Matthew 3

Everyone loves a good announcement. Well maybe not everyone, depending on what’s being announced! I personally love it when Starbucks announces a brand new latte or when PBS announces a new Masterpiece show. I love it when my friends have joyous announcements of coming babies or big life events. These types of things, whether small or great, are times of celebration and excitement. We rally around the source of the announcement and become a part of whatever the good news is.

The scene that is described in this passage of Scripture is the scene of an announcement of greater importance than anything we can possibly imagine. I’d love to have been an eyewitness to this little piece of history. This moment is what marked the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Prophecies were fulfilled, an example was set, and the Messiah came into view. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus and to call the people to repentance. He was given the opportunity and blessing of baptizing Jesus, the Son of God. John struggled and even told Jesus that he should be the one being baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. Baptism is a representation of repentance and turning from sin and Jesus had no need to repent. Even so, Jesus chose to be baptized as a He was our atoning sacrifice. He was blameless and yet prepared to take our punishment.

People of all sorts were gathered at the Jordan River that day…followers of John, Pharisees, and Sadducees. John had been calling the religious leaders to repent for their lack of faith and dependance on their heritage as Jesus approached for the big announcement. I’m sure the responses were varied as they witnessed the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and God the Father blessing His Son. Though we weren’t eyewitnesses, we have been blessed with God’s Word. Though we weren’t present we must still respond. The announcement in this passage provides a great opportunity for us, as Christ-followers, to take stock of our own hearts. To recognize the sacrifice that was made. To remember the example that was set. What is our response to this great announcement? Will we respond in humility and repentance, or will we stubbornly cling to our own desires?

Revelation 3:7-12

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)

Some days I simply long for my true home. I know that nothing on this earth can satisfy the desires of my heart, and I know that God has prepared a perfect place for me. I know that Jesus will return and establish a new kingdom in which He is fully glorified! And I long for that day. This well known quote by C.S. Lewis captures the essence of my longings so well (I even have it hanging in my kitchen!). Life in this broken world can feel overwhelming, and the division can run so deep. I believe that is part of what makes the promise of the second advent so exciting–the knowledge that God’s big plan is still unfolding and He’s not done yet. We know who will have victory, and we know who will rule in eternity. That in and of itself should put the proverbial spring in our step!

Despite this glorious promise and the excitement that accompanies it, we also are fully aware of the difficulties of living as a disciple of Christ. In this particular passage of Scripture, we see that the Church in Philadelphia was being encouraged. They lacked power, but they persevered in faith. In the midst of hardships and persecutions, they didn’t lose sight of the glory of their Savior. Here Jesus encourages them to hold fast in their faith as He will be returning soon. He promises to give them a place in the new kingdom and give them a new name. What a fantastic promise this is indeed. Let’s take a note from the page of the Church in Philadelphia…let’s stay faithful. Let’s hold fast. Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters enduring persecution daily. Let’s endure hardship knowing that Jesus always keeps His promises and God’s plan is always best. As we long for our true home in a way this world can’t satisfy, let’s steward our time as sojourners in this world and make disciples for the New Kingdom.

Ezekiel 36:22-38

When I start something new, there is always a purpose behind it in my mind. Over the holiday, I created a little indoor treehouse in one of my closets. It was a full day project but so worth it. It’s a cozy place with one purpose. That purpose is to remove distractions and be a place where I can get lost in books. Whether that is digging into God’s Word or reading a good mystery, that’s where all the reading happens. It’s my new favorite place in the house and if you ever ask me about it, you might regret you mentioned it because I’m sure to start showing you before and after pictures and explaining all the elements of it’s formation. But let’s get back to the point of the story. . .purpose. I’m a purpose fanatic and believe that if we are doing something, we better be able to point to the “why” behind it. A clearly given purpose just brings me joy.

I love this passage of Scripture because it points forward to the new covenant God will make with His people. At this point in history, sin and exile had been a point of disgrace for the Israelites and God was speaking of His plan for restoration. He had a plan to give His people a new heart and a new spirit, to make a covenant with His people to bring His name glory, restore His name among the nations, and to bring His people to Himself. He made it clear to the people that the purpose of the new covenant was not for their sake but for His glory. They had done nothing to earn this new heart and new spirit. They had done nothing to deserve a new covenant with the one true God. Regardless of His people’s merit, God always works for His glory and our good. By providing a new heart, His people would be better able to live a teachable life seeking after God. By providing a new spirit, His people would have the guidance to live as He has called them. The new covenant isn’t about following a list of rules but rather living in communion with our God. He has provided a solution to the sin problem of the human heart and offered the assurance of restoration–all for His glory. As we start this fresh year with new projects and goals, let’s remember our purpose. We have been given this new heart and spirit. Thus, everything we do should be for the purpose of glorifying God, both the small things and the big things. Let’s be intentional and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we seek to grow and make disciples.

James 4

This week I decided to do a light purge of excess stuff that has piled up in my office. As I was going through things, I found an entire stack of empty binders. I normally make my plans and fill my binders with all of my ideas and schedules and details. This year was different. This year required me to set aside my plans, my binders, and my preferences as I had to go one day at a time. Much was accomplished, new strategies were formed, and connections were made. But for someone like me who thrives on plans in binders, it was a little tough to get used to at first, which is why this passage of Scripture resonates with me more after this year than it ever has before.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James 4:13-17

Unfortunately, the trap of self-reliance is easy to fall into. It’s a trap that I’ve always had to intentionally watch for. Though this year has brought sorrow, hardship, sickness, and storms, it has also brought growth. It has been literally impossible to say what we will do tomorrow or where we will be next week. As I look back at the lessons of this year, it’s the seriousness of this passage that shines brightest. . .”If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” This should always be our posture in life, a true dependence on God and His will.

My prayer for us, church family, is that, as we enter into 2021, we will take the opportunity to give thanks for the good and the different that came out of this past year. That we would continue in our growth and understanding of fully leaning on God and His plans. We know the posture we should have, we know we should live humbly in the presence of our God, and we know that only He knows what tomorrow will bring. Let’s then live to glorify Him and set aside our own plans and preferences as we find new ways to seek Him and serve Him in the coming days, whatever they may bring.

Malachi 4:4-6 & Luke 1:17

As I read these Scriptures I was astonished by the beautiful visual of God’s character and providence in our broken world. In these last few verses of Malachi, we are shown God’s justice and love, His punishment of sin and His plan for redemption. This passage harkens back to the foundation of God’s people and His commands for their lives. It reminds the people of the way in which they should walk to glorify their God. Directly following this glance back in Israel’s history, we are pointed forward with a prophecy of the coming of one who would prepare the way for the Messiah, one who would call the people to repentance. Because we are blessed with the New Testament, we know that this person who would be coming would be John the Baptist. He lived and ministered in ways very similar to that of the Old Testament prophets and did indeed lead people to turn from their sin and look toward the coming of Jesus.

My hope is that during this season of advent we have seized the opportunity to return our focus to the beautiful gift God provided, the solution to our sin problem and the call to live for His glory. John’s life was dedicated to serving God, preaching His word, and preparing people’s hearts for the coming of Jesus. I pray that as we end this season of celebration, we don’t end our striving and seeking after God. I pray that we will remember the commands of God and the ways He has called us to live. I pray that tomorrow as we celebrate Christmas, whether alone, with family, or with friends, we will not be swept away by distractions or emotions, but that we will rejoice because our hearts have been prepared! Our hearts are ready to celebrate the redemption story that is unfolding still today! We can rejoice in the understanding that though our world is sinful, our God is holy and His plan is best! So today as you go through your last minute preparations for Christmas, remember to take time to stop and let God prepare your heart. Let’s be ready to celebrate the greatest gift of all.

Nehemiah 4

In this account of Nehemiah’s leadership, we have the opportunity to look into the way Nehemiah responds as he leads the people in an extremely difficult task while also being tormented and threatened by their enemies. Nehemiah understood both the significance of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and God’s providence in preparing the way. It all seemed simple enough in the accounts leading up to this one as everything was falling into place, however, as the people began to come and work with Nehemiah, the opposition arose. They faced the mockery and threats of their enemies who desired their failure. All around them as they worked, they knew the armies were forming on every side and the danger was imminent. The workers were overcome with dread, discouragement, and fear. Nehemiah had a few options in the way he could deal with the problems at hand. He chose wisely. He didn’t give in to the fear and walk away. He didn’t act irrationally and start an attack. He chose to remind his people of the greatness of their God and encouraged them to build the wall while also being prepared for defense in the face of danger. We know that when the trouble began, he first went to the Lord in prayer, and now, Nehemiah combines faith, prayer, and preparedness to stay the course of serving God. He used his God-given gifts of leadership and planning to guide the workers through this difficult and dangerous project. He was able to refocus their sights on the truth of who God is and what He had called them to do.

I don’t know what your situation is or if you are feeling burdened or light hearted. Our paths are all a little different with varying trials and celebrations. In the midst of our differences, there are a few constants that we must keep at the forefront of our focus. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. His attributes don’t change. Let us remember daily, as Nehemiah reminded his people, that we serve an awesome God. A God who always keeps His promises and works for His glory and our good. A God who is sovereign, loving, and just. He has not called us to rebuild the walls as He did Nehemiah, but He does call us to spread the gospel. He calls us to love our neighbor and make disciples. These commands are steady in the midst of turbulent circumstances. So let’s respond with faith, prayer, and preparedness for this world is broken, the stakes are high, and our God is great. Let’s rejoice and carry on together for the glory of God.

Daniel 5

As we have seen through the previous chapters of Daniel, God is all-powerful. His power and victory don’t depend on worldly circumstances or the choices of worldly kings. He is sovereign over all things. In this particular account, we are thrust into a scene of flagrant sin on the part of the Babylonian king, Belshazzar, and his people. He had decided to use the cups from the temple that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem years before. However, not only did he chose to use these sacred cups, he chose to use them as he praised false gods. He was full of pride and arrogance as he partied with his people and blasphemed the one true God. When the writing appeared on the wall, Belshazzar was stunned. Though he did not know the meaning or the source of the writing, he knew something was terribly wrong. After many failed attempts at interpretations from the Babylonians, Daniel was called in to provide the same wisdom he had provided to Nebuchadnezzar in years past.

Daniel took time to remind the king of the folly and restoration of Nebuchadnezzar before he provided an interpretation. Daniel pointed out that just as Belshazzar was a man of pride, so was Nebuchadnezzar. The difference was that in the end Nebuchadnezzar recognized God’s power and humbled himself, whereas Belshazzar refused to part with his pride. The true sorrow comes in that though he heard the word of God, he didn’t turn from his ways. That very night he met the destruction God had promised. God couldn’t let this blatant sin go unpunished because he is a just and holy God.

Belshazzar’s arrogance and issues of the heart are what ultimately led to his demise. His actions seem so much worse than many of the sins we find ourselves trapped in. But are they really? I’m sure if we took the time to honestly search our hearts we’d find traces of idolatry, that one thing we so often let take priority over our relationship with God. We might find some pride as we spend so much time judging the actions, thoughts, and choices of those around us. We are all plagued with heart issues that stem from our sinful nature, however, we have also heard the Word of God. We are provided with His inspired Word to lead us in the way that we should go, to show us His unbroken plan for redemption. Will we choose to search our hearts and humble ourselves before Him or continue to live in pride?

2 Kings 22-23

After a long and turbulent period of kings, eight year old Josiah takes to the throne of Judah. As history has shown, things had obviously not gone well in the land of God’s chosen people. Israel had already been exiled. The evil hearts of kings and the people had Judah on the same path. Everything seemed to be falling apart. Living in the time of Josiah, I can only imagine thinking about God’s covenant and promises and wondering how they could ever withstand the atrocities of His people. Unlike most of the kings before him, Josiah was a man of God. He desired with his whole heart to lead the people in righteousness. He started the process of reform by repairing the temple that had been let go and defiled long ago. It was during this time that the Book of the Law was discovered. The Book of the Law was supposed to have been read frequently to remind the people of God of His commands. It had been covered up and forgotten in the mess of the temple. Josiah was rightly heartbroken when it was brought to him for he had clarity of just how far God’s people had strayed. He cried out in anguish and repentance and God was gracious to allow him to reign and die in peace as he led righteously.

Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

2 Kings 23:25

Josiah worked tirelessly during his reign to cleanse Judah of the idols and evil practices that had become social and cultural norms. However, as hard as Josiah worked and as much progress as he made, not even he was great enough to rescue the people from their sin problem and bring them into a persisting covenant with God. As we know, God is faithful and always keeps His promises. His story was not shattered by the habitual sins of the people. He had a plan to present to the world a King much greater than Josiah. One that had the power to reconcile sinners to the God who created them and sought after them. Let’s remember that God sent His Son as the greatest King of all, as the solution to the brokenness of sin. Like Josiah, let’s turn to the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and might. Part of turning to the Lord is spending time in His Word. Let’s not allow His Word to be set aside and buried by our worldly distractions. Let’s read and study it daily to be reminded of God’s great gift of reconciliation and then follow His commands with joy and thanksgiving.

Jonah 3

The account of Jonah is one that most people have heard from the time they were in the nursery. Though many times used as a way to warn of disobedience (which indeed was an issue for Jonah), this account is really a remarkable window into God’s beautiful, unbroken redemption story. Jonah was a strong-willed and prideful man whom God chose to use in the city of Nineveh. He certainly struggled with some heart issues as he felt the Ninevites deserved destruction and separation from God with no warning. However, this was not God’s plan. God called Jonah to give the city a message of warning, shining a light on their sinful ways and their ramifications, providing an opportunity for repentance and redemption. They reacted swiftly with full humility and sought God’s mercy, which he willingly provided.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

This passage in Jonah is a masterpiece of inspired writing that showcases the lengths God goes to in order to redeem the lost. He uses broken and sinful people to accomplish his tasks of great love and justice. He, in the midst of his judgement, provides mercy and grace for those who seek Him. His love for the people He carefully knitted together is greater than we can ever comprehend. God is the ruler over all things and we are sinful people born into a broken world. Even so, He chose to provide for the very sin problem that keeps us from Him. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, He offers us the redemption required to be in fellowship with the one true and holy God. As followers of Christ who have accepted this gracious and merciful gift, we are commissioned to go and share God’s plan throughout the world. What will your response be? Will you choose to faithfully go to God in prayer for the lost? Will you choose to give and provide for missionaries at home and abroad? Will you go and share the gospel with those around you or even far away? How will you carry out the commission that is for all Christ followers? These are questions we must ask ourselves daily as we strive to humbly grow in God’s mercy and grace.

1 Kings 21

There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.

1 Kings 21:25-26

This statement about Ahab that we read in 1 Kings 21 is fairly straight forward. Ahab was not a great and God-fearing king of Israel. He was continually in violation of God’s laws and repeatedly seeking after idols. His evil leadership continually led the Israelites into sin. The choices he made as king could only lead to disaster and destruction. This chapter of 1 Kings provides us simply with one incident that illuminates the heart of Ahab. He so desperately wants what is not his own, Naboth’s vineyard, that he allows himself to sulk in anger as he whines to his wife Jezebel. When Jezebel arranges the illegal trial and murder of Naboth, Ahab is more than happy to jump right in and take over the vineyard that he had been coveting. This one instance of injustice and misuse of royal position and power is a turning point. Ahab had angered the Lord yet again with his evil behavior and poor choices, leading to the prophecy of Ahab and Jezebel’s destruction. Elijah didn’t try to sugar coat the words of the Lord, he spoke them directly as God had commanded. This prophecy shook Ahab to the core, and he responded with repentance and humility. The Lord took note of Ahab’s response and told Elijah that He would have mercy on Ahab and the destruction would befall his sons after his death.

Ahab certainly deserved the destruction that was headed his way. God is holy and just. He cannot simply turn a blind eye to the sins of His people. However, God is also gracious and merciful. This is one of many situations throughout His unbroken story where He shows grace and mercy to men who are sinful and yet repentant. They deserve instantaneous separation from Him, and yet, He is merciful in His responses. In Ahab’s case, the judgement would indeed come upon his family, but Ahab would be spared the disaster in his own time. The God we serve is simultaneously just, holy, merciful, and gracious. Our sinful choices, no matter how small, are not pleasing in His sight. Our punishment should be death separated from Him in eternity. Oh how thankful I am that He was gracious enough to provide a solution to our sin problem if only we will humble ourselves before Him. When we consider the folly of Ahab, may we be reminded of who God is. May we humble ourselves and search our own hearts that we may enjoy God’s abundant grace and mercy. May we understand the impact of our sinful choices and choose instead to flee temptation and cling to our Father.