Where are you?

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”      Genesis 3:8-9

Did you ever notice how God asks the best questions? When God comes seeking fellowship with Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day,” as is His custom, on this day they have hidden themselves.  Of course we know that they haven’t hidden from God – they are like my grandson who is convinced that if he can’t see me then I can’t see him. God knows exactly where Adam and Eve are.

Maybe God’s question is less about information He doesn’t have about their physical location and more about the orientation and direction of their hearts. God knows they have broken trust and fellowship with Him when they disobeyed the clear command. So they are now experiencing guilt and fear for the first time. And their relationship with their Creator has been twisted, polluted, broken. Their friendship with their Maker has been shattered and marred. In their despair they turn away from the only One who can heal, forgive and restore them. When God asks, “Where are you?” He is asking Adam & Eve to consider what has happened to them because of their rebellion. They have chosen the path of denial and

This incident is followed by the terrible curse and expulsion from the garden. But deep within the curse is a promise. It contains the hope that one day God Himself would one day send a Redeemer – one who would rescue them and break the curse forever! And so creation waited, year after year, century after century until at just the right time the Redeemer appeared. Of ordinary parents, in poverty, in a manger, unnoticed by the world. Yet God Himself took on flesh and blood to heal, forgive and restore, by taking the curse on Himself and paying the price for sin – Himself.

It is good for us to ask ourselves the question, “Where are you?” this Advent season. Think of the places you will visit each day. And ask yourself where you are in relationship to God. Is your face turned away from your Father, or toward Him?

Amen – let it be.

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Good News!

Today’s message comes from Lisa Andrews, a first year seminary student.

Isaiah 52:7-9 (ESV)

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The prophets very rarely got to bring good news to rebellious Jerusalem. They were given the thankless, often painful task of letting the Israelites know that, once again, they were not measuring up to God’s standard. Countless times God gave His people the chance to reform and renew their covenant and live according to His statutes, and every time they chose idol worship over Yahweh, the God who reigns.

In the midst of Isaiah’s bad news, God gives him a word of hope and of promise – “the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.” However this is a glimpse into the distant future.  In Isaiah’s time, Jerusalem is still in tact, the temple is still standing, the people are living under the true (albeit terrible) kings from the line of Judah, but Babylon is coming. Israel cannot keep her promise, the curse will come for them under the law and Jerusalem will be broken. They will be deported and forced into exile.

But “beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news!” For me good news is that the end of the semester is approaching! For you it may be the hope of a new job, or healing, or simply that the Christmas season is approaching (or that it will be over soon)! We know that suffering and conflict are a natural part of the human experience, but God promises long-standing salvation. It may be a slow burn and we may struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the Bible is a faithful representation of God’s slow-and-steady grace.

Israel falls, goes into exile, but God is faithful and exile ends. Peace and happiness come and the temple is rebuilt. God’s glory never returns to the temple, but even better, He Himself comes as Christ. So we will “sing for joy; for eye to eye [we] see the return of the Lord to Zion.”

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Advent Begins!

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
Isaiah 40:10 (NIV)

“Advent” comes from the Latin word for “come.” We use it to describe the four week period before Christmas because it points us forward to the future, to the coming of Christ. During Advent we are certainly looking forward – to parties, shopping and Christmas! I couldn’t agree more with the secular carol that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year!” But it can be a time of sappy sentimentalism, unrealistic romanticism, and shallow spirituality. We feel there should be more but can’t quite connect with whatever it is.

The good news is that our instincts are right!  There is a lot more than we have found so far! Isaiah points us in the right direction: “the Sovereign Lord comes with power.”  Somehow the baby in the manger is at the same time the Sovereign Lord.  God, the Ruler of the Universe, has come into a newborn baby.  What a gracious gift! That gives meaning to the gifts we give.  What a beautiful child! That gives meaning to our lives. What a great way to begin this season of Advent.

I’m not really ready, but Advent is here!  I plan to do my best, to make the most of it, to do whatever I can to slow down and listen for the Sovereign Lord.  I will let you know when He contacts me.  Will you do the same?  Have a great Advent!

Amen, let it be.

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Ready When You Are!

i am grateful to Lisa Andrews for her insight and vulnerability in what she shares with us today. 

Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary, single gal, engaged to a great guy has an unexpected visit. An angel tells her of a miracle which will be done through her that is beyond comprehension. What good news! She believes, God is faithful, and so it is done.

It stands to be repeated: Mary, single lady. I have never actually glanced at the birth of Christ through this lense before, but as a 27-year-old single female who still considers marriage as a probability in my life, this brings the story into shocking reality. Consider the scandal. Do you know any single mothers? Have you heard of any children who were unplanned, unexpected, a surprise? That is the story of Mary. Luckily, the Lord interceded and promised Joseph that He was going to fulfill His great promise through this baby, but imagine being Joseph. You meet a nice girl, get betrothed, great! Then… your fiance is pregnant. You know it’s not YOUR baby. And then she’s telling you this kid is a gift from God and will save the world. Not only has she gone and messed around with someone else and gotten pregnant, she’s obviously CRAZY. You just don’t make claims like that.

Don’t you think God knew about the cultural stigma around this set up? But we see that it didn’t stop Him from working it for His will. God had a purpose for her, and He used His own time and method to accomplish what He wanted to get done.

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

It would have been more acceptable at the time (and, heck, even now) for Mary and Joseph to be safely wed for God to give Mary the gift of Jesus. But His timing was specific, planned, and purposeful. What a miracle that God used a very scandalous situation to send His son into the world. Before the journey to Bethlehem, before the manger, before the world’s least expected birthday visitors, God’s plan started with a nice single girl who probably (like most single girls do) thought her life would finally have purpose through marriage. Surprise!

This points the finger at us. God doesn’t wait for us to be ready, if He did most things would never happen! We just won’t be ready, even when we do feel prepared there’s often so much we look back on and realize we didn’t have even in our most confident moments. Society tends to create a false sense of comfort by making plans and lists, keeping an organized schedule and following the logical path to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. When God enters the picture, good luck! The birth of Christ is no exception!

While we cannot expect and plan for what the Lord will do through us, we can constantly ready our hearts and our spirits for the call! We must tune our hearts to sing God’s grace. In doing so, we acknowledge that we may not be prepared or have accomplished what we had hoped, but no task is too big or too small if God asks us to give ourselves wholly unto it in pursuit of His glory. We, like Mary, can say “yes” to God even in the most unlikely situations and have courage and the faith that God will fulfill His promises.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
-Luke 1:46-49

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A Woman of Faith

 

Nephew: Any literature on Mary saying no thanks or I’ll pass on being the birth mother of Jesus?                                                                                                                                  Me: Emphatically no! All the literature goes in the exact opposite direction.         Nephew: Her courage and bravery is really understand (understated?) in my uneducated opinion

Our focus this week of Advent is on Mary and love. My nephew shows real insight because more education about Mary only increases the estimation in which she is held.

Love is a virtue that requires courage.  Fannunciation.jpgor a mother it requires courage to renounce: total control of her body for 9 months, a pre-baby body, health through gestation and birth.  And courage to face an unknown future: surviving birth, a healthy, “normal” baby, the ability to nurse and care for a new life.

Every mother must find that kind of courage. But being the mother of the Savior of the world required something more. Courage to know that God had entered her physically, palpably, and to face the knowledge that the child would not be “hers” exactly. And courage to know that one day her Child would fulfill not her dreams but a plan that had been working for ages.

Where did Jesus learn the courage to face hostile authorities, brutal captors and the mortal cross?  Maybe he learned it at home, where all good things are learned. May we learn courage for our ordinary, everyday lives from this exceptional mother.

Amen, let it be.

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Holly, Jolly and Holy

I am very pleased to welcome guest blogger Jess Adams to the Advent Journey. Drink deeply – there’s a lot here!  Pastor Bill

My father asked me to write on this particular day for one reason: my son’s birthday. I gave birth to him last year on December 16th, and the comparison to Mary was too good to pass up – for a lot of people. His birth date typically elicits a comparison to Mary or a lament that his birthday will not be special enough since it’s so close to Christmas. I don’t really feel that his birthday will be an issue, but I understand what people mean. In our society, birthdays are like holidays; they’re sacred and set apart. I even know someone who celebrates his birthday week! (Dad)
Women do similar things with their birth plans. I read about a woman who found out after 20 hours of labor that she had to have a c-section. In response she burst into tears of grief. She said she felt that she and her child were robbed of an experience. My judgmental self found that ridiculous. I couldn’t understand why she would disdain a procedure that gave her a healthy, safe baby! Then I remembered Tim Keller’s sermon, “Counterfeit Gods.” “Idolatry means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing,” Pastor Keller says. Like birthdays, we turn birth plans and birthdays into holy (ultimate) things.

Our human hearts flock to idols. Luke 2:7 says, “And she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” There’s no mention of a birth plan, a party, or even if Mary breastfed or used a wet nurse. We give into the lies of the enemy when we act as though things must be a certain way. God is the author of peace, not confusion. He cares about the condition of our hearts, not whether or not our Christmas meets the Hallmark-Norman-Rockwell-nostalgia standard. My prayer this Christmas is that God would enable us all to do the hard work it takes to keep him front and center. May He block out the noise and the clutter and show us that He alone is what is Ultimate.

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Happy Birthday!

My wife asked if we’re having a birthday cake for Jesus in Church on Christmas Day.  Caught me off guard with that one.  After all, it is Jesus’ birthday and that is how we celebrate birthdays. I’ll have to give it some more thought…

On the other hand, in this season that celebrates the birth of Jesus the Savior I had the tremendous pleasure of attending a party today in honor of my Grandson, Caleb. He is one year old.  It was a wonderful event and I am so happy. And so proud of his parents.  I was at the party all day and now I am tired. So, there will be no blog today – sorry! Or will there???

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Talking yourself to joy

Do you find yourself joyless in this joyful season?  Is every drop of happiness being sucked out of your very soul by the physical, emotional, financial and psychological demands being made on you every day? You’re not alone and you’re not the first one to experience this. In Psalm 77 Asaph the psalmist felt abandoned by God and overwhelmed by his troubles with no answer from God.  But everything changed in verses 8 and 9:

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”          Psalm 77:8-9

Do you catch it?  Do you see that Asaph starts talking to himself? His questions force him to review God’s track record. And what he finds is that God is trustworthy, faithful, and good. That’s how he “talks” himself to joy. As our Advent journey moves towards Christmas day by day remember what God has done for you. Ask yourself about his blessings. Remember why he came to earth – to be near you! Remind yourself about that little truth – it will make a big difference in your life. May your words take you to the Word, and may the Word give you joy!

Amen, let it be.

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Where Joy Comes From

Watch this video!

You must have some idea of where joy comes from. From money, love, success, friends, within, children, accomplishment, etc?  These are all great sources of joy. But they all have a fatal flaw – they depend on me.  I have to get money, cultivate friends, work at love, or a job, or search within.  And when life gets to me and all I want to do is shut down if all I have is me I’m in big trouble. I love the chorus of that song: “You are my joy!”  They find their joy not in musical talent or success, but in the God who became human to bring joy to the human race. That same joy that the Triune God experiences as it celebrates its love for one another. A joy that Jesus shares with us when we put our trust in him. This joy doesn’t depend on us, it comes to us, is given to us!

Where does joy come from?  How do you answer that question?  I pray you will find a happy answer.  Joy to the world – the Lord has come!

Amen, let it be

 

 

 

 

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Christ the Word

But you have given me a present, Jesus your Son,

as mediator between yourself and my soul,

as middle-man who in a pit holds both him below and him above,

for only he can span the chasm breached by sin, and satisfy divine justice.

May I always lay hold upon this mediator,

as a realized object of faith, and alone worthy by his love to bridge the gulf,

Let me know that he is dear to me by his Word;

I am one with him by the Word on his part, and by faith on mine;

If I oppose the Word I oppose my Lord when he is most near;

If I receive the Word I receive my Lord when he is near.

O you who hold the hearts of all in your hand,

form my heart according to the Word, according to the image of your Son,

So shall Christ the Word, and his Word, be my strength, comfort and joy!

From “The Valley of Vision”  1994

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