Why You Really Need Joy and Sorrow

Our thoughts for the past couple of weeks have centered around a Season of Hope, and our theme at East Side this year has been “Hope.” Advent is a season of hopeful waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises.

The last several weeks have been looks at the prophecies leading up to the destruction and exile of Jerusalem & Judah. Last week we looked at Isaiah 40 and the hopeful promise that God’s people would return home, and he would come to them! This week we see the fulfillment of God’s promise that the people will return home, but not all is joyful.

Ezra begins in the same way 2 Chronicles ends with a proclamation from Cyrus king of Persia. Ezra also wants us to remember that this fulfills the Jeremiah 25 & 29 prophecy that the people would return home from exile. God is keeping his promise to the people!

Ezra 3 tells the story of the reestablishment of worship in Jerusalem. The altar was rebuilt and the people celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43). I find this a fitting first celebration for the newly resettled exiles. Tabernacles was to remind the Israelites of the time they lived in temporary huts during the journey out of Egypt. The entire festival recalls the journey out of Egyptian slavery/exile to the promised land; a fitting reminder to those having just journeyed back to the promised land from Babylonian exile. In both generations, God was faithful in keeping his promises.

Our text in Ezra this week ends with the end of chapter 3 and the laying of the foundation of the temple of Yahweh. I find this text both beautiful and haunting.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:11-13 NIV

Notice that everyone praised God in this moment, but the emotions were very mixed. Some were joyful to see this day come. Some were lamenting the loss of the original temple. What brought joy to some brought mourning to others. Excitement and weeping. Yet a great shout of praise came from all.

Our church family is much like this group in Jerusalem, a place of rejoicing and mourning. Sometimes those two feelings are so intertwined that we feel them all at once, especially this time of year. A friend recently reminded me Advent is a time for the church to come together as one, despite our emotions, in hopeful expectation of the second Advent of Christ.

For some the waiting brings joy, for others sorrow. We need both. We are called to rejoice together and mourn together because we are called to be together! The church becomes more like Christ when we rejoice and mourn together.

Wherever you find yourself in the emotional spectrum, you are welcome here. Join the body of Christ as we worship our God in hopeful expectation of his Advent! Come Lord Jesus!

Sermon text for 12/15/19 – Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 3:1-4, 10-13; Luke 2:25-32

Waiting Beyond Death

During this Season of Hope, we are studying texts related to the Advent, or coming of the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Messiah. Just like ancient Israel had to wait for his coming, we too wait for his second coming.

Isaiah 40 makes reference to this time of waiting.

6 A voice says, “Cry out.” 
And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
“All people are like grass, 
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
because the breath of the Lord blows on them. 
Surely the people are grass. 
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40:6–8 NIV

In these verses we have a heavenly voice (the speaker is unclear, perhaps Yahweh, an angel, or some other heavenly being) telling Isaiah that humans are like grass and their works like flowers. What the voice is reminding us is that grass and flowers are only around for a season before they wither and fade away. They do not last forever. But the word of God does indeed last forever.

Let’s put this in the context of Israel coming out of exile. They have been away from their homes for a generation, and there is this promise of return. God will make the path easy, he will restore Jerusalem, he will keep his promises. His word will not fail! But humans don’t live forever. We all die. God’s promises, however, do not die.

Isaiah is trying to remind us that we may wait for God to fulfill his promises, and they may not be fully fulfilled in our lifetime before we “wither.” Isaiah wants us to remember that our waiting does not negate God’s promises. Even if we never see them fulfilled, we can rest assured that they will be fulfilled because God’s word endures forever.

Centuries after this text was written, one would come as “a voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD.” (Isa. 40:3, Mark 1:3). Mark, as well as the other Gospel writers, want us to realize that God kept this promise fully in the ministry of John the Baptist, “and the glory of the LORD” was revealed in the Advent of Jesus (Isa. 40:5).

Though Isaiah’s words to exiled Israel were not fully realized in their lifetime, God fulfilled his promise through the Advent of Jesus. And though God’s kingdom has not fully come, we can rest assured that God will fulfill his promises through the Advent of Jesus.

Sermon text for 12/8/19: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-4 

Josiah’s Passover & The Lord’s Supper

This week we wrap up our series Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We’ve taken an overview of the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of God’s faithfulness. We’ve discovered that Yahweh keeps his promises regardless of what we humans do. We also discovered that our actions affect the way God’s faithfulness impacts us. When we live the life he calls us to then his faithfulness is a blessing. When we live contrary to his faithfulness, our sinful actions have painful consequences. This is what we saw the last two weeks as we looked to the 8th century BC in the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah. The sin of Israel and Judah will bring painful consequences to the people, but God will remain faithful to heal and to save when they repent.

This week we turn to 2 Kings 22 and look at the story of Josiah. About 100 years after Hosea and Isaiah the 8 year old Josiah became king. Following the wicked reigns of his father and grandfather, Josiah chose not follow in their footsteps. We read that he was much like King David, and today is recognized as the 2nd greatest Davidic king.

All of Jerusalem had forgotten Yahweh. His temple had fallen into disrepair and had become the site of worship for Baal, Asherah, and star worship. Josiah ordered to restore the temple of Yahweh, and during that restoration a copy of the Torah was found (presumably Deuteronomy). Nobody knew about God’s word, or what to do with it. When Josiah heard the Torah read, he ripped his robes and sent his advisors to the prophet Huldah to confirm if what they were reading was true. 

The female prophet told these men that indeed the word of Yahweh was true and the punishment foretold in the Torah was coming. But she also had a word of peace for Josiah because of God’s appreciation for his heart. This destruction would come upon Jerusalem, but because of Josiah’s repentant heart, it would not happen during his lifetime.

Josiah calls all the people of Judah and reads aloud the Torah (as prescribed in Deuteronomy). When the people heard the words of Yahweh, they all pledged themselves to keeping the covenant. All of the idols and instruments of pagan worship were destroyed and removed and Josiah issued this decree:

“Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” – 2 Kings 23:21 NIV

In celebration of the renewed hearts and renewed commitment to Yahweh, the people eat the Passover.

Every Sunday at our gathering, we renew our hearts, we renew our commitment to Yahweh, and we eat the Lord’s Supper, a reapplication of the Passover by Jesus on the night he was betrayed (Mk. 14:16ff).

This week as we gather to worship, let us recommit to the mission and the covenant that Yahweh has made with us. And then let us eat the Passover of Jesus.

Sermon Text for 11/24/19 – 2 Kings 22:1-23:23; Mark 14:16-25

Daily Psalms – Psalm 67

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 66-70

Today we turn our attention to Psalm 67, a short psalm with a powerful reminder. But first a bit about poetic form.

Psalm 67, as well as a number of other Biblical passages (both poetic and not) form a chiasm or chiasmus. I use the analogy of going up and back down stairs to try to explain this. If I ascend and descend three stairs, then the pattern is thus: 1, 2, 3, 2, 1. So in a chiasm both verses on “step 1” are bookends of the poem, and are related. Same for “step 2”, and “step 3” would be the pinnacle, or main point of the poem. Psalm 67 forms a chiasm with three steps.

To show the pattern I’ll use our example of steps from above.

  • Step 1 – vs. 1-2
    • Step 2 – v. 3
      • Step 3 – v. 4
    • Step 2 – v. 5
  • Step 1 – v. 6-7

Let’s look at the relationship between each step, the main point, and what it means for us today.

May God be gracious to us and bless us;
may he make his face shine upon us
Selah
so that your way may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

Psalm 67: 1-2 CSB

Notice that the purpose of the blessing to “us” is in order that God’s salvation be made to “all nations.” This is a key theme in the Hebrew Scriptures that Israel often missed. Their purpose (and ours) is to proclaim God’s good news and salvation to those who do not know him, “all” of them!

The central claim of the psalm is God’s goodness and fairness toward the nations which should result in praise of everyone!

Let the nations rejoice and shout for joy,
for you judge the peoples with fairness
and lead the nations on earth.
Selah

Psalm 67:4 CSB

This central statement about God is bracketed by step 2 in verses 3 and 5 with the same call to praise by “all the peoples.” And the psalm closes with another blessing for “all” peoples.

The earth has produced its harvest;
God, our God, blesses us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Psalm 67:6-7 CSB

Over and over the psalmist reminds us that the purpose of God’s people, the purpose of God’s blessing, the knowledge of God’s salvation, and the role of God and his people in the world is to make Him known to all peoples! Every one of them!

So what are you doing to reach all peoples for God? What are you doing to teach all nations about him? How much time do you spend with those who look different than you, act different than you, believe different than you, etc?

The great fault of Israel is they chose to isolate and insulate against the world rather than reach out to them for God’s glory. Is the church today guilty of the same?

I leave you with a quote from the late British missionary to India, Lesslie Newbigin.

“Christians have no effect in the world as long as they refuse to engage the world.”

Lesslie Newbigin

Daily Psalms – Psalm 37

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 36-40

Today we turn our attention to Psalm 37, and I can’t think of a more appropriate psalm for God’s people today. Our culture pushes outrage at every turn. If you are not upset and furious about something then you are not “normal.” But God’s people are not called to be “normal.”

As I read through Psalm 37 today I settled on two realizations.
1) Outrage and anger only bring harm (v. 1, 7, 8, etc)
2) Yahweh will bring about justice (v. 5, 6, 9, 13, 19, 26, 28, 33, etc.)
3) We are called to be different. (v. 3-8, 27, 34, etc.)

Please do not misunderstand what I write here today. I am not saying that God’s people need to sit around and do nothing. We need to do something, but it’s probably a different something than we realize! Right now there are so called “Christian leaders” on television, radio, and the internet that are promoting outrage, bitterness, and anger over abortion, political affiliation, gun control, immigration, social justice, and any other political issue you can imagine. And it will only get worse the closer we get to an election. These actions are antithetical to Psalm 37, the teachings of Jesus, and Scripture as a whole. Consider these verses.

Do not be agitated by evildoers;
do not envy those who do wrong.
For they wither quickly like grass
and wilt like tender green plants.

Psalm 37:1-2 CSB

Be silent before the LORD and wait expectantly for him;
do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way,
by the person who carries out evil plans.
Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
do not be agitated—it can only bring harm.

Psalm 37:7-8 CSB

I could post many other examples in this psalm alone. Specifically pay attention to verse 8 again.

Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
do not be agitated—it can only bring harm.

Psalm 37:8 CSB

God says anger and rage can only bring harm. Why then would we choose to react to injustice just like the rest of the world? God through the Jesus has called us to be different!

Our world is full of injustice. Broken people treat each other in broken ways. The only One who can mend our brokenness is the only one who can restore justice to the world.

Be silent before the LORD and wait expectantly for him…

Psalm 37:7 CSB

The little that the righteous person has is better
than the abundance of many wicked people.
For the arms of the wicked will be broken,
but the LORD supports the righteous.

Psalm 37:16-17 CSB

For the LORD loves justice
and will not abandon his faithful ones.
They are kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked will be destroyed.

Psalm 37:28 CSB

The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD,
their refuge in a time of distress.
The LORD helps and delivers them;
he will deliver them from the wicked and will save them
because they take refuge in him.

Psalm 37:39-40 CSB

Again, I could go on, but nowhere are we told that it is our own efforts that will fix all the world’s problems. Our first act in restoring justice is to plead for God to intervene. Only he can fix our brokenness.

But we are not to sit idly by and do nothing. The problem will never be solved by addressing problems the way the world does. Instead, we are called to be different. We are called to live faithfully as God’s people in a faithless world. This is one of the ways God will bring about change in the world.

Trust in the Lord and do what is good;
dwell in the land and live securely.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act,
making your righteousness shine like the dawn,
your justice like the noonday.

Psalm 37:3-6 CSB

Turn away from evil, do what is good,
and settle permanently.
For the Lord loves justice
and will not abandon his faithful ones.
They are kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked will be destroyed.
The righteous will inherit the land
and dwell in it permanently.

Psalm 37:27-29 CSB

In a nutshell, you are called to live a Godly life in an ungodly world. You are called to act justly, love faithfulness, and walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8). You’re called to love your enemies and pray for those who are doing wrong (Matthew 5:43-48). You are called to love God with all your everything, and love all those around you the same way (Luke 10:25-37). You are called to be different!

There’s an old saying I have grown to appreciate: “Never wrestle with a pig because you will get filthy and the pig will enjoy it.”

When we try to handle the problems of the world in the same manner the world does, we have lost our identity and ignored our calling as children of God bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.

Psalm 37 reminds us that outrage and anger can only bring harm, God is the one who can restore justice. Therefore, live as those who are called to be different. Shalom.

Wrestling with God

Last week our focus was on Abraham and the faithfulness God showed he and Sarah by keeping his promises even when they tried to take a shortcut.

This week we will talk about a difficult character to address: Jacob. Even from the beginning Jacob showed signs of who he would become as he exited the womb grabbing the heel of his brother. He’s given the name “Jacob” which means he grabs the heel. That’s an interesting little bit of information, but when you realize what he grabs the heel in Hebrew is an idiom for he takes advantage of, or he deceives, the story gets more interesting. Seriously, who would want to name their child “deceiver” when they are born?

As we look at the story of Jacob we find out he deceives and takes advantage of situations quite often. He extorts his brother’s birthright (Gen. 25:29-34), he stole his brother’s blessing (Gen. 27:5ff), he deceptively builds great herds and flocks from his father-in-law (Gen. 30:41-43), and the list goes on and on. Not exactly role model material in some ways.

And yet, in some ways he’s exactly who we should be. Our sermon this week will focus on Jacob wrestling with God. We’ll explore the details of the story Sunday, but for now I want you to consider if you ever find yourself wrestling with God about something? I would say most often those times of wrestling are brought on by our desires. We want something and initiate the wrestling in hopes of getting our way. In Jacob’s case it is God who initiates the wrestling.

Why would God physically wrestle with Jacob? 

That’s a great question to wrestle with ourselves. Jacob’s story is a strange one that ends in a strange way. But the episode ends with God changing Jacob’s name to Israel which means he struggles with God. Think about this for a moment. The entire nation of Jacob’s descendants came to be known as those who struggle with God. And that title applies to us as well since Scripture tells us we have been grafted into Israel (Eph. 2:11-22).

We’ll explore other points of this text on Sunday, but for now I want you to find peace if you are wrestling with God. Jacob persisted in wrestling with God because he wanted to receive a blessing. I pray that’s why you are wrestling with God, and that the blessing comes to you as well. 

We can wrestle with God, his promises, his purposes, his Word, and walk away blessed. Just as Jacob limped away we will be changed by the encounter, but if we are persistent in our wrestling we too can be blessed through the encounter.

(Sermon text for 9/22: Genesis 32:9-13; 22-30; Mark 14:32-36)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 19

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 16-20

This month I’m reading through the Psalms in my CSB (Christian Standard Bible) translation. It’s an updated version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I appreciate reading the Bible in various translations because it helps me see nuances in the text that I miss when I stay with one translation. Your mileage may vary, however. Just giving you the heads up that the Scriptures I quote will come from the CSB this month.

Psalm 19 points out very clearly that Yahweh is knowable from the evidence in his creation. It doesn’t require a seminary degree to understand and learn about him. Just look at nature!

The heavens declare the glory of God, 
and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. 
Day after day they pour out speech; 
night after night they communicate knowledge. 
There is no speech; there are no words; 
their voice is not heard. 
Their message has gone out to the whole earth, 
and their words to the ends of the world. 

Psalm 19:1-4 CSB

Even though creation cannot speak, it is still proclaiming the “message” of our God. But creation isn’t the only knowledge we have of Yahweh. We learn and are transformed by his instruction and testimony (v. 7), his precepts and commands (v. 8), and through the fear the LORD, and his ordinances (v. 9).

The psalmist reminds us that this isn’t a burden, but rather a desirable and sweet pursuit that leads to an abundant reward. (v. 10-11) The psalm closes with a brief prayer asking for forgiveness and concludes with a brief benediction focusing on the psalm itself.

I believe Psalm 19 to be an excellent reminder of how we are to live our lives. My wife and I frequently remind our children to “look for God” in various situations. Did you see anyone acting in a godly way? Can you see where God did something big? Who is acting like Jesus in this situation?

One of the blessings of living in West Texas is the amazing sunrises and even better sunsets. It’s hard to look into the sky in the morning or night and not see our God’s majesty. I sometimes wonder if we would do a better job caring for creation if we remembered that it reflects the glory of the creator.

We need to study the Scriptures to understand more fully how we are to reflect the image of our God in this world. The Bible isn’t a tiresome rule book; it is a story that equips you to live the life you were made for. Learn that story. Embrace it, and live it out as a testimony to the power and sovereignty of our God.

Finally, we need to be repentant of both willful and unintentional sins. Some of us just bounce through life with very little thought to how our decisions and actions reflect upon the reputation of Jesus in the world. I believe one of the biggest barriers to non believers coming to Christ is how un-christlike Christians tend to be. We need to remember that when we claim to follow Jesus, our actions teach others about him. Let’s make sure we’re teaching them the right lesson.

The psalmist reminds us that we even need forgiveness from our “hidden faults.” Perhaps this is secret sin, but I take it as the wrongs we do every day that we don’t even realize. Who have I harmed unintentionally? Who have I cheated by not thinking? Again, what message does it send to the server at the restaurant when you come to eat after worship with your family, you demand lots of attention at your table, and then you don’t leave a tip? Is that what we want people to know about Jesus?

My prayer is that we can all let our lives be “the message” that goes out into the whole earth. Let our words and our actions be an accurate testimony to what Jesus has done in our lives. Let us truly love our neighbor as ourselves in every aspect of life. Let us do so humbly, and joyfully!

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14 CSB