A Thrill of Hope for a Weary World

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The Christmas Eve services at Eastbrook were themed around a line from “O Holy Night”: “a thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.” My message in the services explored that theme, turning attention to how Jesus helps us see what God is really like and how the incarnation gives us true hope. In particular, I drew upon Hebrews 1:1-3:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.

I attempted to draw into sharper focus three ways that Jesus shows us something about God:

  • That God exists
  • That God cares for us and the world more than we understand
  • That God is here – God “shows up”

You can watch the message below.

 

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 6)

This is my final post in a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

As he concludes his letter to the Philippians, Paul offers some final ‘secrets’ to living well for God.

The first is to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). This echoes Paul’s theme of thankfulness from chapter one, that there is a grateful joy we can have in life. The secret behind such rejoicing is to turn our anxiety in to prayer, presenting God with our requests and living in His peace (4:6-7).

The second ‘secret’ to living well is to fill our minds with the right sort of things. Paul knows the power that inner thoughts have to shape the life of a person. Because of this, he encourages the Philippian believers to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (4:8).  What we think about impacts our lives through our attitude, words, and desires. Thoughts have power.

A third ‘secret’ Paul mentions from his own life is contentment. He writes: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want” (4:12). Obviously, we know from Paul’s life that he has been in a variety of situations. Even now, he is writing from prison. In it all, however, Paul is content. The secret to Paul’s contentment is knowing God’s strength living in him: “I can do all this through Him who gives me  strength” (4:13). Paul points these words toward the Philippians’ situation later: “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).

As he begins, Paul concludes by rejoicing in God’s good gifts, thinking on excellent things that God does, and content because of all God provides.

How are you doing at living into these spiritual ‘secrets’ Paul outlines at the end of his letter to the Philippians?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 1)

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to share some thoughts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

At the beginning of his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul is eminently thankful and joyful:

  • verse 3: “I thank my God in all my remembrances of you”
  • verse 4: “always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy
  • verse 5: “thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now”
  • verse 18: “what then? only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice
  • verse 19: “Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance”

Paul is imprisoned while writing this, yet his letter bursts forth with life and joy. What is it that makes Paul able to write with such exuberance? It is his confidence in God.

By divine coincidence, while reading these words from Paul, I came across Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s words on thankfulness in community in his masterful work Life Together:

Thankfulness works in the Christian community as it usually does in the Christian life. Only those who give thanks for little things receive the great things as well. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts….How can God entrust great things to those who will not gratefully receive the little things from God’s hand?

If Paul can live with joy and thankfulness in prison, how can we not be thankful and joyful in our daily lives today?

What are you thankful for today? What life situation or setting makes it a challenge for you to be thankful?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

Hungry for Joy

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There is nothing quite like enjoying the beauty of a sunset or holding a newborn baby in your arms. To share that joy with another person doubles the joy as together we marvel at the beauty before us. Scripture speaks again and again of the gifts of joy, beauty, and pleasure that God gives us. The Psalms tell us that “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), and Job describes God as “the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” (Job 9:9-10). In Ecclesiastes, the Teacher describes the joy of human effort as a gift from God to humanity: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).

In the New Testament, Jesus said that He came “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He is a joyful Savior who brings a joyful Kingdom. This is why the Apostle Paul writes: “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Our culture reflects this hunger for pleasure, beauty, and joy in many ways. Sometimes the cultural pursuit of joy unfortunately becomes self-centered due to the pervasive conviction that we can and should pursue whatever brings us joy, no matter the cost to others or society as a whole. That unchecked pursuit of joy often becomes an erratic pursuit of fleeting joy just beyond reach. Sometimes it becomes destructive to ourselves and others. At times, our hunger goes unsatisfied even when we experience pleasure and beauty. Why is that?

Could it be that true joy comes through the self-denying pathway of Jesus instead of the self-celebrating pathway of the world? Is it possible that we will only experience joy when our hunger for beauty, pleasure, and joy is rightly oriented toward the God who made us?

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off: What are the things you typically turn to for joy (e.g., hobbies, purchases, activities)? Which will you step away from this week in order to draw near to God and find joy in Him? Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

Put On: Go outside this week to enjoy God’s creation: go on a hike, watch the sunrise or sunset, sit outside and enjoy natural beauty somewhere. If the weather doesn’t allow that, find a book or a website that will allow you to see nature in all of its created beauty. As you do that, take time to thank God for the amazing creativity He put into creation and the enjoyment He allows us to find in it. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

Our Lives a Journey of Joy

In the midst of our pursuit of God, we can sometimes focus so much on the seriousness of discipleship that we miss out on the joy of our life with God. For me personally, there are times when I emphasize the challenges or trials on this earth to the point that I ignore or unwittingly downplay the gracious gift of our joyful life with God.

Of course, it is true that we are citizens of a heavenly home, who are, in a sense, just passing through this land of earth for a limited time. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear as he rehearses the faith-filled pursuers of God in the Bible. We read:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

Our sense of displacement is an unavoidable aspect of our life on earth. As the old song says: “I am a pilgrim and a stranger traveling through this wearisome land.”

Yet it is also true that God is the creator of joy, who longs Read More »