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 105

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 101-105

Today we focus in on Psalm 105, a poetic history of the people of Israel. If you want a summary of the Hebrew Scriptures in a concise package, you’ve come to the right place. The psalmist begins by reminding us of our part in the story of God:

Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of all his wonderful acts.

Psalm 105:1-2 NIV

How often are you stopping to “tell of all his wonderful acts?” Or better yet, how often are you stopping to recognize all his wonderful acts in your life? The psalmist recounts Israel’s history, which is also your history and my history because we are children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). We need to know this story! It’s your story!

Your personal story is also important. Every generation of believers learns the historical story of Yahweh’s people. We are also called to be witnesses of what he has done in our lives. We need to tell others the story of Jesus and how he has changed our lives! Lost souls need to hear that God remembers the promises he has made forever, and those promises extend to us as well! (v. 8-10)

Telling our story also keeps us focused on what matters. History is selective. We tend to tell about the winning goal we scored rather than what we ate for lunch in the 4th grade. We tend to leave out the unimportant details in favor of the ones we view as more important.

So how important is God to you?

How important is the saving power of Jesus in your life?

If it is important to you, are you telling that story?

If not, why not?

These questions get us thinking about what is really important in our past, and those realizations should influence us to focus on what is important in the present and the future.

Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Look to the LORD and his strength;
    seek his face always.

Psalm 105:3-4 NIV

Our history is his story. Let us all focus on what truly matters, and tell that story in our lives. Blessings.

Women Praying & Prophesying With Their Heads Covered?

Why does Paul ask women to cover their heads while praying and prophesying? (1 Cor. 11:2-16)  Most people will assume something cultural is going on here, and they would be correct! But what exactly?

Women’s hair was seen as a major object of lust in the ancient world, as well as in some cultures in the middle east today (remember a lot of the Bible was written to people in middle eastern cultures). It seems foreign because hair doesn’t really cause us to lust. But as a means for cultural understanding, let’s equate the “uncovered head” of these women to wearing a very revealing bikini.

Now imagine someone dressing in such a way in front of the congregation on Sunday morning. Now you’re starting to understand the problem. In the ancient world an uncovered head meant you were sexually promiscuous; not such a crazy idea because this is one of the ways pagan temple prostitutes would wear their hair. The idea of a bikini in worship in our culture, and an uncovered head in theirs, is clearly inappropriate.

One of the greatest physical shames a woman could have in this culture was having her hair shaved off. What Paul is saying here is that if you see nothing wrong with uncovering your head in a worship assembly then you might as well go ahead and shave your head. The female readers would understand the level of shame Paul is equating to what they were doing in the assembly.

Why were they doing this? Keep in mind that churches met in homes, not church buildings. It was perfectly acceptable for a woman to have her head uncovered at home in front of her family, just like you might walk around in clothing at home that you would never wear in a public setting. When a more formal gathering (worship assembly) gathered in the same homes, it seems that some of the women were leaving their heads uncovered – again, inappropriate for male non-family members present. 

This was new territory for most of these Corinthian people. We are having a public gathering in a private home. How do we act? Paul here is teaching modesty within the assembly. How do we know this is the assembly? Paul tells us so in verse 16. “Churches” is the Greek word ekklesiai, the plural form for “assembly.” There is no assembly that practices uncovered heads (again cultural) while women are praying and prophesying.

But did you notice what is assumed in this passage? Women are clearly praying and prophesying (v. 5) openly in the presence of men in the assembly (v. 16), and that is totally ok! It is never questioned if women can pray or prophesy in the assembly, but rather can they do so with their heads uncovered. 

Somehow, women praying and prophesying in the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11 is not a violation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. But how can that be? We’ll take a closer look at that next week. But as a starting point, read all of 1 Corinthians 14 while asking yourself this question: 

What goal does Paul have in writing this chapter?

Daily Psalms – Psalm 66

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 66-70

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.

Psalm 66:1-2 NIV

I love Psalm 66. It is a wonderful song of praise, but different than you might expect. You see, we tend to praise God for the good times. The psalmist here praises God for the good times, and praises God for causing the bad times!

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:10-12 NIV

Notice that the psalmist says it was God who “brought us” into some terribly painful situations. These led to refining (removing all the impurities), and eventually to a place of abundance.

We love to praise God for the mountaintops, but we rarely praise him for the valleys. The psalmist tells us to not only praise him for the valleys, but praise him while we’re in the valleys!

I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you —
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.

Psalm 66:13-14 NIV

Even in the darkest moments of trouble, we should be committing to worship. Even when we don’t know how the situation will turn out, we commit ourselves to praising our God. No matter the highest highs or the lowest lows, we commit ourselves to our God.

Praise be to God!

The Church and Politics: What We Haven’t Learned

As we explore how the history of the Church affects the practice of the Church today, we need to take a look at culture. No congregation is immune from cultural influence, and indeed it needs to be influenced to some degree in order to reach the lost. But at various times in the history of the Church, culture has ruled the day. I frequently tell people when politics and Church combine, the Church always suffers. This is the case with the examples contained in this article.

In 1054 AD an event historians refer to as “The Great Schism” occurred in Constantinople, forever changing the Church, and creating a wound that took until the 20th century to begin to heal. The “West” division of the church, based in Rome, began to be viewed as the seat of power in the Church. This political position, in many ways, led to the Roman Church passing edicts that affected the church as a whole. For the purposes of this writing we don’t need to dive too deeply into specifics, but many of these were received negatively by the East from a cultural standpoint.

In the book Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll summarizes the cultural divide between the East and West.

“As early as the end of the first century, it was possible to perceive pointed differences between major representatives of what would one day be called West and East. Thus, historian Henry Bettenson thinks that the Epistle of Clement sent from Rome to Corinth about the year 96 displays ‘the emergence of the characteristic Roman Christianity. Here we find no ecstasies, no miraculous ‘gifts of the Spirit,’ no demonology, no preoccupation with an imminent ‘Second Coming.’ The Church has settled down in the world, and is going about its task ‘soberly, discreetly, and advisedly.” By the end of the second century, such ‘Roman’ characteristics were thoroughly matched by ‘Greek’ tendencies arising from the other end of the Mediterranean.”

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll

As you can clearly see, cultural differences influenced the beliefs and practice within the two branches of the Christian Church. At this meeting in 1054 representatives from both groups excommunicated the other which lead to the body of Christ, the Church, being divided. This was exacerbated by the Crusades which indiscriminately killed Muslims, Jews, and even other Christians because they looked different than the invading Europeans. European Christians were killing Middle Eastern Christians because they looked and sounded different.

Sadly this was not the only time in Church history that we see cultural differences affecting the unity of the Church. We’ll return to history next week, but I want to end with a modern look. What cultural issues are causing division in the church today? We are on the heels of one of the largest denominations wrestling with homosexuality in part because culture has become combined with the Church.

But let’s get personal. What cultural issue is in play in your congregation that is, or could cause division? Is it who someone votes for? Is it cultural stereotypes placed on people groups? And here’s the real question: How do you go about addressing the problem?