Forward Looking

Micah 4:6-8 (NRSV)

In that day, says the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away,
    and those whom I have afflicted.
The lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    now and forevermore.

And you, O tower of the flock,
    hill of daughter Zion,
to you it shall come,
    the former dominion shall come,
    the sovereignty of daughter Jerusalem.

By Chuck Griffin

As the season of Advent ends and Christmas is upon us, let’s take one last look at where the story of the infant Christ is headed.

It moves from childhood to adulthood to his death—and astonishingly, beyond death, to his resurrection and promises that all of creation will be renewed.

We sometimes forget that we are not beyond the story, but in the middle of it. It’s important we cling tightly to the promise there is more to come, that all will be set right.

Why does God not rescue those who suffer, or the outcasts, or the ones who bear the scars brought on by their own sins or the sins of others? It’s a question often heard, and the answer is straightforward: He’s doing so right now. The process is ongoing. The world is turning upside down as people continually are offered escape from sin through belief in Jesus Christ.

We don’t ask firefighters why they aren’t rescuing the trapped when they’re breaking down the door of a burning house. We don’t ask the doctor why he isn’t healing a patient when he’s in the middle of setting a broken leg. Even if the situation appears frightening or painful, we are grateful someone is moving events in the right direction.

This Christmas season, remember to give thanks not only for what happened in Bethlehem, but what was made possible. The hope seen in the manger is our hope for the future.

Lord, the details of how your promise will be fulfilled can seem mysterious, but we know that great day to come will bring eternal life in your presence. Hallelujah! Amen.

Preparing for Joy

Psalm 126. A Song of Ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.

By John Grimm

Grief takes time to work through.

Tears will arrive when they are least expected.

Misfortune can zap our dreams.

Yet the Lord has his means of restoring us.  If we have not given up, if we have not succumbed to the weeping, and if we have not been swallowed up in tragedy, then we can know how the Lord can restore us.  Some of us are cynical.  Some of us have cut ourselves off from any good because we have experienced much tragedy in our lives.  Some of us have stopped dreaming.

It is good to dream.  How can we have our fortunes restored?  How will God give us joy for which we can shout? Throughout the generations, people have paid attention to the Lord. When people pay attention to the Lord, then we see God restoring us.  That brings us joy!

We need not only have joy during Advent and Christmas.  There are more weeks to the year than the weeks of Advent.  Joy can be our shout every week of the year!  For we can notice the great things God has done for us, even if times are bad. 

Lord, we know people who have stopped dreaming.  We know that you can restore joy to each person and each nation.  May we know joy in our lives as we see you restoring us and our fortunes that are found in you alone.  Fill our lungs so we may give shouts of joy, even today!  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

A Dwelling Place for Life

Psalm 90

By John Grimm

We see much of God in this psalm.  He is our dwelling place; is everlasting; can have anger; has wrath; has compassion; has steadfast love. He has glorious power and has favor.  We see how we start with him, then we aggravate him, and then we plead for his blessing upon us.  What an ebb and flow we go through!

We find ourselves away from God in this life because of our sin and iniquity.  We find ourselves near God in this life because of his compassion.  Maybe in our lives, we will stay closer to the Lord our God.  It is better to know the favor of the Lord our God than it is to know his wrath.

One line of thought through this psalm is trouble.  We have toil and trouble, and we have seen evil.  Yes, living our lives brings more than enough concern about toil, trouble and evil.  When we are not the cause of toil, trouble and evil, staying close to the Lord can be easier for us to do.  However, when we are the cause of our own toil, trouble and evil, we realize we are the ones who have separated ourselves from God.  It sure would be nice to live our 70 or 80 years close to God.  This choice is ours.  As the Lord turns to us, then we learn to turn to God. 

This Advent of 2021 sounds like a suitable time to turn to the Lord.  Will we accept the favor of God, or we will continue to feel his wrath?  It looks like that if the Lord is our dwelling place, toil, trouble and evil do not keep us from knowing the favor of the Lord our God.

God, we have turned from you.  Your wrath is justified against us.  We need you to get through this life.  As we live in you, let us know your steadfast love.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Living a Lie

Revelation 22:12-16 (NRSV)

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”


By Chuck Griffin

If you were in church last Sunday, you probably picked up on the fact that we are now in the season of Advent, which begins a new church year. With our minds on Christmas, Advent can seem like an odd church season.

For one thing, we begin the church year like people who read the last few pages of a novel before starting the first chapter. Advent is about the end of a great story, one we will spend the rest of the church year hearing and exploring through its cycle of readings.

The ending is pretty straightforward: Jesus Christ will return. Justice will become a visible reality, and the Messiah who died for all will reward those who stand with him and reject those who rejected him.

Today’s text from Revelation references “everyone who loves and practices falsehood,” saying they will be excluded from God’s presence, where the gift of eternal life awaits. Another translation, the New Living Translation, describes these people as those “who love to live a lie.”

Christians do occasionally stray from living as true disciples. We forget what Jesus Christ did to restore us as children of God. We live as if there is no truth to the story.

Usually, we snap back to reality as defined by God, the maker of all that is real. We resume that effort to live as he would have us live. We conform our lives to God’s will out of gratitude for the great gift we have been given.

Like Lent, the church season preceding Easter, Advent is a good time to ask ourselves what lies we might be living and how we can return to the truth. Recognizing our errors and turning from them amount to what we call repentance; growing in truth and love then becomes a powerful work God’s Spirit can perform in us.

Eventually, we may be so blessed that we can show the truth to those who have never known anything but life as a lie.

Lord, reveal where we lie to ourselves, and show us how the truth really does set us and others free. Amen.

Love

The last of the four Advent themes is love. If we were detectives, we might say, “Now we’ve found the motive!”

The motive, that is, for everything God does. The principle is laid out for us in 1 John 4:7-11:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Why would God unilaterally decide to come among us and save us from our sins, suffering as Christ to give us hope, peace and joy? It was an act of undeserved, unreserved love. Love exists because God exists, and love is integral to God’s being, God’s nature.

The circumstances could be different. We’ve imagined gods completely lacking in love, disinterested, dismissive or even hostile toward human beings. But the One True God is driven by love.

Even when God chastises us, it is a loving act, one designed to bring us into alignment with our creator. When we walk with God, we walk toward life. When we walk away from God, we walk toward death.

God loves us so much he wants to dwell among us. God did this in flesh, as Jesus Christ, carrying out the work necessary to save us from our sins. He resides in us and among us now, as the Holy Spirit. And he will dwell among us in full.

I think I’m about ready to celebrate the incarnation—Christmas!

Lord, sometimes we simply need to stop and give thanks for who you are. We are blessed to be the creation of a loving being, one who looks out for us eternally. Thank you for the love shown to us on the cross. Amen.

Joy

Yesterday, I mentioned how biblical peace describes the current relationship between God and humanity, a state made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Bliss is a perfectly appropriate response to that peace.

There is a more exuberant emotion, too, the third theme of Advent. There is joy! It is so important, many churches use a pink- or rose-colored candle to mark the third Sunday of Advent. In some traditions the clergy even wear matching vestments, like these:

Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t want to wear that.

I do, however, want to celebrate joy! And when we talk about biblical joy, we mean an emotion that resides in us in all circumstances, even when we are experiencing what otherwise might be thought of as “bad times.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice,” Paul told the church at Philippi. (Philippians 4:4.)

Why? Think what we have been given:

Eternal life!

The promise that all that has gone wrong, is going wrong and will go wrong will be made right.

The experience of God in this life, now.

Therein lies our joy. We are able to look at any negative situation and say, “You know what? That has already been defeated.”

Lord, may our experience of joy be as emotional as it is intellectual. And again, may others see in us what you are offering them. Amen.

Peace

Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Let’s continue exploring the four big themes of the season of Advent. Today, we will consider the concept of peace.

When we talk about biblical peace, we don’t just mean a feeling of bliss. Biblical peace is more akin to peace between nations that have been at war. When they agree to peace, they end hostilities and seek new possibilities for their relationship.

Through his sacrifice, Jesus ended the state of war between God and humanity. Humans brought on this terrible situation by sinning against God, creating a state of unholiness that called for our destruction. Through Jesus Christ, God made a unilateral offering of peace, restoring our ability to relate to our creator.

To accept the offer, we simply look to the cross and believe, accepting that the work done there is complete and irrevocable.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a state of peace does also bring a feeling of bliss. The threat of destruction is removed.

In terms of emotional responses, there’s more, too. But that’s for tomorrow.

Lord, thank you for the tremendous offer of peace made to us when you had all the power and divine privilege. Amen.

Hope

For the rest of this week, let’s consider the four themes of the Advent season—hope, peace, joy and love—which are usually captured in readings during the lighting of candles on the Advent wreath each Sunday.

As odd as it might seem, Romans 5:1-4 ties hope among the believers to suffering:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

I find it helpful to realize that suffering can have a point, so long as we continue in our faith that God’s promises have come true and will continue to come true.

Whatever we are experiencing, we learn to say in stronger and more authoritative ways, “Yes, this situation is bad, but it is temporary. God has promised that evil and all of its effects will be overcome.”

The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train. There’s no trick in store for us. The light of Christ is bearing down on us, coming to our rescue.

Hope also serves as a great evangelism tool. When people look at a Christian and say, “I want what that person has,” odds are the believer is exhibiting hope. People long to know that there is a potential happy ending to every story, and they particularly want to know how to ensure they can take part in that ending.

It is the basic role of every Christian to project hope where people may find themselves in despair. Where will we demonstrate hope today?

Lord, we don’t like to suffer, but thank you for being there in the midst of suffering, helping us to turn it into something good on behalf of your kingdom. Amen.

The God Who Speaks

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Hebrews 1:1-2 (New Living Translation)

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.


These words and what follows in the opening of Hebrews remind us of the astonishing change God wrought in the history of the universe through Jesus Christ.

Even in their sin-soaked brokenness, people had always received at least some indirect word from God. In particular, prophets would arise who would speak on God’s behalf, usually issuing a call to repent, an exhortation to live as God would have them live.

In those prophecies, there also were promises. God said he would provide a way out of sin, an opportunity for otherwise hardened hearts to be softened, beating once again to God’s rhythms rather than the world’s.

In this season of Advent, we move toward celebrating the incarnation, the strange fact that God actually took on flesh and lived among us. Not only that, God came among us not as a king but as a vulnerable, very poor baby, fully experiencing what it means to be human.

How does the Son speak to you? Are you in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, letting his words challenge and shape you?

Advent is a good season to reconnect with the one who is always available. God continues to speak a new, life-changing truth to all of us.

Over the next few days, try something. Read the first two chapters of each of the gospels. It’s my prayer that starting these stories will renew a desire to hear what the Son has to say.

Lord, thank you for the ongoing blessing of your holy word. We particularly thank you for the penetrating, life-changing words of the Messiah. Amen.

Strange Signs

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Luke 21:25-28 (NLT)

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”


This season of Advent is in part about anticipating Christ’s return, knowing God’s promises will be fulfilled. Evil and death will be cast away forever.

It is the lead-up to Christ’s return that can scare the jujubes out of us. When we’re told all people will be perplexed by sudden changes in the sea and sky, the word “cataclysmic” comes to mind.

We are left to decide how we are going to read Jesus’ statement. Is this symbolism, perhaps even hyperbole, an overstatement designed to indicate the serious nature of Christ’s words?

Was Jesus speaking of ongoing events, which certainly can be dramatic, or are the hurricanes, earthquakes and strange events in the sky (think conjunctions and Oumuamua) merely foreshadowings of more shocking events to come?

As Christians, we are to understand that this encounter with Christ, the beginning of the eternal experience of his full presence, will dwarf all other events in human history. The language used to describe this great day may be poetic, but the day will not disappoint us. Those who get to experience it from an earthly vantage will no doubt be astonished.

The very biblical concept of Christ’s return is critical to our understanding of the work Jesus did on the cross, a redemptive act still moving toward completion. The hard part is done; as Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” and the rest is inevitable.

Those blessed to see that day will be rattled to the depths of their souls. If you are among them, just remember, it’s all for the best.

Maranatha, Lord.