Taking Action

Taking Action

I am a father of two little dudes. One is 5, the other is 8 months. When I tell my oldest son to clean up his legos, what I am asking is for him to stop what he is doing and, well, clean up his legos. I am not looking for him to consider the length of my question or to consider where punctuation should go. I don’t want him to memorize the question I asked or to learn how to say it in German. I just want him to do what I asked. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This past Sunday at Sojourn we considered a similar subject. As followers of Jesus, we can find ourselves good at knowing what Jesus is leading us to obey, without actually following through with what he said. We can become professional hearers without actually doing what He has said.

The reasons why we don’t follow through are endless. Whether it is our dependence to our smartphone, the consistent narrative of living an over functioning life, or the pressure to busy ourselves every minute of every day. These reasons, among many others, can lead us to live lives that are good at listening to Jesus but are slow to follow through with obedience. 

What I find intriguing is that these excuses didn’t begin in the 21st century.  James, the bold little brother of Jesus, wrote a book to believers in the 1st century. These believers also dealt with distractions and the difficulty to follow through with what Jesus said.

In James 1, James challenges the believers who will read what he is writing to not just be hearers but doers.

" But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22

James says that it is not enough to just know information. To live the life Jesus is inviting us to live we must allow what we know to impact how we live. A life of joy and freedom is found by walking our what it looks like to follow Jesus. When we misstep, we reset on his grace and keep going. 

As we enter into this holy week, the most beautiful week of the year on the Christian calendar, I find it helpful to consider where Jesus may be challenging us follow through. Over the past few weeks, we have been challenged to consider two areas in our lives that I want to consider as I close:

What am I believing God to do in my life in this season? https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/comfort-vs-faith/id1132865678?i=1000383151036&mt=2

Where can I be a blessing to others in this season? https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hoarding-vs-blessing/id1132865678?i=1000383562810&mt=2

I invite all of you, including myself, to pull away from distractions and consider how Jesus may be inviting you into action these upcoming weeks.

Resting in Ephesians 1 in the Face of Stress

Resting in Ephesians 1 in the Face of Stress

Our society likes to talk about stress. When’s the last time you heard someone say, “I’ve been so stressed,” or, “I’m under a lot of stress”?

An hour ago, maybe?

The pace of so many of our lives can do harm to our souls. That stress is real. I feel it. I’m overcommitted.

The Lenten season is a built-in time to re-calibrate around the core tenets of our faith –– that Christ came, died, was buried, and rose again. As Christians, we culminate the season celebrating His victory over death, on Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday.

What is stress if we have Christ?

Well, for one, it’s real, and it’s something that Jesus Himself kindly walks through with us. We are not alone. We can come to Him when we’re weary and heavy-laden, for He provides us with rest.

Another tenet of our faith that ought to be looked at this time of year: in Christ, our God and Father has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” On Sunday, we looked at Ephesians 1 –– a gem of a passage which fairly comprehensively, and richly, sums up our reality as Christians.

Let’s look at the following section of the passage:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)

Here are three key truths we can take from these few verses that may provide perspective for the stress we’re facing:

1.     We have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places

As Christians, we have been saved from sin. We have been accepted. We have been redeemed. We have not been left alone, but we have been given the Holy Spirit. We will one day be reconciled to God. And we are being made holy –– conformed to the image of Christ.

We are not simply “bailed out.” Every spiritual blessing is ours. We are new, having been raised with Christ.

2.     We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world and predestined for adoption

I’m neither a Seminarian nor a Sojourn elder, so I won’t broach the tangly topic of predestination, but I will celebrate the truth Paul shares in Ephesians 1. In spite of our shortcomings –– past, present, and future –– the all-knowing God chose us before the foundation of the world. Weak, broken me was chosen, and Jesus –– seeing all my warts and knowing all my thoughts –– endured the cross so that I might be with Him. Bringing nothing to the table but filthy rags, God had mercy and predestined me for adoption, and I have been accepted as a son, covered by the blood of Christ.

3.     We shall be holy and blameless before Him

The pace of my Christian walk often feels slow. I take two steps forward only to take another back. But if I believe the Bible, I know that I’ll be made ready. He who began a good work in me will accomplish it. And I will be made ready; I will be presented holy and blameless before him.

Though life may feel like it’s unraveling and untended to-do lists grow sideways and wild, we can rest on the firm truths of Ephesians 1 this Lenten season. 

Abraham's Faith and a Destination Unknown

Abraham's Faith and a Destination Unknown

In one paragraph in Hebrews 11, there are 2 phrases about Abraham that paint a vivid, if not shocking, picture.  The first is that when God called him to go, “he went out, not knowing where he was going.”  And the second is that from this one man, innumerable descendants were born though he was “as good as dead.”  During Lent, we are encouraged to say no to aspects of comfort, and say yes to aspects of faith.  These phrases about Abraham illustrate the challenging pivot from comfort to faith.    

When I was a kid, my parents would occasionally load us up in the station wagon and tell us “we’re going to a D.U. – a Destination Unknown.”  These DU trips would sometimes lead us to the Dairy Queen, or the park, or every once in a while to a cool kid’s museum.  It was easy to trust my parents when they told us that something fun was waiting for us.  And even if we had been unsure about the quality of the D.U., we knew we would come back by bedtime to our comfortable home with familiar toys and friends nearby. 

The stakes feel pretty different for Abram when God invites him to a Destination Unknown in Genesis 12.  God tells him to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.”  This wasn’t exactly a 2-hour jaunt to his local Mesopotamian Dairy Queen.  God’s instruction to Abram must have been as challenging and counter-cultural then as it would be today.  I can only imagine the 47 questions that would flood my mind if I believed God was telling me to go. 

How will I explain it to my family, friends, and co-workers without sounding like a raving lunatic?

How will I earn money to pay for food, clothes, and Netflix?  There will be Wi-Fi there, right?

Do I really trust that God will stay with us, guide us, and provide for us? 

Am I confident that I’ve actually heard God’s instructions correctly? 

How many of those questions have “I” at the center?  They focus on my image, my needs & wants, my provision, and my doubt. 

I wonder if we limit the application of God’s invitation by interpreting it too literally, and thinking of it only as a geographical move out of the country.  Of course God can call us to literally go from our country, leave our comfort zone, and be strangers in a strange land, but let’s not overlook how He might call us to make radical choices, rejecting comfort for faith without even changing our address. 

When you begin to make bold, counter-cultural choices, people take notice, especially when they’ve known you for a while.  Sometimes by staying in your community, God can use the contrast between your before and after to illustrate how He changes lives.  In Abraham’s case, the change seemed pretty ridiculous actually.  How would a man who was “as good as dead” be the father of Israel?  The key point here is that God is not only able to use broken people to accomplish His goals, but He chooses to involve broken people.  So that there would not be any confusion whether it was the man’s power or God’s power, God chose a man “as good as dead” to bring new life.    

Sometimes when I’m driving on a dark, foggy night, and I can barely see the road ahead, I think maybe that’s how Abraham felt.  Since God didn’t reveal the destination, or the step-by-step directions, Abraham could only see a few steps down the road.  He had no choice but to keep listening to God.  And I wonder “why would God choose to use me as His messenger, and send stubborn, self-reliant people out on a dark, foggy night?”  But our weakness provides quite a contrast for His power and grace to shine bright.  And our reliance on Him draws us closer, as we walk forward in faith to the Destination Unknown. 

Trusting in the Father

Trusting in the Father

   I have a confession: I am an over-committer. I often say yes to things because 1) I have a problem with wanting to please people and 2) I don’t want to miss out on opportunities. I also am not a planner, so often these over-commitments pile up and I don’t realize what I’ve committed too until I am in the middle of a crazy string of weeks, like right now for instance. My wife Mallory and I sold our house. We are closing in 1 week. We also bought a house, an older house that needs some work. So while we are trying to finalize things this week with packing and moving and getting inspections and so forth, I also over-committed to too many other things: upcoming shows and recording sessions with music, as well as writing this blog.

   Now I find myself in the midst of the Lenten season, a season that is meant to cause us to slow down and focus on saying “no” to things of this world so we can focus on Christ and say “yes” to Him, in one of the busiest seasons of my life. I am in this because I did not heed the words and wisdom of Lent. I said yes again, and again, and again. Looking more deeply at why I have a problem saying no, I’ve found that the root of this cause is that I want to build my own kingdom. I believe that if I don’t work and build and say yes to every opportunity, I am going to miss out. What does this say about my belief in our Heavenly Father? It reveals that I believe a lie that has haunted humanity since the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve: I know better than God and He is holding back, so I don’t trust Him.

   You see, at the core of following Christ is trust. Trust that God is, indeed, who He says He is: God. That He is in control, that He has us, and this truth should lead us to a confident trust. Anxiousness, busyness, over commitment… In my life these are the symptoms and fruit that I have strayed from trusting in Him, that I am seeking to care for and build my own kingdom rather than seeking His and living for His. I need to remind myself of the simple truth found in the flowers of the field and the birds of the air (Matthew 6:25-34): my Father sees me, my Father knows me, and my Father counts me as more precious than any of those.

   This truth reminds me that I don’t have to be god over my own kingdom. I don’t have to anxiously say yes to every opportunity and exert myself to exhaustion and try to rule and grow my kingdom. I was not made to carry that weight. So, I’ll let go and trust my Father, and as I continue in this Lenten season, I am hitting reset, turning from the root of my over commitment. I’ll rest in the knowledge that God is guiding and leading me as I trust in Him and say yes to His kingdom and not my own. 

Mary and Martha of Bethany

Mary and Martha of Bethany

If you've been around the church long enough, you're sure to have run into these two (in)famous women from Bethany – Mary and Martha.  And, probably, you've heard that Martha is the perfect example of burn-out, somebody so consumed that she neglects immersing in and enjoying the Lord's presence.  This is partly true and partly helpful; but it's also too simple of a view.  Martha wanted Jesus present in her home – it says it right there in Luke 10:38; she welcomed the Lord.  She wasn't callous or apathetic towards Him at all.

We have that same desire. We want to see Jesus welcomed into our lives – we don't want to be bound up in apathy towards Him.  But, just like Martha there's often a parade of voices, distractions, and responsibilities rushing about inside us that crowd out and overwhelm our true enjoyment of His Presence; we've invited Him in but we aren't resting at His feet.

Let's get something clear right out of the gate – the Lord did not confront Martha because of the activities she was engaged in but confronted the state of her heart.  Likewise, the Lord was not encouraging Mary towards sloth or laziness, but was pointing towards the peace of heart which Mary was resting in.  The key phrase of this text comes from verse 41, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.”

There's the problem. Right here is the exact thing that is keeping her from enjoying what Mary has found to be so delightful; peace in the accepting love of Jesus.  You see Martha, like all the rest of us, was whirring and striving in a vast effort to make things perfect for the Lord.  The logic of it all seems so poignant and clear – the Lord is here to visit. He is worthy immense honor,  therefore, I need to work my hardest to get everything set and perfect for Him.  To put it more succinctly: I need to perform for Jesus.

Which is where we all naturally go, right?

If we peel back the layers in our lives and in our hearts, we're going to quickly find that all of our anxieties stem from feeling like we will miss out on something, possibly the greatest thing we will ever get to experience, if we don't keep all the plates spinning.  We're frantic in believing that if we don't keep pushing, striving, grinding away – it's all going to fall apart.

The story of Mary and Martha is about a far grander and wilder story. It's a scaled-down picture of the most vital and vibrant story every told – the Gospel.  Through Jesus's perfect life and substitutionary death, we're invited into a life of peace and rest; we're invited into a place of sweet, contemplative sureness.  And, in an astounding and vastly unexpected twist, instead of our welcoming the Lord we find Him welcoming us – welcoming us into all the gifts, rewards, treasures, and wonders that are His by right.

Here's the promise that the Lord made to Martha, and it's the exact same promise He's extending to us: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

What is Lent?

What is Lent?

What is Lent and what does it have to do with me?

I have been asking myself this question for a few years and have decided that Lent is not necessarily a Biblical practice, but the principles are very Biblical.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and is the 40ish days leading up to Easter.  It is a practice that was started by the Catholic Church but now observed by many denominations.  Usually the idea is to fast from something for this period of time.

I grew up Baptist, and all that lent (lint) was to me was something in my belly button or the bottom of my pocket.  I had no experience with it whatsoever.  We celebrating Easter and always got a new dress and Easter Baskets with candy and had an Easter Egg Hunt.  We often had some sort of Easter play at church and a big Easter lunch with ham and deviled eggs.  It was certainly a day of celebration.

When we were newly married, my husband and I moved to Costa Rica to be missionaries.  We learned a whole different Easter while living there.  People definitely observed Lent, usually fasting from meat and other things and talked about it often.  Then during Semana Santa (Holy Week) no one went to work.  It was a time for family and vacations.  On Good Friday, there was a very bloody and somber processional of Jesus and the Saints and then on Saturday (the very devout) would not eat or use electricity or work at all.  They were often overcome when talking about Jesus's sacrifice for them.  Then Sunday came, and everyone went back to normal.  Even at church there was very little focus on Christ's resurrection.

Two things that really stuck with us after our experience were that in the past, we probably had not put enough focus on Christ's suffering, and also that Easter Week is incredibly depressing without the Resurrection.  

A few years ago we started attending a liturgical church and found that they balanced these two aspects very well.  They celebrate Ash Wednesday, when we focus on our sin and mortality, while remembering the hope that we have in Jesus.  Then observing Lent in a way that helps us to learn to depend on God and reflect on Him in times of want.  Having a Good Friday Service reflecting and contemplating Christ's very difficult death, and then a whole season of celebration for Easter-- full of feasting and goodness!  

I think there are so many healthy aspects to following a liturgical calendar and celebrating seasons in the Church.  During Advent, we intentionally slow down during the busiest time of the year to focus on the coming Savior.  And during Lent, I am trying to remove time suckers in order to make more room for intentional living.  For me, this is clutter, noise, and over-commitment. When I give these up, it in turn gives me more time, focus, and energy for God and my family.  Win, win.  

I have also talked to some friends who have said that for Lent instead of giving something up, they are adding something.  For example, writing a Thank You note to one person every day for 40 days, going for a reflective walk everyday, committing to a daily quiet time for 40 days, etc.  All great ideas.

Lent is a season in the Christian Church to draw you in to reflection and awe at how sinful we are and what an amazing gift of sacrifice the Lord made on our behalf.  However you feel led to celebrate it is up to you!

Partnering with God through Prayer and Fasting

Partnering with God through Prayer and Fasting

We want to make sure you feel supported as we join in this fast together! If you missed the why and purpose behind this fast, please listen to Ernie's sermon here: 

What we are praying for:

1) For fresh hunger for Christ

2) For doors of Kingdom opportunity to be opened.

3) Boldness to walk through these doors.

If this is your first time fasting, here is a helpful document we have compiled: http://files.constantcontact.com/4038e137201/4ff39709-4e38-4088-b557-538bc9c9a8e7.pdf

Finally, we will be sending text's to encourage and remind you. If you'd like to receive these, please sign up by texting the word "Sojourn" to 84576.

Do not fear, but behold

Do not fear, but behold

The Advent season is one of dichotomy.

In the Northern Hemisphere, at least, we experience less daylight than any other time of year these months, making Christmas lights most brilliant. The weather itself is also coldest during this time, making fires and the warmth of friends and family all the more precious.

Something about the end of the year also elicits introspection. Anticipation for Christmas Day builds up. There’s expectation. Then, on December 26th –– and 27th and 28th, and so on –– there are questions. Did I give enough? Did I love enough? Did I accomplish enough? And, perhaps, am I lovable enough?

During Advent, we spend increased time with friends and family, and we see them more clearly, whether in flaw or flourish, feat or fall. This season challenges us. It shines light on darkness. And it makes us all the more aware of our desire for something greater than a present, or the present.

The dichotomy of Advent highlights our tendency to get excited over a new shirt, or watch, or toy, before feeling the inescapable letdown of 2 p.m. on Christmas Day, or December 26th, or 27th. In these moments, we innately know that the gifts we just received are only a shadow; the moment we just experienced is but a glimmer.

Thank God, there’s a flip side. This is Advent, and during Advent, there is light.

We see this in Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2).

Rather than dwelling on the dimness of our situations –– our family dynamics, or the insufficiency of the gifts we unwrapped, or the cold, dark season –– we are to behold the light. If we are instructed in Advent at all, we will learn that darkness and winter will soon pass and light will come. We don’t have to fear the bleakness we face. Instead, during Advent, we behold. We turn our eyes up, to where our help comes from (Psalm 121).

Our hope, very simply, is Jesus, the great Light. He alone can deliver us from loneliness, darkness, bleakness, guilt, and unmet expectations.

Indeed, at Christmas, the message for us should be the one which was also given to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus: “Fear not… Behold!”

“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’

And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.’ And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.’

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’

And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”'And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.”’ (Luke 1:5-38)

The Greatest Feast of Christmas

The Greatest Feast of Christmas

What are your family Christmas get-togethers like?  For some people, they’re the most anticipated event of the year, full of traditions, giving, and joy.  For others, Christmas is a season that brings anxiety, stress, and awkward interactions with lots of tap-dancing around conversational landmines.  And for some, it’s a season of heavy grief, as they grapple with loneliness or loss.  But whatever type of emotion you associate with Christmas and family gatherings, I think Christmas should also point us to a totally different kind of feast.  A feast that sounds too good to be true, like something from a fairy tale, but that is real, and even better than fiction.

Advent means “entrance” or “introduction,” and begins a new chapter in the broader Story, of course, with the King’s humble arrival as a baby, born in a stable.  We focus a ton on the beginning, and for good reason since it’s a mind-blowing story.  We connect the dots with Easter, and recognize that this baby King came on a mission to die and redeem.  But that’s not the end of the Story.  And when we forget about the end, we miss some of the power in the earlier chapters.  

Toward the end of the Story is a legendary feast, an epic gathering for the ages.  “On this mountain, the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.”  (Isaiah 25:6)   Maybe you’re thinking “hold up – the Christmas spread that we feast on at my Grandma’s house is pretty legendary in its own right!”  But there’s a lot more to this feast in Isaiah than a baked ham, a strong dessert line-up, and that bottle of wine you’re saving for a special occasion.

This feast is more than a meal; it’s a celebration, and there will be no shortage of things to celebrate.  The Lord “will swallow up death forever” and “will wipe away the tears from all faces.”  He “will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.”  (Isaiah 25:8).  When we feel overwhelmed, or crushed under the weight of grief and disappointment, this is what we cry out for:  no more tears, and no more pain.  

Can you imagine what your Christmas gatherings would be like if there were no more pain, no more anxiety, no more bitter judgment or insecurity?    

This gathering is also described as a feast “for all peoples.”  Some of the best parties I’ve been to had people from lots of different countries and backgrounds, each bringing their own cuisine, culture, and dance moves.  Can you imagine a party table with food from every nation and tribe?  The beautiful part of the diversity is that all of the barriers that divide us today will be gone.  After death is swallowed up and the tears are wiped away, we can celebrate together, unhindered by the baggage of bias that we all carry, whether we realize it or not.  

 

In a way, our views of Thanksgiving speak to this desire for unity, as we like to celebrate a folkloric fiesta, where the European pilgrims and Native Americans set aside any differences for the feast.  But imagine a feast that is not just a temporary pause on prejudice, but a feast where together we celebrate that death, sin, and brokenness are no more.

We say that Christmas is a season of peace, joy, and hope.  Yet we rarely link Christmas to this time of joy and feast of peace that Isaiah describes.  Christmas jump-starts the march to this feast, albeit in a surprising way.  Far from the fanfare fit for a King, a scared teenage couple held a baby who would one day complete the Story.   That’s why Advent is the entrance of hope, and why Christmas points to a feast that’s beyond what we can even imagine.

A Great Light

A Great Light

 In Isaiah 9:2-7, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel. They were living in the shadow of the Assyrian empire, an empire that would soon become the instrument of God’s judgement for their idolatrous, unrepentant, covenant-forsaking ways. Yet God shows a great mercy and kindness to his people in giving them hope before the coming judgement, before the coming time of darkness and despair:

The people who walked in darkness

    have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

    on them has light shone.

You have multiplied the nation;

    you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

    as with joy at the harvest,

    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden,

    and the staff for his shoulder,

    the rod of his oppressor,

    you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult

    and every garment rolled in blood

    will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

    and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

    there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

    to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

    from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."

   The source of hope for Israel is in the coming Messiah, Jesus, who will be born as a child. Yet this child will be called the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. The government shall rest upon his shoulder, and it will be a government marked by justice, righteousness, and peace that causes the garments of soldiers to be burned forevermore. God speaks and light, perspective, and hope is given to the people of Israel. The coming judgement will not be the final word from God. He has planned, prepared, and promised a Messiah. 

   This verse has brought hope to countless people since it was uttered by the prophet Isaiah, and the power and hope in them still stand today. In what areas are you hopeless? You may not be facing an enemy army invasion like the Israelites, (although those in the Middle East may), but maybe you have been struggling with sickness, anxiety, or depression. Maybe your hopelessness stems from financial problems. Maybe you are mourning the loss of a loved one. Or maybe the mundane rhythm of life, days that bleed into weeks, months, and years has led to a general hopelessness. Whatever it may be, Isaiah’s words imbue even the darkest circumstances with hope. For the prophecy given has yet to be fulfilled in its entirety. The child has, indeed, been born and given to us and we look back on this promised fulfilled and allow it to fill us with hope that God will keep the rest of the promise: that one day our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace will come and rule and reign in perfect justice, righteousness, peace. All that is wrong will be made right in that time. There will be no more sickness, no more death, no more sorrow. And this is the beauty of Christ’s Advents. They infuse our situations with a greater hope and reminder that one day all will come under Christ’s perfect rule. 

Abraham: God’s Promise Fulfilled

Abraham: God’s Promise Fulfilled

They were in a grim, desperate situation - it’d be vain to try and deny it.  Day-by-day, year-by-year what little hope they had was melting away, burning like morning’s dew under a relentless desert sun.  Abram’s arms were thrown wide around his wife’s heaving shoulders, Sarai’s breath haphazardly catching itself between rolling sobs of pain.  His eyes, shot red with grief, sullenly circled the tent stretched wide about them.  Fine skins were strewn about in one corner, tiny gold cups sparkled away in the waning torchlight, small specks of spice danced out of their bowls as the breeze flowed freely through. The beauty of it all astounded him; it broke him.  All this, all that I have received in 75 years of life and no sweet child of mine to give it to… how terribly cruel this world truly is.

But, thankfully, the final voice to speak would not be Abram’s - the Lord was up to something profound, something unbreakable.  In Genesis 12:1-2 the Word of the Lord came in awesome power to Abram and proclaimed to him, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Here it is, the man utterly devoid of lasting legacy will be established by the Lord to have a heritage that will impact every single family of the earth.

The Word comes to Abram again and pushes promise to an even greater, richer depth.  In Genesis 22:17 the Lord commits, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offsprings as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.”  The promises of God to Abram, who would later become known as Abraham by the Lord’s grace, were irrevocable and unstoppable; neither Abraham’s age, his faltering obedience, or Sarah’s doubt would destroy what the Lord had set to establishing.

Here at Advent we celebrate the God who keeps His Word.  We acknowledge an even more incredible birth: the Son of God Incarnate.  And, we resound in joy that the Lord has kept His promises to us - that the Serpent lies crushed beneath His feet.


Hallelujah - our God keeps His promises forevermore!

Advent: Entering Into The Slow and Sacred

Advent: Entering Into The Slow and Sacred

I think we all can agree that our culture tells us christmas is a time to busy ourselves, to spend a lot of money, and be stressed out. A few years ago, our family decided to counteract those natural tendencies and chose to focus on discovering what it really means to celebrate advent, including creating new traditions and rhythms that fit into that value. 

Advent means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. The focus of this season is to prepare to celebrate the first coming of christ and the anticipation of the return of Christ for the ‘second advent’. The celebration of advent is marked by a spirit anticipation, expectation, preparation and longing. It is a time to remember that we have not yet ‘arrived’, and that we still live in a broken and fragmented world filled with sin. It is a time to be in touch with the deep yearning in each of our hearts for the ‘wrong’ things to be made ‘right’. It is a cry for those who have and are experiencing the tyranny and injustice of a world that is still under the curse of sin. 

It is also a time to remember where our hope lies. To remember that this isn’t the end of the story. Though weeping lasts for the night joy is promised to us in the morning. This hope is what causes us to anticipate the return of our Messiah, who will bring peace and justice to the earth when He returns. How can we be in touch with our longing and need for our Savior, if we busy ourselves to the point of soul neglect? Advent is an invitation to slow down and treasure the sacred truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Here are a few ways that our family has reordered our ‘christmas season’ to embrace the essence and purpose of Advent. First, we shifted our focus from a christmas morning build up with lots of presents and the inevitable post-christmas-morning blues to create fun and more meaningful traditions. We are still doing ‘christmas morning’ but only a few gifts and trying to emphasize the value of time spent together as a family. We are blocking off our Sunday evenings to devote to family advent readings. We will pop some popcorn and make hot chocolate and gather around our fire and read scripture that teach us about the anticipation of the first and second coming of Christ. This is our opportunity to teach our children about the meaning of Advent and why we celebrate it. Then, on a personal level, I will be going through a book or devotional centered around advent that will guide me on entering into this season. Here are some resources that you can look into that you may find helpful as you plan how you want to celebrate Advent this season!

Personal (adult) daily devotional:
Download the app “She Reads Truth"  for an advent study that will provide you with daily scripture readings.
The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper(available online)
Waiting Here for You by Louie Giglio

Family:
Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp - daily devotional readings with pictures
Kids Read Truth: Advent 2016 Table Cards - available to purchase on shereadstruth.com 

"The Name of Jesus" | Weekly prayers during Lent

"The Name of Jesus" | Weekly prayers during Lent

All searching God, Thou readest the heart,
viewest principles and motives of actions,
seest more defilement in my duties
than I ever saw in any of my sins.
The heavens are not clean in thy sight,
and thou chargest the angels with folly;
I am ready to flee from myself because of my abominations;
Yet thou dost not abhor me but hast devised means for my return to thee,
and that, by thy Son who died to give me life.
Thine honor is secured and displayed even in
my escape from thy threats,
and that, by means of Jesus
in whom mercy and truth meet together,
and righteousness and peace kiss each other.
In him the enslaved find redemption,
the guilty pardon, the unholy renovation;
In him are everlasting strength for the weak,
unsearchable riches for the needy,
treasures of wisdom and knowledge for the ignorant, fullness for the empty.
At thy gracious call I hear, take, come, apply, receive his grace,
not only submit to his mercy but acquiesce in it,
not only glory in the cross but in him crucified and slain,
not only joy in forgiveness but in the one
through whom atonement comes.
Thy blessings are as secure as they are glorious;
Thou hast provided for my safety and my prosperity,
and hast promised that I shall stand firm and grow stronger.
O Lord God, without the pardon of my sin I cannot rest satisfied
without the renovation of my nature by grace I can never rest easy,
without the hopes of heaven I can never be at peace.
All this I have in thy Son Jesus; blessed by his name.

Choosing to shed Martha and become Mary this Lent

Choosing to shed Martha and become Mary this Lent

We’ve been talking a lot about slowing down as a congregation this Lenten season –– actually taking a Sabbath, intentionally pausing to consider Christ over these 40 days.

I, for one, have been made a little anxious by the slowing. That’s because I’m a maximizer when it comes to my time. I like to load up my project list. I have trouble saying “no.” And I have two boys –– aged 4 and 18 months –– and a high-energy, always-going wife.

But I’m not unique. Chances are, you, too, are a maximizer. In a lot of ways, you kind of have to be to keep your head above water in our non-stop society. Gone are the days of Sunday afternoon drives and single-sitting book readings. They’ve been interrupted –– maybe even replaced altogether –– by text messaging, push notifications, the ocean commonly known as Netflix, soccer practices, DIY task lists, on and on.

So many of us are always on fumes. That’s our mode. That’s where people like myself find value.

But if there’s ever a season to buck all of this, it’s Lent. If there’s ever a season to revisit the truth that our value isn’t found in our striving and grit, but in Christ, it’s Lent.

Fortunately, scripture –– which is always sufficient for our instruction and encouragement –– offers us an explicit example of how we ought to manage busyness:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)

“Anxious.” “Troubled about many things.” Jesus’s description of Martha in this passage is so striking. It rings so true of our condition.

This Lent is a time to change our identity –– to slow down, shed our Martha skin, and become like Mary. This Lent is a time to trade in our toil for the yoke of Jesus, which is easy (Matthew 11:28-30). It’s a time to cede the portion we scurry to construct and opt for the good portion –– the one that has been freely given to us.

Like Mary, let us sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to his teaching. That, verse 42 says, will never be taken from us, unlike our finite time and energy.

To steal from Scotty Smith’s “A Prayer For A Mary Heart In A Martha World”:

Lord Jesus, help each of us cultivate a Mary heart in a Martha world. My problem isn’t the world I inhabit, but the heart that inhabits me. I make King David’s prayer mine, ‘Give me an undivided heart that I may live in awe of your name,’ Jesus (Ps. 86:11). Jesus, you are the ‘one thing worth being concerned about’; you are the ‘one thing’ that will never be taken from us. Being with you must always take precedent over doing for you.

Help us, Lord. Amen.

Christ is All | Weekly Prayers During Lent

Christ is All | Weekly Prayers During Lent

O LOVER TO THE UTMOST.
May I read the melting’s of thy heart to me
in the manger of thy birth in the garden of thy agony,
in the cross of thy suffering, In the tomb of thy resurrection,
In the heaven of thy intercession.
Bold in this thought I defeat my adversary,
tread down his temptations, resist his scheming,
renounce the world, am valiant for truth.
Deepen in me a sense of my holy relationship to thee,
as spiritual Bridegroom, as Jehovah’s Fellow, as sinners’ Friend.
I think of thy glory and my vileness, thy majesty and my meanness,
thy beauty and my deformity, thy purity and my filth,
thy righteousness and my iniquity.
Thou hast loved me everlastingly, unchangeably,
may I love thee as I am loved;
Thou hast given thyself for me, may I give myself to thee;
Thou hast died for me, may I live to thee, in every moment of my live,
in every movement of my mind, in every pulse of my heart.
May I never dally with the world and its allurements,
but walk by thy side, listen to thy voice, be clothed with thy graces,
and adorned with thy righteousness.

Saying, "no" to say, "yes"

As I consider what it means to fast from busyness this lenten season, I am immediately reminded of my own recent, partially successful, attempts to get my schedule under control. As last fall drew to a close, I found myself feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and over-committed. I was constantly busy but I never felt like I got anything done. I spent so much time on peripherals, I was not able to spend time doing things I really wanted to do. Sound familiar?

Through reflection and some wise brothers (aka my discipleship groups), I came to understand that every time I say, “Yes” to something, I am tacitly saying, “No” to other opportunities. This is true of any decision we make, large or small. This dynamic is perhaps more obvious with large decisions. When we choose somewhere to live or a new job, we carefully weigh our options and are quite aware of the alternatives we are saying, “No” to. With smaller decisions, like signing up for a new volunteer opportunity, getting coffee with a friend, or deciding what to do with an evening, we are far less likely to examine all of our alternatives and what we might be giving up by saying, “Yes.”

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with signing up to serve soup at the local shelter, enjoying the company of friends, or spending a relaxing evening vegging out with your favorite show. Indeed, these are often good and healthy things to do. Pastor Ernie frequently talks about our tendency to allow “good things” to become or replace “ultimate things.” When our schedules are so full of “good things” that we cannot spend time with our Heavenly Father, we have allowed them to replace the most important thing. Instead of being consumed by our busyness, we should start saying, “No” so that we may say, “Yes” to time with God.

In this, Jesus is our model. In Luke 5:15-16, we read that, “Great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities,” (v. 15). Jesus responded by withdrawing from the crowds and spending time in prayer (v. 16, also Mark 1:35). Instead of being caught up in the good he was doing by preaching to the crowds and healing the sick, he understood that spending time with his Father and obedience to his will were more important. Jesus said, “No” to preaching and healing so that he could say, “Yes” to time with his Heavenly Father.

As a community, we have decided to fast from busyness during Lent. In this season, examine your busy schedule, prayerfully considering which items you can say, “No” to, either temporarily or long-term, so that you may say, “Yes” to Him.

The Prayer of Love | Weekly Prayers During Lent

The Prayer of Love | Weekly Prayers During Lent

GRACIOUS LORD,
Thy name is love, in love receive my prayer.
My sins are more than the wide sea’s sand, but where sin abounds,
there is grace more abundant.
Look to the cross of thy beloved Son, and view the preciousness of his atoning blood;
Listen to his never-failing intercession, and whisper to my heart,
‘Thy sins are forgiven, be of good cheer, lie down in peace.’
Grace cataracts from heaven and flows forever, and mercy never wearies in bestowing benefits.
Grant me more and more to prize the privilege of prayer,
to come to thee as a sin-soiled sinner,
to find pardon in thee, to converse with thee;
to know thee in prayer as the path in which my feet tread,
the latch upon the door of my lips,
the light that shines through my eyes,
the music of my ears,
the marrow of my understanding,
the strength of my will,
the power of my affection,
the sweetness of my memory.
May the matter of my prayer be always
wise, humble, submissive, obedient, scriptural, Christ-life.
Give me unwavering faith that supplications are never in vain,
that if I seem not to obtain my petitions I shall have larger, richer answers,
surpassing all that I ask or think.