
Actually, God sent His prophet and the son of His prophet: Isaiah, “you and Shear-jashub your son” (v3) go and meet Ahaz. God always has a purpose, and the Bible often displays purpose (or significance) in names. This is particularly true in the way He worked in and through His prophets. Often the children were pictures of future events or potential outcomes of coming choices.
Here we get a picture of two choices approaching Ahaz in the two people: Shear-jashub, if you check your footnotes, means “a remnant will return,” and Isaiah, whose name means “Jehovah’s Salvation.” In essence, what is about to be offered is a way of salvation or a way of destruction that will require a remnant (but even that option holds promise! Did you catch that?).
God speaks to Ahaz and tells him that none of the plans of his enemies will stand (v7), God’s people will not be crushed as he fears, and that to stand firm he must stand by faith (v9)—otherwise he will not stand (i.e., he and Jerusalem will be overtaken). BUT God is more kind and generous that even a story of salvation—He attempts to meet Ahaz where this struggling king is and then strengthen his failing faith: verse 11- “Ask a sign of the LORD your God, let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” In other words, God says He will grant any sign under heaven and on earth, some particular evidence that God’s Word is sure and trustworthy. Some visible support that Ahaz (and God’s people) will in fact be delivered.
But in v12 Ahaz turns God down through a display of false piety: “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”
At first glance, Ahaz is a holy man! He’s using the same Deuteronomy citation as our Lord Jesus in His own temptations! Ahaz is humble here, right?? Wrong. Testing God is definitely condemned when the requester demands that God prove Himself as trustworthy. Here, though, God is offering Ahaz a particular gift to strengthen his faith. Here God is gently and generously meeting Ahaz where he is in his own despair.
That in itself is a wonderful scene of God’s tender care. Meeting him where he was.
And yet Ahaz responds ONLY to the prophet, a denial of God’s real presence in His Word; and in that denial a picture of Ahaz's refusal to believe God’s Word, confirming his lack of faith and dependance upon God. Oh no.
Here’s a practical summary:
In the eyes of Ahaz, the Word of God through His prophet is no more than a nice sentiment. “It sounds really good, and if God (if He’s even there, Ahaz might add) wants to act in that way, wonderful. But your offer of a ‘sign’ means nothing… I have fortification work to do.” The words of the prophet bear no real and practical significance. They have lost their weight.
We should ask ourselves again: is this what Christmas has become in our hearts? A good story, but deep down we consider it to be of little or no significance. If it hasn’t, the temptation of both our human flesh and the devil is to make it so. The plan of Satan is always to turn the Word of God into nothing more than a nice thing… with no real and practical strength. Losing all its weight.
Ahaz was crushed under his hopeless situation and displayed a lack of true heart trust in God as a result. He did not take God up on His offer, actually refusing the kindness of the LORD. Isaiah knew this as he said “Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?” Weary or “use up” here presents the idea that Ahaz has rejected the last of God’s offers for deliverance before temporary judgment comes; not that God was actually out of patience. We know He is not out of patience or run dry of gracious deliverance because God still gives His promise and a sign to affirm it’s fulfillment:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (v14)
God made a promise that His people will not be destroyed, instead there would be a remnant (Isaiah’s son’s name) and through the most unlikely, actually impossible, of events there would be deliverance and new life. Immanuel, which means “God with us,” will come. Let’s now briefly consider the power and permanence of this promise.
2. The Power of God’s Promise: Strong as the Promise Maker
If you flip over to Matthew 1 and start reading at verse 18 (through 25), we get to see this promise being fulfilled! Joseph discovers that his young fiancé is now with child, and because of the honorable man that he is he (a) needs to break off the engagement [so firm a commitment in their time that the word “divorce” is used!], and (b) do it quietly because he doesn’t want to publicly shame her. Side note: this is a very honorable way to interact with the sin of a loved one, in private and with gentleness (although Mary wasn’t actually sinning).
BUT Joseph is informed by an angel through a dream that Mary has not transgressed; instead the opposite! She has acted in faith, trusting what God has said (more on this next Sunday, btw!).
Let’s pause, and think about what I said before that summary: Reading vv18-25 we get to see God’s promise fulfilled! Meaning, God kept His Word. What He said was true. All that He said He would do, He did!
This can’t be overlooked, because it means that God’s Word has POWER. The promise He makes does not come without a sustaining weight. Though all of life is falling down (or feels like it!), though all our flesh and the efforts of the devil are telling us that His Word was “for another time” or “for a different purpose” or “not practically applicable.” Or whatever else. Because we have both Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:18-25, we get to see the power of God’s Word… the power of His promise: that it shall come to pass.
It is strong enough to outlast the coming and going of world powers. At this point, Assyria rose into power, and fell. Babylon rose into power, and fell. Persia rose into power, and fell. Then the Roman Empire grew until the “fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4:4), and God fulfilled His promise!
Second here, we see that God’s Word is strong enough to overcome human obstacles. When God offered Ahaz to pick the sign that would affirm His Word as trustworthy and true, I don’t think Ahaz would have picked what God gave…. What would you have picked? Speak to me audibly? (God was kind of already doing that!) Give me insight and wisdom beyond all men (like Solomon)? What would convince?
God chose something seemingly ordinary yet miraculous. Two points about God’s power concerning Mary bearing God’s Son, Jesus. First, the time that passed between Isaiah and Jesus was roughly 700 years! We mentioned the kingdoms that rose and fell. But pertaining to God’s people, this is long enough for a royal line (the kingly line of David) to pitter down to a poor nobody carpenter in a nobody town. Hope of a Davidic king was waning. God was outlasting the human obstacle of time, and in so doing actually fulfilling aspects of His promise (Is. 7:15 refers to a position of poverty as “curds and honey” were known to be the most affordable and simple food). Second, and the more obvious, God chose to use the natural means of human production in a supernatural way: without “knowing a man” (Bible terms) Mary was bearing a son “by the power of the Holy Spirit” not the power of man. Because this Son was of the Father above. God overcame the human limitation of conception.
What God says, He does. What God says will happen, will happen. What God promises, He will bring to pass. Perhaps not exactly in the way you expect… but there is power in God’s promise—Because the Promise Maker, God Himself, never breaks His promise. Wow. And Amen!
Take in that last bit slowly: In Isaiah 7 and Matthew 1 God has proven that His Word is trustworthy; God’s power cannot be thwarted by anything. What does this mean for you and me? That God is just as trustworthy as He was then, and that His Word is just as powerfully sure. And His Word’s impact is received and experienced through the same means… the means Ahaz refused and the means Mary displayed: by faith.
What God has said is trustworthy, and our call is to trust Him by faith. Trust that His provision is what we need (again, maybe not what we expect or what we want at the time). Trust that His timing is what is good. Trust that His Word truly feeds the soul, produces wisdom, brings about a steadiness not our own… actually gives LIFE.
God fulfilled His promise to enter the world through the miraculous, yet ordinary, means of child birth… BUT that’s not the end goal of His fulfilled promise of the sign. Remember, God was offering a sign to mark (a) that His promise was true and (b) when his activity was beginning.
It is the reality of God’s promised activity that completes the picture of our non-expiring hope… and presents for us the Permanence of God’s Promise.
3. The Permanence of God’s Promise: Hope that Doesn’t Expire
Is. 7:10-11 present God offering to Ahaz the chance to request a sign. Why would God offer a sign to Ahaz? The sign was going to affirm the faithfulness of God’s promise to deliver. The sign itself was not going to be the final act of God, it was going to be a distinct pointer to His activity. Again, it was merely to affirm the trustworthiness and the strength of God’s promise.
Therefore, being able to observe the sign is a gift to His people that what He promised was happening—but again, what did He promise would happen? To Ahaz, He promised that He would not allow the growing enemy to have victory over God’s people. Take this promise in conjunction with God’s overarching, big picture promises throughout the OT to deliver, atone for, and restore His people (Is. 9, 53, Jer. 31 and others) we are now looking at the beginnings of God restoring ALL THINGS! Saving all things. Crushing the head of the serpent, fulfilling the signs of the covenant and all the rest! And HOW? By coming Himself… which is what is in our text: “…and shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’.” (Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23)
Quick Illustration: Mere presence is enough to shape an outcome… We see the power of presence in stories. In Lord of the Rings it is the presence of Gandalf that rids the fellowship of fear. In the Chronicles of Narnia it is Aslan that strengthens the hearts of the heroes and ensures victory. In Harry Potter it is Dumbledore who produces a security in times of hardship. All of these are mere pictures… simple displays of a greater presence, a deeper security, a stronger strength.
I will be with you! His name means it, His actions display it, and His continued promise affirms that it will NEVER BE UNTRUE. Jesus is IMMANUEL; really and truly, God has made His place intimately with His people… with you. Think about what the presence of God means for us in struggle, in hardship, in sadness.
The book of Matthew is beautifully bookended with this covenantal promise. Here, at the start of Jesus’ human life, God is stepping into the picture as Immanuel, God with us. He would dwell with us (Jn 1:14), know our struggle personally and experience victory on our behalf (Heb. 4:15-16), bear our sin and be rejected in or place (Is. 53:3-4), finally be put to death instead of us, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Pet. 3:18).
In this respect, God with us is to give us life and rescue us from death—his promised activity accomplished!
Flip to the end of Matthew and Jesus gives another promise: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20). The promise of His presence is extended to the end of time itself and beyond… Here, God with us is to assure us of His continued work (in and through us!) that will be one day be completed; all things new (Rev. 21:5).
The POWER of God’s promise to restore has not run dry, instead He is powerfully at work through us and in us. It is a promise that is PERMANENT. With this in mind, our fight is to follow the example of faith Mary gives and avoid the pitfalls of Ahaz.
Through faith, the Christmas story is a story that surpasses merely being “good.” It becomes what it is supposed to be: a promise that fortifies our hearts in the midst of hardship, trial, and the mundane alike. GOD is with you. And if God is with you, Life itself is with you… in you.
May we walk in faith, following our God who is trustworthy in His promise, powerful in His effectiveness, and permanent in His faithfulness to be near, present and at work. And may the life that results be naturally displayed, in this season and every season. Amen.
Christmas is coming!
How do I know? Look around…listen.
The lights are being strung. I see Christmas trees in many foyer windows as I drive through our neighborhood (including my own!). Amy Grant’s “Tender Tennessee Christmas” has already been played in our house, and Nat King Cole singing of Jack Frost nipping at your nose (and other classics!) is now heard daily in gas stations, shopping centers, and public markets. The holiday festivities are gearing up in large ways as they do every year. The same is true in the church—The Advent Season is NOW! If your church celebrates, like ours, with the traditional candle lighting and scripture reading during Advent then you are fully aware that festivities are here.
A Celebration of Waiting
The Advent Season is interesting because it is a celebration of waiting. Have you considered that? The term Advent means “arrival,” so as the weeks pass there is a building anticipation toward the arrival of God’s promise, but all of this is framed in waiting. At the heart of this waiting is a faith-filled anticipation of the promised Prince of Peace. So, every year we remember the miracle of Jesus’ birth—and we should! Not only as a specific act of worship of God, honoring this uniquely magnificent event, but it serves as a reminder for us to STOP and consider our place in history: living between the Advents. Jesus’ birth is not the only Advent, it was the first Advent. The second Advent is still to come and with it the renewal of ALL THINGS (Rev. 21:5).
I want to use the next few posts to consider how our interaction with this Advent Season can be magnified by considering both advents — both what has been accomplished and what is to come. This means our celebration of Advent is both a worshipful remembering of Jesus’ first coming and also a faith-filled anticipation of what is coming when He returns… both having great impact on each of our “todays” until that time comes. The first question is: are we waiting well?
What are we waiting for?
The Israelites were looking for and anticipating the arrival of a leader who would release them from oppression and set them on their feet once again as a nation united to God and under His leadership. What came with the first advent was the arrival of a leader who released them from the deeper oppression their hearts experienced under sin and set them by faith on their feet as a people with personal relationship with the God of Heaven. It was not the way leaders expected things to go, but God provided what His people didn’t realize they needed: soul rescuing. And with this salvation came the gift of God’s mission to be carried out by the following generations until Jesus returns.
We look back and are able to celebrate the steps of anticipation experienced by God’s people in a four-week period every year, but I fear we forget we remain in our own time of anticipation and waiting. SO, what are we waiting for? Like Israel we look for fulfillment; prophetic promises not of inauguration but of finalization. That finalization is a redemptive reality as well as an actual place wrapped up together in what we know as “Heaven.”
Revelation 21:1-5 says “All things new” (5) is the extent of God’s final redemption and this on the tail end of His own permanent arrival with His people (3). Heaven is coming, brought by Jesus Himself, and with it God’s presence, the ultimate and complete removal of brokenness and death, as well as the healing of what has been endured by His people (4). We are waiting for complete wholeness, peace, and joy unhindered — each coming as a result of God’s presence. Does that not sound incredible?! Those really are tidings of comfort and joy that we can sing about!!
Beware of the “That’s Tomorrow” Attitude
Heaven, as both a place and a reality of redemption, is an interesting topic. Generally, it seems to receive very little focus as a source of practical influence, because (after all) it is not yet here. David MacLeod reported, “77 percent of Americans believe in Heaven. Yet many do not want to talk about it.”1 And why would people not want to talk about Heaven? It is likely that the topic is largely viewed as irrelevant for today. The conclusion might go: “Sure, Heaven is a real place, but it comes after death, so it has few (if any) implications for living life now.” This is not the attitude that Scripture paints, instead we read of Heaven, and the anticipated finalization of God’s promises, as one of the weightiest motivations for the Christian life now. The “That’s Tomorrow” attitude stifles our faith-filled anticipation of God’s promises which should actually be shaping our today. Have you experienced that attitude? I confess I have. So what should things look like?
Waiting like Israel…
What should our response be as we begin experiencing another month of Advent this holiday season? We need to ask ourselves if we are waiting well. And this actually looks a lot like Israel before the birth of their long-awaited Savior… which is the perfect framework for us as God’s people! Their waiting was filled with longing. Their waiting was filled with hope. Their waiting gave them strength for the present. Their waiting motivated their worship, because they trusted God’s Word of promise of what was to come. With that in mind, we see that waiting looks far more active than passive! I wonder if that is how your waiting looks? I ask myself the same questions:
Am I waiting with a sense of longing, deeply desiring His fulfilled promise?
Does my waiting develop a strong sense of hope, knowing that He will fulfill His promise?
Is that hope-filled waiting giving me strength for my struggle today?
Does my present waiting draw my heart to worship a God who is trustworthy to fulfill all that He has promised?
As Advent begins…
Let us celebrate with renewed worship the reality Jesus has accomplished in His first coming. He miraculously took on human flesh to take on human sin to bring about Divine redemption for your sake! Wow! And we live because of that!
As you read your Advent study (I’ve named a few below if you’re looking 2) allow yourself to be caught up in the anticipation God’s people had throughout the Old Testament. Capture the longing, sense their hope, witness the strengthening effects of God’s promise… and then take a moment to consider how those parallel our waiting today and how our worship this holiday season can (and should) become marks of our worship throughout the year and throughout our lives as we embrace our reality between the Advents. Trusting, Longing, and Hoping in our returning Prince of Peace. That is definitely a reason to tell others about the significance of the first Advent, because in it we have the foundation for the unlimited joy and celebration of the second that will have no end.
Next time we consider the picture in Isaiah of God’s redeeming works that redefine our dignity in this life—getting practical about the impact of Advent. These works began in the first advent and are finished in the second.
1. David J. MacLeod, “The Seventh ‘Last Thing’: The New Heaven and the New Earth (Rev. 21:1-8) Bibliotheca Sacra 157 (October-December), 439.
2. The Advent Jesse Tree is a great daily advent reading for families and adults. Come Let Us Adore Him is a more recent advent devotional by Paul David Tripp. Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller gives several background pieces surrounding the birth narratives that help enlarge our celebration of Christmas. The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper is another great advent devotional for teens/adults.
As a child, contemplating an upcoming vacation produced emotions of extreme excitement alongside simultaneous feelings of irrelevance. The days of excitement would carry with them my own efforts of preparation. Now, there were other days with less enthusiasm; days I felt that there was absolutely no need to do anything, because in time the trip would take care of itself. As trivial as our view of travel preparation might seem, there are interesting points of comparison to our Christian understanding of Heaven. And it turns out, our view of Heaven can be a great source of strength in the midst of situations like community-changing storms.
The Bible is a wonderful story of God’s work in the world, and Heaven can rightly be seen as the climax of the biblical narrative. The final scene in the entire Bible is one of God joining man in a New Heaven and New Earth. The divide between what the Bible says (i.e. what Christians should believe) and what the modern world understands concerning Heaven is no small gap. Instead, MacLeod describes it as a “great gulf,” and continues, “it is the difference between hope and despair… between two totally different views of life.” One simple explanation of hope can be looking down the path of life (into the future) and seeing God there with you; despair is looking into the future and not seeing God with you.
This is the reality: Hope comes from a true belief in Heaven, and despair comes from its neglect. Therefore, our consideration of Heaven should invigorate a hope in us as we trust our God to fulfill His promises. This is where we start.
Let’s briefly look at one passage that presents the incredible coming reality. In the last book of the Bible, we see Jesus returning and triumphing as King of all Creation. At the end of His victory over evil, God declares a marvelous promise; a promise that should melt our hearts: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Here God is speaking directly to John from His throne (not through an angel messenger), and what does He promise? The transformation of all things from their old, corrupted state, to a state of newness; He speaks of the grand work of re-creating every piece of the world.
Read that passage again: “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Let’s quickly consider three things. First, the scope of God’s intended work. Second, the depths of God’s work. Finally, let us remember the initiator of this work.
1. All things make up the scope of God’s work.
“All" in Greek here gives us “all, every, the whole.” The whole, made up of smaller parts, each carrying its own weight and influence. It’s like telling a child, I will help you built the whole puzzle. I will be involved until the whole is complete as a result of each individual part being found and put in its place. All and every. Jesus used the same phrase, “all things” in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He had just explained all the kinds of things we get anxious about and think we need to directly pursue without end to ensure our provision. Instead, Jesus says pursue God’s kingdom trusting that “all and every, the whole” of our needs will be tended to by God Himself. Here God is again highlighting the scope of His influence: Every aspect and element of this world, your interaction with it, your heart, and everything else in between will be directly changed by the power of God. Changed in what way? That is next.
2. New is the depth of God’s work.
The greek term gives the idea of freshness, the kind that comes with being young. The depths of the redemptive work is such that “all things” are addressed with the skilled surgical hands of creation’s Creator, where the corrupting influence of sin is removed, and the original intent for His creatures is realized in full relationship with Himself. If you remember my stories recently of playing soccer again in the local adult soccer league, the result of inconsistent exercise combined with the nature of aging resulted in lots of pain afterwards and a couple tweaked muscles. Nothing highlights the fragile reality of life than the simple process of aging. And what is happening with age? The absence of “new” or “freshness” is having its effects. God’s promise is a work that recreates His world, and you, His Beloved, with the greatest freshness and newness possible—an existence (a) without sin and its effects, and (b) with unbroken and unhindered relationship with God.
After hearing points 1 and 2, pause for a moment and think about a few aspects of life that will be made new. What comes to mind?
These are a few I thought of: the burden of sin we daily carry is completely removed; the tension that exists when interacting with others over hard topics is subsided; the continual heartache felt from the loss of a loved one is relieved; the barriers that exist between fellow man that are direct results of fallen human natures are crumbled to dust; your ongoing fight against sin, maybe a particular sin that seems to be a life-long struggle, is granted final victory as that thorn is removed completely. Slow down, and think about His promise. What is your biggest, ongoing burden? Your continued prayer request? The thing you desire to see untainted by sin? “ALL things NEW”—and here is the heart of our hope: the intimacy of the redemption.
3. I am making is the promise.
God says, “I will do it." Often in a movie or show we hear the line, “I’ll do it myself!” in a frustrated tone, when everyone else has failed. Not so with our good heavenly Father. Instead, His plan from the beginning was to handle it Himself. This means the promised life is not provided by a kind organization. This newness is not donated by a social group. This promise is yet again a mark of God’s intimate care for YOU. The care and the attention to detail, the scope and the depths of our hearts needing healing, can only be served by the Creator. And He’s working even now as a result of His ultimate gift, Jesus. God has proven the lengths He is willing to go by giving Jesus over to death so that you would be set free.
This means life is forever changed. You have a hope that cannot be removed, and that hope is toward a firm promise that everything will be made whole, complete, nothing missing, and nothing broken. And why? Because we serve a Father who loves us that well. Engaging with dangers, with stresses, with disappointments, with heartbreaks, even storms… each take on a new lens when we have a God who is actively working now and forever. Without such a promise at the end of life, there is no ground to have a peace when considering what comes after death; there is no ground for hope.
Let us take a few moments to pray for those who have seen their lives reshaped by this storm. They have lost treasured possessions, some their homes. They may have lost family members. Now is when they need the comfort of God’s embrace. Now is when they need the reassurance of a Father, that everything will be OK.
Let us consider God’s Word to us, and be encouraged—be filled with hope, because God is making all things new.
Let’s talk about it:
When you think about Heaven, does it shape today or is it of little to no consequence?
What things can you think of that need to be made “new”?
What does God’s all-encompassing promise show about His care for you?
For more reflection: Isaiah 65:17-25, 2 Peter 3:1-13, and Revelation 21:1-8.
You desperately want a name – an authentic, unique-to-you name. You cannot help but long for this – it is an innate need. Middle-school classmates are typically not kind enough nor wise enough to see underneath and call you who you really are. When they misname you or abusively name you, you try to make a name for yourself. But naming ourselves never works because we cannot get under all the masks either. We are too close and too afraid to name the core of ourselves.
For us today, perhaps the most poignantly practical image is the dwelling that God has established through His Spirit in us. No longer are we seeking a Tabernacle or Temple. Instead, this is a very real presence that the Bible lays out as the foundation of every other aspect of our transformed identities.
"...through our willingness to face our own brokenness we come face to face with the dark and disruptive grace of God."
Hear a summary of one of O'Connor's short stories and why it's a good read to consider.
Resolution season is under way, and there is likely a spike in Bible reading plan commitments... As you turn to God’s Word this year, perhaps the commitment should not be increased quantity but increased quality.
Thanksgiving means our nation has, in general, taken a week off singing alongside Ariel, “I want more!” (my daughter loves princess songs, so the lyrics are fresh!) and, instead, we have given an intentional look at the gifts we have stacked up in our little treasure troves; we took a break from the “who cares, no big deal” attitude and have acknowledged the presence of grace in our lives.
That is the primer: acknowledging the existence of grace.
The point being: there is always a value associated with something that is lost, and the more something is valued, the more its loss is felt.
In Luke 15, Jesus told three parables about lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.
In various forms, time is spent directing attention toward the upcoming event so that the numerous pressures and distractions are not able to steal focus. The consistent efforts to focus display a respect for the upcoming event. I would also say preparation time admits a natural struggle to be fully engaged. If it is so necessary to set aside time to get the mind right before regular sporting events, how much more of a priority should it be before the activities that feed our heart and soul?
Why would we be putting a blog together when there are so many other incredibly wonderful options already out there? Are we trying to be hip and up to par with the Christian culture? No, that's not it. Are we aiming to be noticed and made famous? No, neither of us have the face for that. Is it because we have a wisdom that no one else has and we feel we must share it with the world? No. Well, that's not quite it.
As pastors, our desire is to instruct and minister to the members of our church in such a way that they are actually equipped to serve others with the grace and love of Jesus.