Monthly Archives: December 2010

Jesus: the Christ (Advent 1)

The following was written for a devotional guide for CityView Church for Advent 2009…

Reading:
Matthew 1:1-17 and John 4:25, 11:27

Throughout the New Testament one of the most common names for Jesus is the “Christ” which is a Greek word meaning ‘anointed one.’  This title is full of meaning from the Old Testament (the Hebrew word is ‘Messiah’ which is translated in our English Bible as ‘savior’) and communicates much about the nature and character of Jesus.  The Christ or Messiah figure from the Old Testament is one who was prophesied to deliver God’s people from oppression and slavery.  We can see from specific prophecies that he was supposed to restore the Kingdom of David (Jeremiah 23:5, 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23), restore the Temple (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1; Zechariah 6:13; Ezekiel 37:26-28), regather his people – the exiled Jews (described in Isaiah 11:12 and 43:5-6), and usher in world peace (Isaiah 2:4) among many others.

One of the reasons that the New Testament writers saw such significance in using Christ to talk about Jesus is that he fulfills all of the prophecies perfectly and delivers us from our slavery to sin.  As the King of kings Jesus reigns as the perfect, sovereign, everlasting ruler that no earthly king could be.  As our High Priest Jesus also restores and enables right spiritual worship of God (the book of Hebrews goes in-depth on this idea), brings us peace with God, and gathers us together in gospel-centered community (the Church).  There are so many other things that we could learn about this title for Jesus, but the most incredible thing is that this Christ who came to save humanity and reconcile us to God came not in his full glory (like we see in Revelation 19:11-16), but rather in human form as a baby boy.

As God in the flesh, Jesus reveals to us more about God than anything else in all of history could (see Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1), and he accomplishes more than we could ever dream.  He has fulfilled God’s promises of deliverance, broken the dominion of sin in the hearts and lives of Christians, given his people a reason to hope in the living God, brought new life into sinners who were dead in sin, and guaranteed that those who put their faith in him and live their lives in obedience to his Word will never taste death.  So when we see this unique title for Jesus as the Christ, we should be mindful of the immense significance that Jesus has in human history and God’s redemption story.

Questions:
•    Where in the Bible can you see God as the one who delivers Israel from a bad situation?  What does this tell us about how Jesus delivers us?
•    What has Jesus freed or delivered you from?  What has Jesus restored in your life?
•    What does Jesus’ life and character tell us about God?  How does that fit with what God tells us about himself in Exodus 34:5-7?

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Mercy in Loneliness

The following was written on March 13, 2008…

 

Real as a prayer on a lonely night,
sure as the ocean tide
oh love, oh love
oh the many colors that you’re made of
you heal and you bleed
you’re the simple truth and you’re the biggest mystery
— “Oh Love” —
by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood

Who doesn’t long for someone to hold?
Who knows how to love you without being told?
Somebody tell me why I’m on my own,
If there’s a soulmate for everyone.
— “Soulmate” —
by Natasha Bedingfield

Well, I think I’ve finally come to the place where I know at least some part of the answer to some questions that have rested on my soul for the longest time.  Disclaimer: by no means does this mean I have it ‘figured out’ or even have peace in my heart – it means only that God has spoken Truth into my life and allowed me a slight glimpse into my own life from His perspective.  Before I go any further, allow me to elaborate on what I’m actually talking about.

Ever since the day I figured out girls were cool and that I wanted one, I’ve longed to be married.  From then on, I’ve schemed, planned, strategized, and tactically approached dating relationships, and all manner of communication in relation to them.  Many a late night during my college years was spent hunched over cheap coffee, either dissecting the latest philosophy and/or theology of dating and marriage.  Still more were spent engaging in conversation with any number of my peers as we lamented, celebrated, theorized, and advised each other about the many intricacies of dating life, the opposite sex, and what God thought about all of it.  Through it all, I’ve had one constant desire on my heart – to be a husband, a father, and a provider for my future family.

That having been said, my last official relationship ended between 4 and 5 years ago, and I’ve been pondering life, marriage, relationships, and theology ever since.  The past two years have been especially fruitful and formative for where I believe I’m headed for the rest of my life, and without getting sidetracked there, I’ll say that they have been an immense blessing despite tough times and long nights.   I’ve oscillated drastically from near certainty that a relationship would blossom out of a friendship to nearly vowing celibacy and denying what God has put in my heart for me to do.  Through thick and thin, laughter and pain, one constant staccato of questions has ached my soul and been a heavy ballast in my heart:  When, where, and how will I meet my future wife… and who is she?  I know well the dark nights of the soul when prayers hit the ceiling and the only thing on the other end of the phone line is voice mail.  The questions, the uncertainty, the insecurity… all of them welled up within me to the breaking point when I found myself crying out like David, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me?”

It is in the still quietness following that silent crescendo in my heart that I found myself praying constantly for my future wife and kids, for myself, for anything at all that would relieve me of my angst.  As the months wore on, God began to show me more of myself, which was a scary thing for me to see.  Small faults, hidden insecurities, erroneous presuppositions about the way relationships and marriage and myself worked.  These discoveries were all good and well, but deliverance from the ache of missing someone I hadn’t even met still eluded me.  Pain.  Turmoil.  Isolation.  Why would God put those into my life if He wired me for marriage and community?  What would be the purpose in not having that venue to glorify Him?  I had my stuff together, I had my priorities in line, and I was ready, right?  Absolutely wrong.  What follows is the result of the last couple of days in my meditations on this subject, and they are by no means infallible.  I do believe that God has given me insight into my own situation, and therefore I’ve chosen to put it down here.  Do with it what you will.

Yesterday as I was driving home from class, I continued on the line of thinking that I’d entertained earlier that morning, namely my future family (or lack thereof) and the omnipresence of those who had found precisely what I longed for.  As I plumbed these depths for the millionth time, I had an epiphany.  If God would have given me who I wanted (and still very much want) when I wanted her, I would have taken advantage of her, taken her for granted, and failed to appreciate her – or perhaps more accurately, God working through her.  Basically, I came face-to-face with the reality that God – in His infinite mercy and wisdom – was allowing me to endure the pain of loneliness for my own good… because as a wise pastor once said, it is much better to be lonely outside of a relationship than lonely inside a marriage.   Now, I’ll admit that I’m not much closer to having this figured out than I was yesterday, but I do realize the game I’m playing now.  Until I’m ready to lay down all that I dream on the altar of God’s will for me, I will continue to be frustrated, lonely, and wholly unattractive to the kind of woman I pray that I’ll marry.  So for now, I’m content to work on that which is in me that is fractured and would do massive damage to a marriage were it given the opportunity.  I lean wholly on God’s guidance through Scripture, prayer, and godly wisdom/advice/experience, and thus far have found it to be immensely sanctifying, humbling, and hopefully rewarding than even I thought it would be.

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Restless

Lately I’ve listened to “Restless” by Audrey Assad as I’ve settled in to life in Missouri.  She came to LifePoint (my home church) and I’ve kicked myself for not going to that concert.  Anyway, I’ve felt a bit of yearning to be older, to be married, and to be a pastor full-time so that I can serve and teach and lead like I believe God has called me to.

But one thing that I’ve known all along (and re-realize from time to time) is that God is at work in the times where I feel restless.  Just because I’m not where I eventually want to be doesn’t mean that where I’m at serves no purpose.  So in my restlessness, I praise God for his sovereignty.  I praise him that he gives me what I need, not what I want.  And I realize that I’m restless in this life because I’m not home.  I’m not in heaven; I’m in this temporary house that sharpens and sanctifies me, makes me yearn for more – makes me yearn for my God.

This is the thought that Augustine expressed in his book ‘Confessions,’ which happens to be that inspired “Restless.”  His prayer to God reads (loosely) that ‘we are restless until we find rest in [God].’  This simple but profound truth has immense implications that I can hardly scratch the surface of, but it most certainly rings true in my restless heart.

In Christ I find the only security, the only satisfaction, the only answer that gives my restless heart peace.  I truly am restless, insecure, impatient, and frustrated.  But in Christ I am made new, made whole, and made to be of great worth in God’s economy.

So though I started this day restless and frustrated, I pray that I put into my heart and speak to my soul the promises that are all confirmed and established in Christ, and may I see that my restlessness drives me to the one in whom I have eternal rest.

watch Audrey playing “Restless”:

[song starts about 20 seconds in]

Restless
by Audrey Assad

You dwell in the songs that we are singing
Rising to the Heavens
Rising to Your heart

Our praises filling up the spaces
In between our frailty and everything You are
You are the keeper of my heart

And I’m restless
I’m restless
‘Til I rest in You
(Oh God I wanna rest in You)

Oh speak now for my soul is listening
Say that You have saved me
Whisper in the dark
‘Cause I know You’re more than my salvation

Without You I am hopeless
Tell me who You are
You are the keeper of my heart

Still my heart
Hold me close
Let me hear a still small voice
Let it grow
Let it rise
Into a shout
Into a cry

I am restless until I rest in You

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Psalm 116:7

“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.”
– Psalm 116:7

God has been so gracious to bless me with so many things… a wonderful family, a bountiful supply of food, money, resources, friends, and joy.  Why, then, do I fear and covet and become jealous of other people?

There’s no need for me to worry (Matthew 6:34)… God is in control and grants me new mercies every morning, according to what that day requires (Lam. 3:23).

So I can return to rest… I can sleep soundly, because no matter what happens in this life, I know that God has dealt bountifully with me.

In my sin, I have earned the death and torturous anguish that I’ve tasted at various points in my life… but God, in His infinite mercy and grace, has saved me from my junk and bathed me in His Spirit so that I can now be counted righteous before God, though I’ve done nothing to merit anything.  Lost in my trespasses and dead in my sin, God sowed in my heart the righteous seeds that now bear a pleasing and fragrant fruit that also spreads seeds to others.

So God has been most gracious in dealing bountifully with me… therefore my soul can return to rest and pleasant sleep in the satisfaction that has been delivered me through the blood of Christ.

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Sin and Reform

The following was written on November 12, 2008…

As I’ve progressed in my walk with Christ, I’ve found more and more that Scripture reads me.  When I see people in the Bible, I often see aspects of myself.  While the stories of David and Solomon and Elisha aren’t my stories, they do resonate with me, and tell me more of the God who is intimately working in my life.

Most recently I’ve been reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, and it’s been an interesting experience.  I’ve loved seeing God working on the macro level – with Israel and Judah’s many kings of varying holiness.  He truly is sovereign over all aspects of government, and works in mighty ways to accomplish both His will and His purposes for nations.  I’ve also been fascinated at how God works on the micro level.  The text will quickly rip through a hundred years’ worth of leadership and kings in Israel in just a paragraph or two, and then will slow way down to speak of a miracle or an evil deed, taking several chapters to do so.  These things that I’ve been learning, however, aren’t the issue that have been on my mind the most lately…

God showed me last night that the big story with Israel throughout the monarchy (both in the united and the divided) is that Israel struggles intensely with her idolatry, and cannot seem to put the foreign gods away for any lasting length of time.  Every once in a while there is reform, or a holy king who takes care of a few things, but there’s always an evil king who leads the people back into sin again… and again… and again.  They never beat their sin, and in the end have to be completely abandoned by God and delivered over to a pagan nation to experience His judgment by living as conquered slaves in a foreign land.

In a way, this story is my story.  I’ve struggled so much with my sin – be it pride, lust, idolatry, selfishness, greed, gluttony, or anything else under the sun – and every once in a while I’ll see some reform, a return to following Jesus closely.  But there’s always something that leads me back into my old lifestyle, something that tugs at my heart strings and leads me down that dark pathway, and I find myself standing and knocking at temptation’s door, head hung low, shoulders slumped in surrender.

So how long must I continue in this way?  How long will my God’s mercies continue to renew, and how long will it be before I truly understand how much damage I’ve dealt myself and those I love?  I pray that He ruins me… I pray that He enraptures my soul with a lasting satisfaction and joy, so that I consider Him the most desirable thing to be had in all the universe for all eternity.

Oh merciful Almighty God, deliver me from my sin.  Send me not into Exile from You.  Oh please don’t forsake me to the wilderness and my own destruction.  Give me grace, lead me into Your pleasant presence and put away my transgression.  Let Your mercies be new tomorrow, and give me strength to serve You and only You this coming day.  Thwart evil, give grace, and let me bear fruit in keeping with true repentance.

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