The Cross in Shadows

This is my message from our “Journey to the Cross” worship service on February 14, 2018. This begins a journey with the life of Joseph at Eastbrook Church throughout Lent both in our weekend sermon series and through a daily devotional.

 

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In the book of Genesis, we read about the creation of the world, of the overwhelming flood in the time of Noah, and the life stories of the first fathers and mothers of our faith. When you read their stories, you quickly realize that there are many things we can hold up as strengths and more than a few things we see as weaknesses. Still, again and again, God uses their flawed human lives to display His strength, infusing His grace into their frailty, and shedding His light into the midst of the dark places in their lives and the world.

One of the most notable stories is that of Joseph. Joseph is the son of Jacob and Rachel, and the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah. In Joseph’s life, as told in Genesis, chapter 37-50, we not only see someone go through the ups and downs of life, but also develop a deeper life with God in the midst of it.

At times Joseph seems to bring suffering down upon himself, while at other times he endures unjust suffering. Throughout his story, he interacts with characters who are for him – like his father and the king of Egypt – and others who are against him – like his brothers and a woman who falsely accuses him. Throughout Joseph’s life, God is at work, sometimes readily visible and at other times apparently hidden.

Over these next six weeks, we are going to journey with Joseph in our weekend sermon series and through a daily devotional. As we walk with Joseph we will see again and again that God uses flawed Joseph to display God’s strength, that God infuses His grace into Joseph’s frailty, all the while shedding divine light into the midst of dark places.

Near the end of his life, Joseph responds to some of those who brought suffering upon him with words of great depth:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

It is good to consider this question: how do we become people who can speak like Joseph does there?Read More »

Journey to the Cross 2018

Today marks the beginning of our journey to the cross.  At Eastbrook Church, we invite you to join with us in a day of fasting and prayer before a family-friendly worship service at 7 PM. For more info on fasting, read a series of posts I wrote here.

Traditionally, this journey is known as Lent and begins on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a forty-day spiritual journey (minus Sundays) toward Easter. Often you see people walking around with a dark smudge of ashes on their forehead. It is a sign of our mortality; “that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14) and to dust we shall return.

Lent is so much more than a worn-out church tradition about self-absorbed sorrow and meal-skipping.  Rather, Lent is our journey into greater depths of life with Christ through an experience of His journey toward, into, and through the Cross. It prepares us for a deeper experience of the joys of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.

I usually participate in Lent as a spiritual journey in some form. Many times I choose to abstain from something (e.g., food in some form, regular forms of entertainment) in order to have more space to reach out to God in prayer. Fasting is helpful, I believe, only insofar as we put some other meaningful practice in its place that moves us toward Christ.

Traditional Lenten disciplines are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. In these three disciplines we can see a movement from abstaining from something (fasting), turning to God (prayer), and putting another discipline in its place (almsgiving).

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Today also marks the beginning of the “Life of Joseph” Lenten Devotional. I encourage you to join us as we journey through the life of Joseph in our preaching series and through the devotional. 

Read the “Life of Joseph” Devotional in 1 of 5 Formats:

  1. Online—Visit eastbrook.org/josephdevotional each day for the reading, or connect with the online version through Eastbrook’s social media channels.
  2. Daily Email—Sign up for a special email list that will send you each day’s devotional at 4 am each morning. Sign up here.
  3. Mobile App—Download the Eastbrook Church mobile app and use the “Devo” tab to read each day. The devotionals will be published each morning at 4 am.
  4. Printed Book—A limited run of free devotional books are available at Eastbrook Church (5385 N. Green Bay Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53209).
  5. Digital Download—Download the PDF of the book for us with your tablet or to print out at home here.

[This day is traditionally known as Ash Wednesday. For a look at what Ash Wednesday is all about, read “What is it?: Ash Wednesday and Lent?“]

Joy is a Decision

There are two imperative verbs which frame Philippians 4:4-9. The first is found in verse 4 and the second is found in verse 8. Look at that first imperative verb with me: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Paul is telling us something important: joy is a decision. Joy is not a circumstance, and neither is it a certain situation. No, joy is a decision.

Many times we say that joy is a gift from God. Reflecting upon this, you may wonder, how is joy both a decision and a gift? Let me put it in this way:

Joy is a decision we make that leads to the gift God will give.

In her book Fight Back with Joy, Margaret Feinberg relates how after being diagnosed with cancer, she made a decision to fight the difficulty by choosing joy. She writes:

Practicing defiant joy is the declaration that the darkness does not and will not win. When we fight back with joy, we embrace a reality that is more real than what we’re enduring and we awaken to the deepest reality of our identity as beloved, joyful children of God.[1]

We need to stop waiting for the perfect day in which we can rejoice. We need to stop waiting for the perfect circumstances – at work, in our relationships, in our financial situation – thinking that will enable us to rejoice. No, the perfect circumstances will not give us joy. Otherwise the wildly wealthy or superbly successful would automatically have joy. But we know that is not the case.

No, something different is true. Joy is a choice. Will you decide with me for you right now?


[1] Margaret Feinberg, Fight Back with Joy (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Media, 2015), 15.

Multiplied Joy

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church I concluded our series “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances” on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I took us through the last section of the letter, Philippians 4:4-23, where Paul draws together some final exhortations and personal reflections. This section has some of the most well-known verses in the entire letter, which makes it both a delight and a challenge to preach in its context.

You can view the video and sermon outline of this message, “Multiplied Joy,” below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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G. K. Chesterton on the Joy of God

G K ChestertonIn his marvelous book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton writes one of the most powerful paragraphs on the joy of God. I shared this excerpt in the opening of my message this weekend at Eastbrook, “Multiplied Joy,” which was the final message in our series “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances.”

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

If you have never read anything by Chesterton, you really should do so. He was a strong influence on C. S. Lewis and many other well-known writers, such as Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, Ernest Hemingway and T. S. Eliot. A good place to start would be either Orthodoxy or The Everlasting Man.