Finding Peace: Isaiah

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[This is the devotional I wrote for the first week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

There was a telling headline in a newspaper not that long ago: “Are We More Divided Than Ever? Yes!” The number of divisions and levels of distrust feel stronger than ever in the public square, and we’re feeling it in our lives. A recent study from a psychological journal traced a marked increase over the last thirty years in individual’s anxiety levels corresponding to indicators such as trouble sleeping, inability to remember, poor appetite, and more. Divided on the outside and anxious on the inside…we need peace.

The prophet Isaiah spoke a word from God at a time that is more like our own than we might realize. In his day, the 8th century B.C., turmoil at the national and international level had reached a fever pitch, eventually leading to the exile of the Jewish people from their homeland. People felt conflicted and confused, and people were even described as “the people walking in darkness” (Isaiah 9:2). In the midst of this reality, God inspired Isaiah to bring a word about peace that was on its way from God Himself. There was a miracle child coming, and in the midst of the might and wonder coming with that child, He would ultimately be called “Prince of Peace” (9:6). For the fear-filled people lost in the dark clouds of divisions and distrust, Isaiah’s word pierced through the dark clouds like a shaft of heavenly light.

In the gospel of Matthew we are told that Jesus’ birth fulfilled the promise of God-given through Isaiah (Matthew 1:22). In describing Jesus in one of his letters, the Apostle Paul wrote: “he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus brings both inner peace and relational peace, both peace with God and peace amongst humanity. This is very good news for those of us living in a world tortured by anxiety, conflict, and chaos.

Near the end of His earthly ministry, after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus said to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). This Advent, let us join Isaiah as one of the people of Advent, turning toward God for the gift that only He can give in Jesus, who is our peace.

Reflect:

  • Why do you think Prince of Peace is one of the key titles given to Jesus?
  • As you consider this season in front of you, in what ways do you need to experience more of the peace Jesus brings?

A Prayer for the first Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of justice and peace,
from the heavens you rain down mercy and kindness,
that all on earth may stand in awe and wonder
before your marvelous deeds.
Raise our heads in expectation,
that we may yearn for the coming day of the Lord
and stand without blame before your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.

A Prayer for Memorial Day

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Eternal God,
who reigns over all the nations of the earth
and knows the days of every human life,
as we remember those who have given their lives
for the freedom we enjoy every day,
we also remember the words of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who said,
“Greater love has no one than this:
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Thank you for their ultimate sacrifice
and help us to live with regard for what they have given each day.
We also pray for their families,
asking that You would bless them
and provide for their needs in the midst of loss.
We recognize that the nations will rage
and there will be wars and rumors of wars
until the time of Your return as victorious King.
Even so, we pray for true peace to cover the nations of the earth,
that the loss of life will decrease and abundant life will increase
until the day when You usher in a new heaven and new earth,
where death shall be no more,
and all mourning, crying, and pain will cease
as the old order of things will pass away.
All this we pray with praise and thanksgiving
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns at Your right hand
as both the sacrificial Lamb and the Lion of Judah,
Amen.

Peace

We began our journey with the Psalms of Ascent, “Ascend,” this weekend at Eastbrook, spending time with Psalm 120. In this message, I explore themes of the spiritual life with God as a pilgrimage or journey, honesty and hopeful prayer, the need for community, and living in peace instead of hatred or hopelessness.

Here is the video and sermon outline of this first message of the Ascend series, “Peace.” You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast. We also have a reading plan for this series, which you can access here.

 

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Trouble (discussion questions)

Chosen Words Series Gfx_4x3 TitleHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Trouble,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This continues the series, “Chosen Words,” where we will journey through John 13-17 over the next number of weeks.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When did you face deep troubles in your life? What happened and how did you deal with?
  2. We continue our series, “Chosen Words,” by studying John 13:18-14:4, where Jesus faces into deep troubles. Before you read those verses aloud, take a moment to ask God to speak to you as you read His word.
  3. The first section of this passage, verses 18-30, focuses largely on Jesus’ expectation of betrayal at the hands of Juda. Judas is mentioned five times in John 13 (vss 2, 26, 27, 29 30). What do you notice about Judas from these verses?
  4. Jesus clearly knows that someone will betray Him (vs 21), but it also appears that this is part of God’s plan (vss 18-19). How could these both possibly be true?
  5. In the second section of this passage, verses 31-38, how would you summarize Jesus’ description of what He will face next? What do you think this means?
  6. In verses 34 and 35, Jesus offers “a new command.” Although this may be familiar, what do you think it means practically to fulfill this command? Why do you think there is a direct connection between this command and identification of Jesus’ disciples?
  7. Jesus confronts Simon Peter’s bold declaration with a hard truth about his upcoming failure. Why do you think Jesus said this to Peter?
  8. When do you think it is the loving thing to do to confront someone with a hard truth?
  9. The third section is found in 14:1-4. Here, Jesus balances words about His departure (13:31-33) with the reassuring work of God. What does Jesus promise to His followers?
  10. How do Jesus’ words here help your perspective on the challenges of your own life or the global events unfolding around us?
  11. What is one specific thing that God is speaking to you about life with Him through this study? How will that shape your life in the next week? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

 [Next week we will study John 14:1-31; 15:26-16:15. Read it ahead of time to prepare. Join the 40-day journey associated with this series by visiting http://www.eastbrook.org/chosenwords.%5D

A Prayer for Our Nation and Churches

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I offered a prayer before my sermon that interceded for our nation and churches in the midst of the current tensions. A number of people asked me if I could post it, so here it is:

Lord our God, you are the King of kings,
And the Lord of lords.
You are the God who holds together
Grace and truth,
Justice and righteousness,
Holiness and mercy.

At this time, we ask for your restoration
In our individual lives and in our land.
Bring Your grace as a healing balm to us;
Let Your truth uproot falsehood and prejudice;
Uphold Your true justice in our nation for all people;
And may Your righteousness strengthen us for good.
In Your purity and holiness stand strong in our midst, O Lord,
Yet do not fail to pour out mercy upon us
For, as the Scripture says,
we are poor and needy.

Especially on this day,
We grieve together with our African-American brother and sisters
Who sense that things are not as they should be in our nation.
We know that all people have been made
In Your image and are precious in Your sight.
Lord, give us grace to live in that way today,
That all might enjoy the common grace You have given
Without fear of prejudice or distrust.

We particularly pray for the African-American men
In our nation, city and church,
That You would protect them from all harm,
Give powerful grace over their daily lives
That they might grow as mighty men of God.

We also pray for help and great grace
for those in positions of authority,
and particularly those who are in law enforcement
That they would find mercy and strength
In the midst of their challenging jobs,
Particularly, in times of need.

As Jesus prayed, we ask that
You Make us one, Lord, as you are one;
Protect us from the divisions
which the evil seeks to open into wide gulfs.

May our church be a light to the city and nation
Showing that Jesus changes everything.

And now, Lord, lead us into Your truth
As we draw near to Your word.
For in You alone is our hope,
Strength, joy, and peace.

May I decrease, Lord,
So that You might increase.
Occupy our minds, our hearts, and our attention –
We have come here today to meet with You,
The Living God.