Ah, the season of Advent! Such a wonderful time. It's a time of preparation. Like the old carol sings, "Let every heart prepare him room." This is exactly the idea behind Advent. It's taking some time to prepare for Jesus to enter into our worlds. To enter into our joys as well as our sorrows.
During the first week of Advent, we focus on the theme of Hope. Hope is future oriented faith. It's what pulls us into tomorrow. Thinking about the future tends to be done in two ways: counting down or counting up. For example, we count down to Christmas—a fixed and known date. But so much of life is like counting up—we know it's coming, we just don't know exactly when. Maybe you've been counting up to a relationship, and you don't know if it will ever happen. Or maybe you've been counting up to the time when your kids will turn to Christ. Maybe you've been counting the number of days to something very important, and it's a rather large number. But it's been so long that you're starting to wonder will it every happen. Advent is both a count down and a count up.
In the midst of our counting, we see in Scripture that Christ brings hope to our lives. We have hope because of what Christ's first advent ultimately provided for us. Christ has saved us from our sins and dealt with our past. Christ is also now preparing for us a future. And Christ is actively working in our present. We have hope because of what Christ has done, is doing, and is going to do.
It doesn't mean that there is no pain or suffering. Oftentimes suffering is attached to the waiting we are in. It simply means that we know that God has, will, and is currently working. In fact, God never wastes a pain or hardship. He'll use every moment to shape and mold us more into the image of his Son, Jesus. In fact, he just might be using your situation to reveal to you the place where you've been putting your hope.
My encouragement for you this season: show up. Keep showing up in your worship. In your prayers. In God's Word. Keep showing up in fellowship with other Christians. Why? Because you never know when God will move. This is what Advent teaches us.
Here are some questions for reflection:
- Is there anything you are counting down to? How about counting up?
- How does the fact that God has taken care of our past, is giving us a future, and is working in our present give us hope?
- What are you hoping for this Advent season?
Have a blessed week!
This call Jesus gives in John 20:21 is an invitation to join him in what he started. "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you," Jesus tells his frightened disciples. He enters into their fears, and speaks peace. He enters into their broken worlds—the mess of sin and the harsh realities of life—and sends them into the broken worlds of the people around them.
It's the same for you and me.
We must respond to this invitation. We can respond with prayer. Prayers are essential to the work of the gospel. In fact, Paul petitioned the church in Ephesus, saying, "Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should." (Ephesians 6:19-20). We can join Paul in this wonderful prayer—that our missionaries around the world can fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.
We can also respond to the call as God's people. God calls many to full- or part-time ministry. Throughout Scripture we see many individuals whom God called to vocational ministry. If you've been called, might I suggest that you answer the call—do not run from it. While not everyone is called to full- or part-time ministry, all of us have been called to share the gospel, to witness to the power of the resurrection, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison. If we open our hearts to God, we will hear God calling us to some form of service for him.
We also respond to this invitation with our resources. The truth is we've been blessed in order to be a blessing. By sharing what God has given us, we are able to partner with those whom God has called. Through our faithful giving, missionaries can go to places that you and I cannot go. We can give generously because we serve a generous God.
Have you considered what you can give for Faith Promise this year? I challenge you this week to be praying how God would want you to give. Remember, this is not a calculated pledge. Rather, it is a promise that is made by faith—knowing that God will do far greater things than we would if we hold onto it.
Have a blessed week!
Losing your car keys is frustrating. Losing your purpose? Well, that's a whole different challenge.
This week I want to remind you of the significance of God's mission and our participation in that mission. God wants to see as many people as possible join his family—and God gives us the task of partnering with him in this important work.
Shortly after the resurrection Jesus said, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." (John 20:21)
The disciples spent three years with Jesus. Now they were terrified of going outside. Afraid of what could happen, they huddled in fear behind locked doors. That's precisely when Jesus entered the room, into their fear, spoke peace over them, and pointed them outward. We all have this tendency to turn inward and lose site of the work to which God has called us. Sometimes it's because of fear. Sometimes it's out of frustration with what's going on "out there." Either way—Jesus enters into it and reminds us of our purpose.
In this wonderful moment with his disciples, Jesus sends them out in a way characterized by his own example. He said "AS the Father sent me, I'm sending you." We are to go in the same manner in which Jesus was sent. Jesus left his throne in heaven and entered our brokenness. He walked into the harsh realities of our lives. He experienced the same mess we all see. This is exactly how Jesus wants to send us out—into the hurt, pain, and brokenness of those around us. We're sent out; but we're also sent out to those who need the hope and healing Jesus offers.
This week I'd like to ask you, how are you entering into someone else's pain and brokenness? Who has God placed in your path? For whom can you be the hands, feet, or mouthpiece of Jesus this week? What is one step you can take today to be sent, as the Father sent Jesus?
Have a blessed week!
Let's wrap up our conversation on the heart with one final area that is perhaps the most challenging of all.
We all get angry when we don't get what we want. Show me an angry person, and I'll show you a hurt person who didn't get something they wanted. They're angry because someone took something from them. Perhaps you've heard or even said something like this:
Is there a debt causing anger in you?
Paul presents a very intriguing word picture that illustrates how we are to deal with anger. In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul's question is not, what caused you to become angry? Or how will you be paid back when you're angry? Rather he seems to be more concerned with moving forward. So his question is more along the lines of, "How long do you want to carry the anger with you?"
In other words, how long are you going to allow the people who have hurt you to control your life? Will another month do? Another year? Another season of your life? How long?
Paul's suggestion? Hold on only as long as the sun is shining. He says, "Don't let the sun go down on your anger." Or to put it another way, today should be the day that you quit holding onto your hurt and anger. After that he lays out the key to getting rid of it: choosing to forgive.
When you chose to forgive, you're canceling the debt. They can't pay you anyway. How could they? This is why Paul says, "... forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you." (Eph 4:32)
Jesus had no part in any of our sin. He was blameless. You and I are the ones who had major debt. We all had open accounts, and according to the records we owed big time. It did not look good for us. In fact, Paul says that we were dead in our sins and trespasses. (Eph 2:1) We owed God a lot. And we could not pay him back.
So you know what God decided? He said, "You know what? According to my records, they owe me. But they can't pay me back—there's no way. I think I'll just close the book. I'll cancel the account and declare them 'Forgiven.' Why? Not because they've paid me back or made things right. But because I love them, 'Debt cancelled.'" Then in His generosity, He paid the price with His own Son. God in Christ has forgiven you.
The essence of forgiveness is declaring, "You don't owe me anymore." Surely what God has done for you, you can do for the person who has wronged you.
Here are a few questions for reflection:
Notes from the Staff @The Woods