December 13, 2020 — God Sets the Stage

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. — Luke 2:1-4

We ended last week with a swirl of prophecies all fulfilled so that God’s Word, His purpose and His plan would be accomplished. As God prepares us for the journey ahead, He must often “Set the Stage,” or prepare things in advance. We use this idiomatic expression to give us a visual picture of what takes place before any theatrical performance.

Before any patrons sit in the audience, a crew of people work feverishly behind the curtain painting backdrops, setting up furniture, constructing platforms…they are making certain that every detail and prop is where it should be. So that, when the actors hit their mark on stage to deliver their lines or perform their actions in telling the story, everything goes off without a glitch! Every great stage performance is prepared in advance by countless hours of rehearsal and attention to detail.

In the same way, God leaves nothing to chance. How would Mary and Joseph be assured to have their child come from Nazareth? God moves in the heart of the ruler of the most powerful empire in the world to take a census. A seemingly unimportant detail, but to the God of the universe — every detail matters. Sometimes the crazy turns, the painful twists, the joyful roads we are led down don’t make much sense to us. But God is exceedingly efficient in using all the apparently inconsequential details of our lives to “Set the Stage” for the most amazing story that our lives will tell of His glory.

Today, is there a path you are on (or have been on) that doesn’t seem to make sense? Could it be that the God of the universe, who moved the most powerful man in the world to do His bidding, is simply setting the stage for greater purposes than you understand right now?

Perhaps on this day you can take a moment to thank God, even for the details you don’t quite understand…and trust His ways.

December 1, 2020 — Take Comfort, It Is Finished!

 
Comfort! Take comfort my people! Your God says: “Console Jerusalem and cry from the heart to her that her warfare is finished, that her perversity is paid off — because the hand of the LORD has received double for all her sins. — Isaiah 40:1-5
 
These signs (prophecies – future promises) from God, are wonderful indicators of hope for the future. But they are also meant to bring us comfort. In the time of Isaiah, there was very little comfort to be found. The nation had been overtaken by foreign conquerors, there was famine and pestilence in the land…life was hard. But in the midst, Isaiah cries out “Comfort! Take comfort!” Why? How can we take comfort in the midst of suffering and distress?
 
Because God has accomplished or finished her warfare. The war is over! The battle is won! Romans 5:1-2 tells us: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” God has finished the war between Himself and mankind.
 
The war would be ended by Jesus as He was crucified on the cross of Calvary. His birth was just the beginning of his journey toward death and the end of our warfare with God. Both of His hands would be pierced for our transgressions and would be the receiving of “double for all her (our) sins.” That’s why on the cross, with His very last breath Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished.”
 
Praise God today for His finished work and our confidence, “that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion.” Philippians 1:6 God always finishes what He starts.

November 30, 2020 — When All Hope Seems Lost

 
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; — Isaiah 11:1-3
 
The Book of Isaiah is a book of history and of prophecy. Written by the Prophet Isaiah roughly 700 years before the birth of Jesus (740 to 700 BCE), the book contains powerful promises concerning the future. What makes this Scripture so fascinating is that when Isaiah wrote, 10 generations had passed since David, the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), had ruled in a united Israel. The proceeding kings after David struggled to maintain their devotion to the one true God of Israel, and thus the kingdom (and the lineage) had become a shadow of its former glory.
 
The promise from Isaiah 11:1-3 is rooted in this place. Despair, brokenness, hopelessness, and a very real sense that the promises God had made David may never come to pass. God had promised David a descendant who would rule on his throne forever. The centuries that passed between the life of David and the birth of Christ left that promise hanging almost seeming impossible given the condition of the situation.
 
As our hearts turn to the incarnation of God and we begin to think of that first Christmas morning, we would do well never to underestimate God or His promises. Nothing is impossible for God, even when everything within us screams “He can’t”, God will make a way. Though the family line of David had been “cut down” and all that was left was a “stump”, from it the promises of God would burst forth. Jesus would rise from the lineage of David and in Him every promise of God is yes and amen.
 
This shoot that rose from the seemingly dead, lifeless stump of Jesse wouldn’t simply be a new king. Jesus is new life and in Him we see God’s perfect love for humanity. This Shoot has and is bearing fruit across the planet. Life after life that comes to know Jesus comes into the promised family of Abraham. Each follower of Jesus come to know the wisdom and understanding He possesses are the very life and wisdom of God.
Today as you reflect on this Scripture, there are a few thoughts I would challenge us to remember during this season of Advent:
 
-God always keeps His promises
-God is faithful and can be trusted
-Even when it seems like there is no way, God creates a way
-Whatever season of life we are walking in, Jesus is there to guide us
-Jesus IS the Way
 
Father, we confess sometimes we struggle with the same hopeless despair that generations before us have. Sometimes Lord we don’t see the way. The pain and suffering blind us as we struggle to hold onto your faithful promises. Lord, remind us that even when all seems hopeless and impossible, that You are the God of impossible. Turn our hearts and minds fully to you and let us remember that you do great things with absolutely nothing. As Jesus burst forth out of the dead stump of Jesse, we know you can create life from nothing. Help us trust the One who spoke all creation into existence, thank you for Your Son Jesus, in His name we pray, amen.

Day 5 – Being Direct in Prayer

Matthew 6:7-8 — “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

If you have kids, chances are you’ve heard the elaborate story that invariably leads up to a question. It goes something like this: “I had a great day at school today, I made an A on my history quiz and was really good. Abigail and I cleaned up our room and had our snack. The sun is shining, it’s currently 35 degrees Fahrenheit and the moon is going to be full tonight. Can we play Minecraft?” OK, I made that last part up about the sun shining and it is probably only 35 outside, but the point is… kids beat around the bush. We’ve all seen it whether it’s in business, at church, from our spouse or kids, sometimes people add in about 900 unaffiliated details that were not necessary. Do we sometimes do that same thing in prayer?

How about this tactic: “I know you’re probably going to say no, but I’ve had a really good week and I feel like I deserve it. You know everyone else has one, I’m the only kid in 6th grade without one. You said I’d get rewarded if I did a good job, I made honor roll again! I’ve been really good and respectful at home too… I know you already said no but if you just understand why I need it! Dad, I need a phone. Can I have a phone?”

I think what Jesus was talking about here was a bit different than the examples we just looked at, but I think the heart of His message is clear: get to the point. Don’t beat around the bush, don’t add in 900 additional words to your prayer to sound fancy, educated, or eloquent. Remember that when you come before God, He already knows what you need anyway. So when you come to Him be direct, be honest, be humble, and don’t “babble” on.

Thinking back to my children, although sometimes they tell me stories with many twists and turns, when they really need something, they just ask. When they are hungry, they ask for something to eat. When they are thirsty, they ask for something to drink. You know what I do in these times? After I drop a dad joke (“hey thirsty, I’m dad”), I get them a drink. Jesus calls us to be childlike (not childish) in our relationship with Him (Matthew 18:3). So what should we do when we are hungry and thirsty? Come to Jesus for Living Water and Living Bread.

I think at the heart of Jesus’ reminder is this truth: don’t let prayer become a ritual. Imagine for a moment if every time I spoke to my wife I said the same thing. Also imagine if I kept on endlessly babbling but never gave her the chance to respond. Jesus is not telling us not to continue praying about the same things, we are actually encouraged to do that in Scripture (Luke 18:1-8). He is telling us to be honest, direct, and remember Who we are speaking to.

So, when you get the urge to become a professional prayer ninja, resist that urge. Regardless of where or how you are praying, speak from your heart. Know that our Father in heaven knows our needs and will provide for them. Just as I will give my kids something to eat when they are hungry, when we ask we will be filled with what we really need (Matthew 7:9-11).

Father, forgive us when our prayers take detours and U-turns to get to the point. Help us consistently come before you in honest humility and ask for what we need. Lord help us not be discouraged when Your answer is no. Help us trust you. Help us remember You promise to meet our needs and give us wisdom to understand the difference between our desires and our true needs. Help us to trust that not only do You know our needs, but You can and will meet them. Forgive us when we think somehow the power in which we pray makes any difference in how You respond. It isn’t our power Father, it is your grace, love, faithfulness and mercy that renew and refresh us. Thank you for hearing our prayers, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Day 2 – The Why of Fasting?

1 Samuel 7:6 — “When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.”

I believe the why of fasting is equally important to the why of prayer. Just as Genesis 4:26 was the first mention of prayer (calling upon the LORD) in the Bible, so 1 Samuel 7:6 is the first mention of fasting in the Bible. And just as mankind, in the book of Genesis, lost fellowship with God through sin and they sought restoration of that fellowship through prayer — mankind, in the book of Samuel, lost God’s presence (the Ark of the Covenant — a symbol of God’s presence) and they sought restoration through fasting and confession (prayer). While prayer is an activity of communicating to God, fasting — the deliberate denial of food to the body — is an activity that communicates to God the seriousness of our commitment. In this instance, the children of Israel had indulged their appetites by worshiping other foreign gods. They were no longer committed to serve God, but rather distracted by their own desires. The Ark was captured by the Philistines and “The Glory had departed from Israel, for the ark of God had been captured.” (1 Sam. 4:22) The why of fasting is this: we are distracted. There is a battle within us between our desire to do things our way and a desire to do things God’s way. The New Testament writer, James puts it this way, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1) When we deny ourselves basic necessities like food, it weakens our worldly body…but it strengthens our spiritual body! (Mat. 4:2; Mat.16:24-26) It disciplines our flesh and we are more able to commune with God because we are less distracted by the desires/appetites of our bodies. We show God in a very tangible way that we are committed to Him more than to ourselves. (Job 11:13-19) We live on the spiritual food He gives us more than the earthly foods we crave. (Mat. 4:4; Deut. 8:3) God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10), and when we weaken our sinful bodies through self denial…we are strengthened by God’s power and God’s glory returns! We experience His presence in new ways and we recommit our hearts to what really matters. We refocus upon God and we forsake our distractions and hinderances, for the sake of sweet communion and fellowship with God. We fast because we are distracted.

God of grace and God of glory, forgive me for being distracted by my own sinful desires. Even now, talking about denying my body food there is a visceral reaction from my flesh…it is angry, and it desires to disobey. Help me to discipline my body through fasting. Not so that I am holier than anyone else, but because my body is in constant rebellion to Your ways. Let me use the things of this world — food, money, power, talents as if they do not have a hold on me. Let me not be controlled by any of them, but surrender them all to Your control. Help me to keep my commitments to You. Thank You for Your loving kindness and Your faithfulness even when I am unfaithful. Thank You for Your perfect power in my weakness —help me to truly embrace weakness, and fully trust in Your power and grace. All glory is Yours in heaven and on earth. Amen.

Day 14 – Jesus Comes from the Father

Day 14 – Jesus Comes from the Father. March 19, 2019

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” it. John 8:12-19

Jesus told the people that He was the “light of the world” and He came so that we would “have the light of life.” Jesus did not come to speak on His own, but rather to speak what the Father had told Him to speak. Jesus came from the Father in order to let all men know that “God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him might have everlasting life.” The Father has a message for you today: I love you, and I want you to have everlasting life. Jesus came from the Father to complete the work of redemption in order that we might be fully restored to Him. When’s the last time you realized just how much God loves you?

Lord Jesus, thank You for bringing the Father’s message of love and hope. Thank You for confronting those who did not recognize the Father or His message. Help me to realize just how much You love me, and let me truly understand what You have done in bringing eternal life through Your work on the Cross. During this season of Lent, give me a greater sense of Your love, light, and life. Amen.

Day 4 – Jesus Will Show Us Even Greater Things

Day 4 – Jesus Will Show Us Even Greater Things. March 9, 2019

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
John 1:45-51

On the heels of their encounter with Jesus, Philip immediately invites Nathanael to “Come and see” the “one Moses wrote about,” the Messiah — Jesus of Nazareth. When we have seen Jesus and spent time with Him, it is only natural to invite others to experience what we have. All too often the response may be similar to Nathanael’s sarcastic retort, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Jesus mercifully shows Himself to be worthy of following by showing just a little glimpse of His power…“I saw you under the fig tree…” Nathanael is suddenly impressed with Jesus’ ability and recognizes Him as the “Son of God.” Without missing a beat and in almost casual fashion, Jesus basically says: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! “You will see greater things than that.” The true follower of Jesus will never be left with a lack of amazement…there are always greater things to see from our Lord.

Lord Jesus, thank You for bearing with my need to see Your amazing acts of power in order to truly trust You and believe in You. Help me to trust You even when I don’t see the miracles I hope for. But, also Lord, please be true to Your Word and show me greater things than I can ever imagine in You. My I always be amazed in Your presence and by Your grace. Amen.