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.

Mercy

As we continued our journey with the Psalms of Ascent, “Ascend,” this past weekend at Eastbrook, I opened up Psalm 130 for us. I explored the mercy of God as part of our spiritual journey with God in terms of prayer, forgiveness, waiting, and hope. In the midst of that I brought in the story of Jonah, illuminating parallel verses in Ephesians and Jude, an excerpt from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, and a reflection on the life of Viktor Frankl.

You can watch the message and follow along with the sermon outline below. You can access 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 participate with here.

 

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Listen . . . Prepare . . . Wait

This coming weekend begins the season of Advent. Advent is a preparatory season of four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a chance for us to wait in anticipation for the coming of Christ, both as a baby at Christmas and as the victorious king at His second coming. The term ‘advent’ derives from the Latin word adventus, which means arrival.

As a child, my family took the season of Advent seriously. Each evening, we would gather around an advent wreath to sing songs and read a brief devotional about preparation. Although I was more excited about lighting or snuffing the candles than the substance of the time, the way we stepped outside of our normal hurried lives to focus on Jesus’ coming made an impact on me.

This weekend, our family worked on decorating for Christmas. It’s always interesting to unpack the boxes of decorations and supplies that you only see once a year. “I forgot about this one!”, one of our kids said as they held a memorable ornament in their hands. Another of our boys laughed at a particularly interesting crèche set we have from another country. The anticipation is growing.Read More »

Human Means for Divine Ends (discussion questions)

Faith Life Series Gfx_4x3 TitleHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Human Means for Divine End,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This was the fifth part of our series “Faith Life.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was one of the most confusing situations of your life? How did your faith in God shape your response to that situation?
  2. This week, we will look at Genesis 16 as we continue our “Faith Life” series at Eastbrook. Ask God to speak to you before reading this chapter of Genesis aloud. In order to best understand this passage, please also read Genesis 12:1-3 and 15:1-5.
  3. In Abram’s day, it was not uncommon or unlawful for a maidservant to have a surrogate child for the matriarch of the household. This would provide for continuance of the family line and inheritance. However, given God’s promises in Genesis 12 and 15, what do you think is going on in Abram and Sarai’s lives from what we read in Genesis 16:1-3?
  4. What stands out to you about Hagar and Sarai’s behavior in verses 4-6? What stands out to you about Abram’s behavior?
  5. Have you ever experienced a time where you tried to participate in God’s plans but did not do it in God’s way? What happened in your life? How did you change?
  6. The second half of the chapter, beginning in verse 7, charts out God’s interaction with Hagar. Who is the ‘angel of the Lord’ and why do you think this is important in the passage? [You may also look at Exodus 3:2-3; 14:19-20; Judges 13:3-21; Matthew 1:20-21; Luke 1:19-20.]
  7. Even though Hagar has run away because of Sarai’s mistreatment, God speaks powerful words to her. What stands out to you about God’s words to Hagar in the midst of her circumstances and about her child’s future?
  8. Hagar gives God the name El-Roi, which means both ‘the God who sees me’ and ‘the God I have seen’. Why is this significant for Hagar? What do you think it means for you that God both sees us and reveals Himself to us?
  9. What is one thing God is speaking to you about your own life of faith through this week’s study? If you are on your own, write it down somewhere so you can think about that during the week. If you are with a group, take some time to discuss this with one another.

[Next week we will look at Genesis 17:1-27, talking about the tangible signs of faith into which God called Abraham as we continue our “Faith Life” series.]

Instant Faith?

ThumbnailThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I launched a new series called “Beginning to Live.” The focus of this past weekend was faith and so my blog posts this week are all about faith.

Faith is something very challenging for us in our day. We live in a fast-paced culture intent on instant gratification. We think of an item that we want and we immediately search for it online. We find it at a good price. We purchase it with credit. We have it shipped to us within two to three days. When we receive that item, there are times when we no longer remember exactly why we wanted it in the first place.

We want what we want and we want it soon: a few hours, a few days, or hopefully not more than a week.

Look at these words about the faith of those from times past:

They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

They heard the promise, they believed it, and then they lived in light of it…but they did not often receive it within their days on earth. What a hard concept for us today.Read More »