The Thrill of Hope

In the days leading up to Christmas, it is easy to get weary to the point of just being tired of it all.  Shopping, activities and family obligations can all lead to a lot of stress.  Leading up to Jesus’ birth, the nation of Israel was weary too.  The prophets had previously said that because of their lack of faith, their nation was finished (see Isaiah 1:2 and Amos 9:8), but the prophets also gave Israel a message of hope.  Daniel 2:44 states God will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed and Zechariah 14:9 says there will be one Lord who is King over all the earth.

Israel had been living in exile in Babylon, but when the Persians conquered the area, the Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding and to restore their worship.  They believed that if they led faithful lives, God would usher in the new kingdom He had promised.  They waited for 500 years, but nothing happened.  They were now under Roman power and they became weary.

Then, something did happen.  Jesus was born.  Luke 2:1-7: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

This baby was literally the Word of God and God’s action.  John 1:1-5, 14 states that in the beginning there was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.  Through Him all things were made and the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.

The second chapter of Luke goes on to describe that an angel appeared to nearby shepherds, bringing them the good news that a Savior had been born.  This was good news for all people, not just the strict Jewish observers.

Even though we may be weary, the world is still good because that is how God created it to be.  It is something worth fighting for.  What things have we grown weary of and are we ready to fight for them?  I will blog about my answer later this week.  John 1:11-12 says that He came to His own (the Jews), but they did not receive Him.  To those who believed, He gave them the right to be the children of God.  Jesus knew that it wouldn’t always work, but He came anyway.

Hearing the Voice of God

Habakkuk provides a 5-step model for hearing the voice of God:

  1. Go off by yourself
  2. Be silent
  3. Read the Word of God
  4. Write down what God tells you
  5. Review it

I feel like I am pretty good with 3 through 5.  I read and listen to God’s Word, I journal and I talk about it with my small group and others.  What I really struggle with though is being completely silent.  I mean, even when I shower, I am listening to a podcast or music most of the time.  It’s the same thing when I run.  It’s like I’m afraid of just being silent, like I would be wasting time or something.

How is God really supposed to speak to me if I am constantly busy and noisy?  As a busy mom, I don’t have a lot of time to just sit and be still.  There is always something to do…house to be cleaned, kids to get ready, or one of the hundred other things that has to get done.  I know that I need to make sitting still and listening and praying to God a true priority in my life.  Sometimes setting large goals can be overwhelming, so I am going to start small.  Twice a week, I am going to just sit and be still in the morning…no television, no laptop, no music, and (hopefully) no kids.  I am confident that God has a lot to say to me if I would just sit and listen.

Why Is There Suffering?

People have been asking why God would let suffering into the world for thousands of years.  In Psalm 22, the psalmist asks God why He has forsaken him.  Psalm 73 asks God why good people suffer while evil people are prospering.

Here’s the thing…God didn’t create a world of suffering.  He actually created a perfect world.  Genesis 1:31 says that God saw what He made, and it was good.  However, God created the world not be unchanging and static, but to be dynamic.  The pinnacle of this is His creation of human beings.  God gives the responsibility of taking care of the earth to human in Genesis 1:26-30.

We all know what happened next.  Humans rebelled and sin entered the world.  Everyday we rebel against God too.  This is where we led the world.  This is why there is suffering.  We cannot blame God for our choices.  One of the cool things about the Genesis story is that after we sinned, God didn’t abandon us.  Genesis 3:21 says that God made garments out of animals for Adam and Eve to cover their shame.

The book of Job also tackles the question of why there is suffering.  The first part of the book describes how great Job’s life is.  The scene then changes to heaven and a discussion between God and Satan.  God tells Satan how faithful Job is and Satan says that Job is only faithful because of how blessed he is and if his life was horrible, he would curse God.  God agrees to let Satan ruin Job’s life in order to test him.

Job’s life is utterly ruined in a short period of time.  Job 2:13 states that three friends just sit with him for a week and say nothing, just suffering with him.  Finally, in Job 3:1-5, Job curses the day of his birth. The following chapters deal with the conversation between Job and his friends about why all this suffering happened to Job.

In chapter 38, God finally shows up.  God speaks to him and essentially says, “Who do you think you are? Are you God?”  Job is rebuked and tells God he is unworthy.

So what do we do when someone is suffering?  Chapter after chapter of Job’s friends debating the why of it certainly didn’t accomplish anything.  I think they had it right at the beginning, just sitting with him and sharing his suffering.  The good news is that God provides us an answer to suffering.  He has a plan to redeem His creation.  Jesus is God’s answer to suffering.  Where Adam failed, Jesus succeeds.  God is leading us toward healing so that is why we have hope.  We won’t be in this situation forever.  God is bringing us and His creation back.

From the Mountain to the Desert

1 Kings 18-19 tells the story of Elijah, God’s prophet, in the time of King Ahab.  The Israelites had begun to drift away from God, instead worshipping the gods of the people around them.  God sent Elijah to lead the people back to Him and Elijah tells the people that they cannot waiver between gods.  They have to choose.  God cannot be our backup plan.  We need to be fully committed to Him in every aspect of our lives.

Elijah tells the false gods prophets to get two bulls ready for sacrifice and to call on their gods to set fire to their bull.  After praying all day and even slashing themselves, Bael’s prophets are unsuccessful.  Then, Elijah prays and God sets his bull on fire.  The people believe and cry out that God is the true God.  Elijah must have been on such a high from that moment, bringing all the people back to God.

This high didn’t last for long because Ahab and his wife threaten to kill him and Elijah has to run away.  He sat under a bush in the desert and prayed for God to kill him.  What a difference a few days makes…going from a high on the mountain, to a low point in the desert.  In the desert, an angel came to Elijah and tells him to eat and drink.  He traveled for forty days and eventually met with God in the form of a gentle whisper.

The whole idea of this is that we cannot escape the desert moments in our lives.  There will always be failures…not every moment can be the high on the mountain bringing people to God.  However, it is at these desert times that God often speaks to us, often in the form of a gentle whisper.

Own It

I am really bad at admitting when I’m wrong. It’s always been something that I have struggled with…I just hate facing the fact that I’m not perfect and especially admitting that to someone else.

It’s especially a problem in the context of a marriage.  My husband is great at saying he is sorry but it takes me awhile to come around to it. This is a part of human nature. Even back in Genesis, with the first man and woman, Adam had a hard time admitting when he did wrong. He blamed both Eve and God for what he did instead of owning it.

One of the things I am focusing on now in my constant quest to improve myself is taking ownership when I screw up. I need to own it. I need to truly mean it when I apologize and try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. Now only will I better myself as a person but I will have a stronger marriage as well.

Using Our Tongues to Do Good

Our tongues are our strongest muscles.  Most of the time, I am pretty good about thinking before things come out of my mouth.  Occasionally, you know there are those times where I say something out of anger or frustration that I wish I could take back.  I know that I often need to be more encouraging, especially to my husband, whose love language is words of affirmation.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul talks to the Church about a few spiritual gifts and compares some of them.  Ultimately, however, his main point is that any spiritual gift we are given should be used to build up the church.  Using our tongues is especially relevant here, because it is the main way that we are able to tell others about Jesus.  Our tongues can also be a strong witness to others.

My kids are definitely at the age when they pick up on everything I say.  I really want to make sure that I am serving as an example to them, both as a mother and as a wife to my husband.

And the Greatest of These is Love

Our church is going through a sermon series on the book of Corinthians.  It’s been a great in depth look so far and by combining it with our small group studies during the week, I really have been learning a lot.

Our pastor covered chapter 13 tonight, which is often called The Love Chapter.  I have heard these verses so often, especially at weddings.  My husband and I chose to have it read at our wedding.  There is an hysterical scene in The Wedding Crashers where the two main characters are trying to guess which bible readings will be read at a wedding and 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the ones they throw out as a possibility.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

These are such beautiful words, but sometimes when we have heard things so many times, we can gloss over what they really mean.  Our pastor tonight said that Paul didn’t mean these verses to act as a checklist for us.  We don’t need to do all of things things in order to show love.  I sometimes wish that I was a more loving person.  I mean, obviously I have no problem loving my kids or my husband, but I am not really a compassionate person naturally.  I know that I need to work on loving others.  So when Paul lists these attributes of love, it is tempting to say, “Okay, I’ll work on being more patient and not being so self-seeking.”

However, that’s not really what Paul is getting at here.  If we have the love of God in our hearts and if we truly accept the fact that God loves us no matter what, we will be able to show that love to others in turn.  When we show love to others, then all of the characteristics that Paul lists will come to fruition.

 In verse 13, Paul says “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  Even when we are in heaven, and there is no longer a need for faith and hope, love will still remain because that is the very nature of God.  Do I accept that fact?  Do I truly know that God loves me despite all of my faults and craziness?  My head certainly knows it.  My heart clearly has some catching up to do.