Social graces require that there are three things never to be discussed in polite company: Politics, religion, and money.
All my life, I have never been one to discuss politics. Mostly, I have been not been interested. As I have gotten older, I am at least more aware and better prepared to discuss politics, if cornered. Still, my peace-keeping personality generally shies away from bringing up subjects with political themes.
Politics are supposed to be about ideologies; their built around how you see the world. Isn’t everything? I see the world through a Judeo-Christian worldview. That means, I understand things through the way I’ve been taught to understand the Bible. Interestingly enough, the Bible is also given to many different interpretations. It has always amazed me that a Supreme Court that evaluates everything based on one document (The Constitution) is generally split 5-4. Aren’t they all looking at the same document? The Bible is like that. Aren’t we all reading the same book? And yet, we have hundreds of Christian denominations.
So, I understand that my worldview is MY worldview and I admit that I could be wrong on certain topics. Somebody has to be! We can’t all be right. However, we all have convictions. These aren’t preferences. These are my convictions. Based on my worldview, I believe abortion is wrong. I believe we need to stand with Israel because they are God’s chosen people. I believe traditional marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe in eternity and the only way to get there is through the person of Jesus Christ. In my lifetime, these beliefs that were once mainstream have become marginalized and even now are considered dangerous. The Bible spawns ‘hate speech’. At this is mostly because it makes my view look different than yours. Narrow-mindedness? Please.
The Democrats took the name “God” out of their party platform in 2012. When they tried to reinstate it in 2016, it elicited boos and controversy. Apparantly the separation of church and state, which was an integral part of the founding of our country, now has a new meaning. They have left God out altogether. At least, they have left the God of my Judeo-Christian worldview behind.
Today, the political fight is not about ideology. It is about light versus darkness. It’s a stark struggle between good and evil. Donald Trump is not the enemy. Our enemy is not flesh and blood, but the rulers, authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Jesus, a man who came for the good of the world, was crucified by the religious and political leaders of his day. While Donald Trump is no Jesus, he is light to a dark world and the darkness can not abide it. They are trying to crucify him also.
The reason I can no longer be silent about politics is that it’s now overtly spiritual. Christians, or at least those who share the Judeo-Christian worldview of the traditional evangelical community can no longer be silent. I know I won’t win friends this way. I know I’ll lose family relationships, but to be silent while babies are being murdered for body parts when they are still in the womb is unthinkable anymore.
As David Platt says in his book “Counter Culture”, every Christian can do three things:
Not every Republican is good and not every Democratic is bad. But the battle lines of spiritual warfare have been drawn between light and darkness. I’ve waited long enough. I’m in.
It's been almost a year since our dog, Stryder, died. Like all families, we can say he was the perfect pet and miss him all the time. I put together a few words together to share with my family when we buried him and thought it might be a helpful document for anyone who needs words to share during the loss of family pet:
But however and whenever we part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget poor Tiny Tim—shall we—or this first parting that there was among us?"
Death is a part of life. Learning to face it and deal with it is as much a part of life as breathing.
· “The risk of love is loss and the price of loss is grief. But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” –
And so we are grateful for ____________________. We remember the many ways he brought us LIFE and taught us more about the unconditional love of God in so many ways. I know the world would be a much better place if everyone learned the unconditional love of a dog. If they have a fault at all, it is that their lives are too short.
But we know that going in. We know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with him, never failing to share his joy or delight in his innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price.”
So, we never really owned _________________. We had him on a lease. I’m thankful that the lease was this long.
And so as we bury_________________ in the ground today, I know that his final resting place is in our hearts and will be there, truly, forever.
We shall never forget this first parting among us or our faithful family friend, __________________
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
Prayer: You are our comfort God. As we mourn the loss of our pet, ______________ I pray that you would help us to be brave; to face the days ahead without him. Thank you for giving him to us, this little leap in my spirit who brought us so much joy and so much happiness. In many ways, he was the embodiment of you in the life. He taught us and showed us love. For his life forever tied to ours, we are grateful.
Matthew 7: 28,29, “When Jesus had finished saying these things (The Sermon on the Mount), the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
What is a believer’s authority? Where did it come from and what is it for?
The Greek word used in Matthew 7 is Exousia. It is a derivative of the word, exesti. The two words used together combine the idea of right and might. It includes permission, authority, right, liberty power to do anything. It is used other places in Matthew, all of which connotate authority and power. Matt 7:29; 8:9; 9:6, 8; 10:1; 21: 23, 24, 27; 28: 18. It appears in the gospels 40 times; the New Testament 87 times and more times in Revelation than any other book of the Bible (18).
Our best understanding of authority comes in the form of our military. It is an organized, structured environment that is predicated on authority from the top to the bottom. The mission is key and everyone in the chain of command is committed to the accomplishment of that goal.
In Luke 7 a military man (Roman Centurion) asks Jesus to come and heal his servant. On the way, the centurion sends a servant to say that he is unworthy to have Jesus in his home. “But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
The Roman military was a well-oiled machine. The centurion would have been responsible for about 100 soldiers. He is a man who had authority and was under authority and he understood the implications of both. His response enlisted Jesus’ amazement. That’s noteworthy. In his response, Jesus connects the man’s understanding of authority to faith. Obviously then, understanding the nature of authority is important to our faith.
You see, the supernatural world has laws just like the natural world. Gravity is a law of nature. The law of sowing and reaping is a spiritual law. “What a man sows, he will also reap”. (Gal 6:7) Authority is a spiritual law and the nature of the supernatural is built upon an order and structure where authority is delegated from top to bottom. This is true of both good and evil in the spiritual realm.
Jesus delegate authority to his disciples in Matthew 28 for the purpose of making more disciples. He also gave them authority over evil forces, sickness, and disease. All of Jesus’ disciples have this authority. But where did it originally come from? For what purpose?
In Genesis 1: 26-28, we are told that we were made in the image of God. That subject is a deep theological doctrine. But, in that same section, we are told to have dominion, rule over, and subdue all of creation. The Hebrew word for dominion or rule is “radah’. It’s a royal word. This is the dominating rule of a king.
From the beginning, we were created to reign. Of course, the consequences of sin made this job much more complicated and difficult. But God has been at work since then to restore ALL of His Creation to it’s proper order and the scenes in Revelation 2:26; 5:10; 20:6; 20:4; clearly show that is what we’ll end up doing.
I would go as far as to say that the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Protestant doctrine) was incorrect when it said that the primary purpose of man on earth is to bring God glory. I believe Scripture clearly shows that the primary purpose of man on earth is to rule and reign with Christ forever.
We will reign and rule over the angels. I would go as far as saying that the Westminster Shorter Catechism is wrong about the chief purpose of man being to glorify God. I would say it is to reign with him on high forever.
It is important to realize that this is no sideshow in the biblical story. Man’s ruling over creation on God’s behalf is a foundational and organizing reality of the biblical outlook on the world. One can get a hint of this from the consideration that as this is man’s task set out in the very first chapter of the Bible, so is it man’s climactic vocation in the very last chapter of the Bible—“They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). Dominion over creation is man’s original task set out in Genesis 1, and reigning with Christ is his ultimate end, envisioned in Revelation 22. It is my contention therefore that Christian sanctification and discipleship is fundamentally a matter of training to reign.
Anyone who understands the nature of eternity and the supernatural will then understand that our most important task is to become more and more like Christ. That is what we call discipleship. God is trying to build up character in us that he can trust to do what he has equipped and empowered us to do not only in this life, but forever. He doesn’t want to do anything for us that we can do ourselves. (Great parenting advice.) And so, he gives us the example of Jesus, the power of His Holy Spirit and uses every day circumstances and situations to build that character in us. This is really the story of the Parable of Talents in Matthew 25: 14-30. The Judgement Seat of the Christ becomes that place of accountability where we are rewarded (or not) for our work on this earth and then given the corresponding places of honor (or dishonor) in the Kingdom of God where we will certainly exercise our gifts forever. Work is a holy thing and it will certainly continue forever. The notion of heaven being a 24/7 church service is only for those who are young in the faith or just immature.
And what is our authority given to us for? What is the purpose of our authority? In Matthew 10, Jesus calls his disciples together and sends them out with authority to accomplish the mission of healing every sickness and disease and driving out evil spirits. In Luke 10, he sends out 72 more. We aren’t given their ‘marching orders’, but we know it included driving out evil spirits because they returned saying “even the demons submit to us IN YOUR NAME.” In the life of Christ we also see that he had authority over nature and its elements.
We, as followers of Christ must learn to exercise our God-given authority. It is part of what the Holy Spirit is working in us as Christ-followers. Remember that Jesus has no rival and neither do you when you appropriate His authority in His name. Satan is NOT God’s equal. Everything is under Christ’s feet.
Last week, I spoke at a church about change. It's the new year and I wanted to encourage the believers that Christians must constantly seek transformation through intentional disciple. That's what we call 'discipleship'. As Eugene Peterson calls it, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction".
Most people want to address the gospel as 'sin management'. But sincere followers of Christ are drawn to the beauty of walking with Christ every moment. The message of Jesus was, "Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand." The inference was NOW. Repent NOW. Change the way you're thinking, NOW. The Kingdom of God is available to you NOW. Those who never frame their life in view of eternity are satisfied with salvation being the start and end point of our Christian faith. But discipleship is the key to abundance and victory NOW. Why wait until you die to live eternally?
My Home Church just finished a study of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) with a message on verses 24-29, which talk about building your house on the ROCK. That was Jesus call to discipleship. If you are doers of the word and NOT JUST hearers, you can learn to live in the moment in light of eternity. Remember: THIS is not about THIS.
In his benchmark work, "The Divine Conspiracy" Dallas Willard talks about the elephant in the church is this very issue of discipleship. It's more and more evident as consumer Christianity creeps deeper into the psyche of brick and mortar buildings where money drives the train...and the training.
In Matthew 5, Jesus walks up to a man who has been lame for 38 years and asks the most unusual question, "Do you want to be healed?" Now, if it wasn't Jesus asking the question, I would think, "What a stupid question". But the fact that Jesus asks it is a revelation to us. Do YOU want to be healed? Do YOU want to live victorious? Do YOU want to have an abundant life here on this earth? Do you?
Discipleship won't work unless you do. You must DO something. God will NOT transform you into the image of Christ apart from you. Your part is practicing the disciplines necessary to bring change. That, with the work of the Holy Spirit and the every day issues of life, is all you need to start becoming a disciple of Jesus. But....do you WANT THAT?
Building your life on the ROCK means having the faith of Christ not just a faith in Christ. The latter will get you saved. Is that enough for you? Then your gospel is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is that you can be TRANSFORMED now.
Willard says that any curriculum for Christ-likeness must include the following two things:
It's four days until Christmas. One of the most needed messages during this time of the year is God is your PEACE. The stress and anxiety of gift giving, busy schedules, family dynamics, loss, grief and living make PEACE seem distant this time of year. But Isaiah 9:6 says that Jesus, the child in the manger, would be called a Prince of PEACE. All those who were touched by the Christmas story were promised peace. The angel told Zechariah, the shepherds, Mary, "Don't be afraid." The angel said that the announcement of Christmas would bring the blessing of peace in Luke 2:14.
Peace was prophesied. Peace was promised. Peace was provided.
So where is it now?
While Americans tend to be myopic when considering their experience, everyone's experience, there is no doubt that world peace seems impossible, which it is if you understand spiritual things from a biblical perspective.
Here's a newsflash: Global Peace Index 2018 says the world is less peaceful today than at any other time in the last decade. Here is the list of things you can do to bring world peace. (Try not to laugh)
1 Start by stamping out exclusion
2 Bring about true equality between women and men
3 Share out wealth fairly
4 Tackle climate change
5 Control arms sales
6 Display less hubris, make more policy change
7 Protect political space
8 Fix intergenerational relations
9 Build an integrated peace movement
10 Look within
Of course, none of these things will produce world peace because there's sin in the world and the Prince of this world is Satan.
The kingdom of God through the coming of Jesus Christ offers real and LASTING peace for anyone who lives in that kingdom (both now AND forever.) Jesus himself said that the peace he offers is NOT like the peace the world gives. (John 14: 27) The peace of the world plays on your fears. The peace of God requires your trust. They say there are 365 references in the Bible to not be afraid. That's one for each day. (Phil 4: 6-8; Isaiah 26:3,4; John 16:33; Rom 14:17 are just a few of my favorites.) Gideon first gave God the name "Shalom", which means peace in Judges 6 during a time of great fear and trouble in Israel. And God IS Peace. He is three persons who work together in total unity. There is never a lack of perfect harmony between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is always PEACE. The characteristic will be the mark of his kingdom and should be the mark of every follower who bears the name of Christ.
Peace comes from exercising faith in the character of God and His Word. We can have peace in the midst of challenges when we remember that “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). It is not the absence of trouble any more than joy is the absence of sadness. It is all about being in the presence of God.
And so here is my recipe for PEACE this year. These are the things you can do to bring peace into your life...and it IS available NOW.
Recipe for Peace in your heart.
-Practice Presence. (Learn to walk with God ALL day)
-Grow a heart of thanksgiving.
-Intercede for others.
-Practice spiritual disciplines. (Col 3:5-14. This involves choosing life over death in your moment-to-moment choices.)
-Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.
-Keep your eyes on Jesus (Trust)
I actually wonder if people are interested in peace. It is available and they can have it. I believe the gifts of Christmas as celebrated during Advent: Hope; Joy; Peace are the marks that every Christian must bear if they are to shine in such a way as to attract others into the Kingdom of God.
The future kingdom of God will be peace-full. Isaiah 11:1-9 prophesies this place of perfect peace.
This Christmas, my prayer for you is the blessing of God in Romans 13:15 that brings all three of these Kingdom characteristics into one verse:
"May the God of HOPE fill you with all JOY and PEACE as you TRUST IN HIM, so that you may overflow with HOPE through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Come quickly Lord.
One of my favorite things to do when teaching children Bible stories is role play. The old adage, ‘kids say the darndest things’ is true for a reason. Recently, we were doing a Christmas production in a friend’s home using some simple dramatic conventions to tell the story of Christ’s birth. Afterwards, Samson, the four-year old of the house said that he wanted to play a part of the story. So, I dressed him up as the shepherd and I played the angel (typecasting) and we set out to recreate the scene when the angel appears to the shepherd. We gathered some makeshift props like the dog playing the sheep, which was harder to control and a mop handle for a staff. Then lights, camera and action! Samson acted afraid when the angel appeared. He showed surprise at the angel’s announcement and then wonder at the good news. Then….scene change. We traveled across the living room to the kitchen where Mary and Joseph were with the child in a stable. We recruited a couple of innocent bystanders eating cheese and crackers and grabbed a paper plate for the manger. The closest thing we could find to play the baby was a stuffed teddy bear. But no questions were asked as we entered the scene. I led him to the place with the line, So the shepherd said, ‘let’s go see this thing that the angel spoke of. When the shepherds arrived at the place where the baby laid, they bowed down. Samson took his cues perfectly. Sometimes, I like to give the kids a chance to adlib to see if they really understand what is going on in the scene as opposed to being directs as to what to say. So, I said, “And the shepherd said…..” Without lifting his gaze from the ‘manger’ he nodded and sweetly said, “Praise God.”
Wow. That’s it isn’t it? May the wonder and awe of Christmas surprise you with a greater revelation of the wonderful gift of God this Christmas.
Drain the Swamp! Donald Trump is not the first person that tried to do that. The religious establishment during the time of Jesus Christ was a cesspool filled with leaders that were mostly concerned with holding on to power. Jesus represented a real threat to their way of life. Disguised under the banner of ‘protecting the people’ from heresy, they created a campaign based on lies and fake news to destroy him; which they certainly did not.
Jesus called these people “Hypocrites”. It is derived from the Greek word “hupokrites” which means, “An expounder or interpreter of dreams, then an actor. That is what the Greeks used to call a stage player who acted under a mask impersonating a character. A counterfeit.” Ironic how the word parallels today’s ‘celebrities’ who espouse morality and preach how we all should live, while they live lives that are completely to the contrary. It’s easy to feel the same agitation that Jesus felt against the spirits of his adversaries.
In Luke 12: 1b, Jesus says, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which IS hypocrisy.” He called out their sin for what it was. They were hypocrites when it came to telling the people how to live and then living as if the same laws didn’t apply to them. They were somehow ‘above the law’, a reference I’ve heard leveled at our president during these impeachment hearings. Again, the hypocrisy of just that statement alone is astounding.
And in every case where Jesus confronted them, their response was always the same, “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to plot ways to kill Jesus….” (Luke 22:2…and others.) I love what Luke 13:17 says, “When he said this, his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.” (I have to admit that I do delight in how the president is winning in the battle against his/our adversaries.) Meanwhile, his enemies have been trying to destroy him since before he took the oath of office.
I can’t help but see the parallels of today’s political theatre. It is evident that the hypocrites of our Congress are trying to crucify a duly elected president because he represents a threat to their power. And there is no argument to be made when facts do not matter and deception reigns. Logic is thrown out the window and emotional tirades rue the day. President Trump is no Messiah (as his predecessor was labeled), but he clearly stands for values rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldviews. And those values, including nationalism, are vehemently opposed to whom the real villain is in this melodrama: GLOBALISM.
How long President Trump can stem the tide of these forces remains to be seen. But for now, at least, I am grateful for his leadership. I know there are many who disagree. But I see the parallels in Scripture and know the struggle is ultimately “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Ephesisans 6) And so, I’m reminded to keep praying.
Jesus didn’t succeed in ‘draining’ the swamp before he died. But his death made the way for the swamp to be drained. He ushered in the kingdom of God for all who believe and gave us power and authority to do the work. I am with President Trump and all he is trying to do. But he will not drain the swamp in his lifetime.
This swamp will be drained only when it is ruled by Jesus Christ. SOON.
Phil 4: 4,5, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, “REJOICE”. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. “
Joyful, joyful we adore thee
God of glory Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee
Opening to the sun above
Melt our hearts of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day.
These words were penned by Henry Van Dyke in 1907 in a poem called “Ode to Joy” and set to the tune of Beethoven’s last symphony, “Hymn of Joy”. It is as joyful a melody as you can imagine in this life and I find myself singing it regularly during this season of Advent.
In Luke 2: 6,7 it says, “While they (Mary and Joseph) were there (Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” Who among us can deny the joy of announcing a child is born to us? If you have children, do you remember waiting to tell someone that you were having a baby or that you were expecting a grandchild? The joy is evident in the way we tell others.
I longed for a good father-son relationship growing up. When I held my first born, a son, I felt all the possibilities in the world; a healing had begun in my spirit. My very first words to my son as I held him in my arms were, “We’re going to be best friends someday.” What JOY there is in announcing a birth. As a matter of fact the angels appeared in the very next scene with this pronouncement: “Behold I bring you good tidings of GREAT JOY.” It was like the extended family telling everyone the good news. And they SANG.. JOY was everywhere. Did you know that singing is one of the most joyous expressions we know?
This type of joy is not just a reflection of the moment. It is a reflection of God. Do you know that God experiences emotion? He is a personality. He’s not emotional. But to deny God’s emotions is to deny that he possesses personality. The Bible shows us he experiences anger (Ps 7:11; Deut 9:22),; laughter (Ps 37:13, 2:4), compassion (Ps 135:14, Judges 2:18), grief (Gen 6:6, Ps 78:40), and jealousy (Ex 20:5, 34:14) and others. He also experiences JOY. (Zeph 3:17, Is 62:5, Jeremiah 32:41).
The word “Joy” in the New Testament is “Chara”, which means, “inner gladness, delight or rejoicing. It’s always used to signify happiness based on spiritual realities independent of what happens. Do you see? Joy is not happiness. Happiness is based on what happens. Joy is an abiding sense of God’s spirit REGARDLESS of what happens. The Bible speaks of the joy we possess in Phil 4:4, 1, Thess 5: 6-8, Hebrews 12:2, and Rom 14:17, among others.
All of creation is joyful. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” One of the attirbutes in creation that reflects the attributes of the Creator is and should be JOY. Psalm 19:1,2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies declare his handiwork. Day after day they pour forth speech. Night after night they reveal knowledge. Can you even imagine the sky on the night of Jesus’ birth. The star itself was a galactic testimony of JOY and good news.
Jesus was joyful. He portrays a picture of himself in Luke 15 as the shepherd who rejoices over one lost sheep. Bruce Marchiano, who played Jesus in a recent video series of Matthew’s Gospel, played the part using ‘joy’ as the character’s spine. He was a joyous Jesus. Hebrews 1:9 says Jesus was anointed with the oil of joy!
And the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians says that the Spirit is JOYFUL. My point? Ps 16:11 says, “IN His presence is fullness of JOY”. The FULLNESS of joy. The Trinity; FATHER, SON, and SPIRIT, are all characterized by joy. Creation is joyful. What about us? What should be an identifiable marking of every Christian? You guessed it….JOY.
In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), Jesus said that the Master of the house rewarded the faithful servants and said, “You have been faithful in the small things, there fore I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into your master’s happiness (JOY) prepared for you since the beginning of time.” Hebrews 12:2 even says that Jesus endured the cross for the JOY set before him. There is not doubt that heaven will be filled with JOY as we abide in the Kingdom of God and the presence of the Holy Trinity. Heaven is certainly going to be a joyful place..
During the events of that first Christmas, the Bible says that Mary pondered all these things in her heart. No doubt these expressions of joy were a great blessing. But just a few verses later, in the same chapter, Luke talks about an event that happens at the Temple. A prophet named Simeon, who has been promised to see the Messiah, warns her that a ‘sword shall pierce your soul, also.” What parent can’t relate to that? They say children step on your toes when they’re young, but as they grow, they step on your heart; Once a parent, always a parent. And you can be assured that your kids will bring you some grief. Joy and sadness go together, just like the movie “Inside Out” so wonderfully portrayed. (Even if you never seen Pixar’s Inside Out, I recommend it.) The Bible says, “Consider it all (pure) JOY when you suffer trials of many kinds…” Trust in God and His purposes for your life bring not only brings peace. It brings joy.
The christian will go through trials and tribulations and even the dark night of the soul. Seasons are biblical. Emotionally-healthy spirituality understands that you won’t always be happy. But joy is abiding. If you don’t have joy, you need to stop and reflect. Meditate. Where am I in my walk with Christ? Is this a dark night of the soul where God is refining my faith in a fire. (If you’re wanting to know more about this biblical reality, I recommend the book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero.) Am I practicing the disciplines necessary to be in God’s presence. It is there that I find joy, even fullness of joy. Is there something about this season in my life that God wants to reveal that will build my character and extend his purposes in me? Remember in Psalm 51:12 that David says ‘restore to me the JOY of my salvation.” This was his cry during the dark night of his soul.
For many, Advent is not a joyous time. The loss of loved ones or tragedy or the dysfunction of life and family gatherings make it difficult. If grief has stolen your joy during this season, I encourage you to get counsel or seek help or look outward and not inward in regards to this lost sense of joy. While sadness and happiness may not coexist, joy and sadness can. Let the anointing of JOY cover you this blessed season.
Let the ADVENT-SURE begin: HOPE.
Jeremiah 33:14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."
It’s the first Sunday of Advent and our theme is Hope. The liturgical season of Advent marks the time of spiritual preparation by the faithful before Christmas. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30). It spans four Sundays and four weeks of preparation, although the last week of Advent is usually truncated because of when Christmas falls. (For instance, some years, the fourth Sunday of Advent is obviously on Sunday, and then that evening is Christmas Eve.)
The celebration of Advent has evolved in the spiritual life of the Church. The historical origins of Advent are hard to determine with great precision. In its earliest form, beginning in France, Advent was a period of preparation for the Feast of the Epiphany, a day when converts were baptized; so the Advent preparation was very similar to Lent with an emphasis on prayer and fasting which lasted three weeks and later was expanded to 40 days. In 380, the local Council of Saragossa, Spain, established a three-week fast before Epiphany. Inspired by the Lenten regulations, the local Council of Macon, France, in 581 designated that from November 11 (the Feast of St. Martin of Tours) until Christmas fasting would be required on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Eventually, similar practices spread to England. In Rome, the Advent preparation did not appear until the sixth century, and was viewed as a preparation for Christmas with less of a penitential bent.
The Church gradually formalized the celebration of Advent as a period of spiritual preparation for Christmas. The Gelasian Sacramentary, traditionally attributed to Pope St. Gelasius I (d. 496), was the first to provide Advent liturgies for five Sundays. Later, Pope St. Gregory I (d. 604) enhanced these liturgies composing prayers, antiphons, readings, and responses. Pope St. Gregory VII (d. 1095) later reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to four. Finally, about the ninth century, the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church year.
Despite the “sketchy” history behind Advent, the importance of this season remains to focus on the coming of our Lord. (The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming.”)
The theme of the first week in Advent is HOPE.
1. 1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
"he looked through her belongings in the hope of coming across some information"
2. 2. a feeling of trust.
The New Testament word for hope is Elpise: (GREEK) To anticipate usually with pleasure or confidence. (from a prism) (Romans 15:13)
The word ‘hope’ in Hebrew actually means ‘to expect’ or have some sort of ‘expectation’. This means we aren’t merely hoping it to be completely. We’re 100% expecting it to be completed. There should be no doubt anywhere in our mind concerning the Lord’s promises to us. So, you can see how closely the Advent theme and the HOPE theme are to one another.
“Hope” is commonly used to mean a wish : its strength is the strength of the person's desire. But in the Bible hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised and its strength is in His faithfulness.
Remember that HOPE is eternal. It will exist forever because HOPE is God. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1Cor 13:13
Hope looks to the future. (You don’t hope for what you already have. You have the faith to believe you have what you need.
Biblical hope is not wishy-washy. Biblical hope is neither wishful thinking nor a mere desire for something we’d like to have happen. Instead, the Bible consistently presents hope as a confident expectation, an assuredness about what is to happen in the future, and even an anticipation of that future
Today, we look at one of the more recognizable prophecies concerning the coming of a Messiah, a thing which was the central hope of all Jewish people. Scholars differ on how many Messianic prophecies there are in the OT. (56-560) The oldest messianic prophecy is Gen 3:15 or Job 19: 25-27. These prophecies of a coming Messiah were central to the hope of Israel. Remember that Abraham’ hope was in a place. (Genesis 17) Generally, The roots of Jewish eschatology are to be found in the pre-exile prophets, including Isaiah where they occur in at least five chapters. Their “HOPE” in a Messiah in included the following tenants:
· End of world (before everything as follows).
· God redeems the Jewish people from the captivity that began during the Babylonian Exile.
· God returns the Jewish people to the promised land of Israel.
· God restores the house/line of David and the temple.
· The Jewish Messiah will usher in an age of justice and peace.
· All nations recognize that the God of Israel is the one true God.
· God resurrects he dead
· God creates a new Heaven and earth.
The prophecy comes from Isaiah 40: 1-6.
Isaiah received his call to prophecy from God in Isaiah 6 around 750BC. Assyria is the formidable enemy. Ahaz, Judah’s king, seeks to form an alliance with Assyria. He literally ‘puts his hope’ in the hands of his enemy. This is the backdrop of the first 39 chapters of the book. After Ahaz dies, Hezekiah becomes king and seeks the Lord for protection from enemies. Because Hezekiah puts his home in God alone, Judah is spared from being conquered by the Assyrians. Hezekiah’s HOPE in God saved his people. He did not put his hope in chariots or men or weapons. This is a common theme in obeying God. (Psalm 20:7; Isaiah 30:2-5) David experienced a similar fate when he counted his fighting men. (2 Samuel 24)
Solomon wrote about putting your hope in anything other than God in Ecclesiastes. His quest led him to discover that life was meaningless apart from God. At the end of his days, he reminded those who followed him to ‘remember God when they are young’ and ‘fear God and keep his commandments’. These are paramount teachings in living a hopeful life.
And so, after affirming that Judah would be spared from the Assyrians, Isaiah turns the page to chapter 40 and looks to the future of Israel, in what would happen in about 50 years. They would fall away yet again and this time their sins would require restitution in the form of exile. After 70 years, they’re sins would be forgiven and they could return once again to the ‘place’ of their hope. With this in mind, he says:
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
These words of HOPE that Handel captured so magically in his master work, “The Messiah” start with the word, “COMFORT”; not once but twice. It was the biblical equivalent of italics or bold letter writing. A word repeated twice in scripture always represented a greater emphasis to the word.
Hope will bring comfort. True hope like this is life-changing. It is a sure hope in God. It is a strong confidence in Christ and His Words. Redemption will always be accomplished and completed according to the Word of the Lord. And we know how the story ends. Putting your hope in anything else will only disappoint you. This is the hope that allows us to face the trials and testings we must endure as recorded in Romans 5: 3-5
Are you hopeful?
How are you tying in HOPE to your advent this year?
Psalms are generally categorized by content. In the Psalms of Lament, there is always a crying out to God . But the psalm never ends without a hope. One of my favorite is Psalm 42. It ends like this:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
God never leaves his people without a HOPE. Hope is eternal like the soul of the believer. Hope should accompany us now as it will in heaven. Whatever you’re hoping for this advent, hope for it in light of God’s promises. All else will fail. Only God’s Word will stand.
I’m reminded of the words to the wonderful hymn, “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus' Name
On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my Hope and Stay
When He shall come with trumpet sound
Oh may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne
Romans 13:15, “May the God of HOPE fill you with JOY and PEACE as you TRUST IN HIM, so that you may overflow with HOPE in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let the ADVENT-sure Begin.
“Art is the reflection of God’s creativity; an evidence that we are made in the image of God.”
The details are fuzzy, but the impact was powerful. I think it was a One-Way Street Conference in Maryland in the early 1990s. It was very early in my ministry. A man named Farrell Marr was introduced by Dale Von Seggen and he proceeded to perform a puppet presentation to “Variations on a Hymn” by Glad. I was NOT prepared for what happened next. The presentation was seamless despite the challenging material. The puppetry was fantastic. Backgrounds were elaborate and well done. Costuming was clever and extensive. But the thing…..It was SOOOO creative. Have you seen the new GMC Truck commercial with the drop down tailgate where everyone’s mouth falls open? That’s it. That’s the response I had. I sought him out as soon as I could and gave him what I consider the ultimate compliment to another creative artist: “You make me want to be better”.
In 33 years of full time ministry, I have only met one other person as creative as Ferrell Marr and that was David Simpich. Throughout those years, he continued to amaze me with his creativity. When trying to think of an idiom that describes him, the phrase ‘second nature’ came to mind. But, I don’t think that does his Spirit justice. Creativity really was ‘first nature’ to him. He always looked at life with a cosmic perspective. It was as if, he saw all the possibilities. Perhaps, in the end, he just exploded because a human body can’t contain that type of energy.. It reminds me of God in the Holy of Holies or Aladdin in the bottle. This world was small; too small.
If art IS a reflection of God’s creativity, Ferrell Marr gave us a wonderful glimpse of heaven on earth. Rest briefly, my friend, until we join you and are finally all released into the greater purpose that God has for us….which is NOT here. Let he who began the good work in you be faithful to complete it in heaven where we will once again enjoy and admire your gifts.