Waiting

Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain.  James 5:7 (NRS)

Advent has begun.  For the secular world, this season is spent in anticipation of Christmas.  And how will the world prepare for its arrival?  By catching all the sales, looking for the best deals, and insuring their credit limit will survive the endless gift lists for friends and family.

How different are these times we live in now from those in which Jesus  first made entrance into the world.  In the 21st century, we are thought to be more informed and equipped due to technological enhancements and scientific improvements.  But are we?

Global warming is crashing in—changing the ecological systems of our time.  Social and economic disparities cry out for justice and fairness throughout this nation and the world.  Senseless killings and rising suicides, especially among our young people, confound communities who continuously ask, “why” and “when will it end?”

For believers Advent marks something definitively different—it is a time of waiting.  Advent is a time when we not only wait to celebrate and commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ but we should also be joyfully anticipating  Christ’s “imminent” return for His Church (2 Tim. 4:8).

Imminent comes from the Latin word meaning “to overhang”.  To say that something is imminent is to say that it is hanging over you and about to fall, in a metaphorical way.  Christ will return but we don’t know when.  So we wait for his return.

Remember what the angels told the disciples at the ascension of Christ:

“You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?  This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.”  (Acts 1:11, The Message)

In the Gospels, Jesus spoke with certainty about His Second Coming or the Second Advent (Matt. 16:27; 24:44; John 14:1-3; Luke 21:34-36).  How then are we to wait?

In our scripture text, James, the brother of Jesus speaks of patience while waiting for a desired outcome.  He uses the illustration of the farmer and his need to wait on that which he has no control and yet is  critical for his future provision—rain.  It is the same with believers as we await Christ’s return.  We don’t know when it will happen, but we know we desperately need Him both now and through eternity.

And so we wait—we wait for the hope of One whose return is imminent yet unknown specifically when.  We hope in the midst of what appears hopeless, because God alone can resolve what ails the world.  So we wait for his return (Prov. 20:22). 

I contend that waiting—godly waiting –is a spiritual discipline that every believer should cultivate and embrace versus accept with great resignation.   So for this Advent season, we will explore “Learning to Wait on the Lord”—the purpose , the process, and the privilege of waiting.  See you next week.

The Abundance of God

And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed,

“The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering,

and abundant in goodness and truth.”

Exodus 34:6 (KJV)

In an age of scarcity, high costs, and uncertainty, God offers abundance.  God’s abundance extends beyond a measure of material quantity but is seen in its “spiritual quality”.  Abundance infers power and ability.

God offers abundance in many areas that mankind is in desperate need of today.

  • He offers for all who would believe in Him an abundance of mercy—relief from the punishment we deserve. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)
  • He offers grace—His unmerited favor. “For where sin abound, grace did much more abound.” (Rom. 5:20)
  • He offers an abundance of lovingkindness. “For I know that You are gracious…and abundant in lovingkindness. “ (Jonah 4:2) Who couldn’t use more of that!

The place where this type of abundance was desperately needed was in the area of human sin.  Throughout history, God had sought solutions to man’s sin condition.  He used mediators to “stand in the gap”—prophets and priests (Heb. 8:6).   He instituted sacrifices to cover man’s sin—the blood of goats and calves (Heb. 12:9) but none proved to be sufficient and effective in extinguishing sin.

However, when Christ entered the landscape of time, God offered an abundance of grace through His Son’s precious blood thereby eliminating sin’s power and obtaining eternal redemption.  Christ also offered the gift of righteousness—the state or condition of perfectly conforming to God’s perfect law and holy character (Romans 3:21-26).

Abundance, by its very definition, offers the promise of great supply and more than sufficient quantity.   God offers abundance plus much more for our daily wants and needs.  There is no need to worry or fear that we will deplete God’s abundance of grace.  In an age of scarcity, high costs, and uncertainty, God alone offers us inexhaustible abundance.  

New Things in the Wilderness

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”   Isaiah 43:19 (KJV)

Are you currently experiencing a wilderness in your life?    For the nations of Israel, living in captivity in Babylon and Assyria was their “wilderness experience.”  For seventy (70) years they were removed from those things which they loved the most—their land, their temple, and most importantly, their God.

God, through His prophet Isaiah, sent words of consolation to Israel during their wilderness experience.  He promised to do a new thing. “New” in Hebrew (chadash) means to renew, rebuild, or repair.

God promised Israel that He would not only renew, rebuild, repair that which was loss during the exile, but He would also, do the impossible—“make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”  God would revive Israel physically and spiritually.  “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3).

Wilderness experiences are times in our lives when we lack those things that bring us happiness, contentment, and peace.  Wilderness experiences are different for everyone.

For some people the wilderness may be relational—failed, estranged, or disappointing relationships.  For others the wilderness may be professional—pursuit of the right vocation or personal significance.  For still others, wilderness experiences may be experiential—moments of personal loss, loneliness, or misfortune.

No two wildernesses are the same.

During wilderness experiences we may feel alone and isolated.  We may even feel God has left us and no longer hears our prayers.  Is God with us in our wilderness?  He answers, “Yes!”  It’s in His Word (Psa. 91:15; Isa.43:2; Isa. 49:15).

Regardless of the type of wilderness experience, we can trust God to do a new thing in our lives.  He can renew, rebuild, and repair our lives in spite of the brokenness we may experience (Psa. 130:5).  After our wilderness experience, God will also do the impossible by bringing us back to a healthy, vigorous and flourishing condition (Isa. 40:31).   This revival includes intimacy with Him where there is true happiness, contentment, and peace (Rev. 21:7).  God creates new things in our wilderness.  “…now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?” (Isa. 43:19b)

Fellowship with God

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.   And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”    1 John 1:3-4

What does “fellowship with God” look like in the life of the believer?  Fellowship has been described as the sharing of experiences with likeminded people.  However, fellowship with God is much more, for “who has known the mind of God?” (Romans 11:34)  The believer’s fellowship with the Father is dependent upon accepting His Son as Lord and Savior.  It is through Jesus Christ that believers begin to “know by experience” God’s heart and mind.  Such was the case with the Apostle John and the disciples were uniquely privileged to witness, first hand, the person and works of Christ.

  • “That which was seen” included the many miracles of Christ; miracles that would attest to the coming of the promised Messiah (Matt. 11:2-5). 
  • “That which was heard” were truths that Christ declared concerning the kingdom of God and His offer of eternal life (Luke 4:43; 9:11).
  • “That which was looked upon and our hands handed” recounted the disciples’ examination of Christ’s glorified body after the resurrection (John 20:27).

All of the disciples’ senses were engaged as Christ manifested (revealed) Himself and the Father.  Since Father and Son were one (John 17:11, 22), the disciples concurrently experienced fellowship with the Father (v. 3).  The disciple’s experience with Christ was not viewed from a distance but up close and personal.

Fellowship (koinonia or koy-nohn-ee’-ah) is translated as “communion” and “joint participation in a common life.”   John’s personal witness was an invitation to the early church to participate in a life style that centered on relationship—unending communion with God the Father and the Son.    Therein is the basis for John’s reason for sharing about fellowship with God:  so that their “joy may be full” (v.4).

Joy (pleroo or play-ro’o) means “to fill to the top so nothing is wanting; to complete”.  One explanation of joy is to cause God’s will to be obeyed as it should be and God’s promises to receive fulfillment.  Joy begins and ends with fellowship with the Father and the Son (Luke 4:21).

How would you describe your fellowship with God?  Have you seen, heard, and looked upon Christ presence in you daily walk of faith?  Do you have joy and is it full?  Many times we miss the opportunity to fellowship with God because of competing priorities and the busyness of life.  Perhaps sinful behavior patterns and unhealthy influences have interrupted your fellowship with God.  We are to walk daily in fellowship with God, armed with the knowledge that you are no longer “slaves to sin” but “servants of righteousness” producing fruit of holiness (Rom. 6: 22).

Though John’s letter was written thousands of years ago, its message is still relevant for today.  To both the believer and unbeliever, it is an invitation to participate with the only true Source of joy.  Jesus invites us to draw near with faith (Heb. 10:22) and learn of Him (Matt. 11:29). In return, those in Christ enjoy glorious fellowship with Him.  Let us be faithful witnesses to what it means to live in fellowship with God.

The Lord Reigns

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; And let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.” 1 Chronicles 16:31 (NKJ)

The Lord reigns?  To some this may be a question spoken in general disbelief.  As one looks around this world and our nation, there is question as to the reality of God and God’s involvement in the activities of mankind.  Does God really care about me? Does God see me in “my” situation—in my humanness?

  • We look around and see the effects of sin on our world. Even in the midst of “peril, sword, and nakedness”, God extends to mankind love, mercy, and grace.  In gratitude for God’s reign, David cried out:  “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”  (1 Chron. 1:34)
  • Outside God’s reign, man struggles with and against “life”; his intent is to control the challenges of 21st century living. Doing what feels “right in their own eyes” (Prov. 21:2), men often disregard the plans of God and God’s purpose for this world.
  • “God reigns” whether people choose to believe it or not. Their unbelief does not reduce or minimize the reality of God’s reign.  God is patient and long suffering not wishing that anyone would perish but that all will come to the knowledge and recognition of His lordship (1 Tim. 2:4).

The Lord reigns!  This is the reality and declaration of people of faith who anchor their lives to the “King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God” (1 Tim. 1:17).  God is the only One worthy of our loyalty and praise.

  • As we witness the impact of economic disparity, social injustice, and moral failure in the world, our expectation of fairness is founded in the fact that God reigns!
  • As the doctor renders a diagnosis that leads to extensive treatments yet no guarantee of success, our hope for healing lies in the belief that God reigns!
  • As we face our own mortality evidenced in the frailty of our bodies and failure of our souls, our eternal security is guaranteed in Christ, our inheritance because God reigns!

People of faith trust that even in the suffering and pain, God is working all things together for His glory and ultimately our good (Rom. 8:28).  We know that our God is eternal—reigning both in “human time” (chronos) and “His perfect time” (kiros).  We wait and watch for His hand at work around us and in our life (Psa. 123:1-2).

The Lord reigns.  To you I offer this as a statement of reality and personal identity.  The reality is that God alone is sovereign.  It is because of His goodness and greatness that He alone is worthy to rule over the hearts of men and nations.  Our personal identity in Christ guarantees our reign with Him in glory (Rom. 8:17).

  • God alone is motivated by love—in first loving us (1 John 4:9-10) God offers grace and mercy to all who humbly come to Him by faith with no fear of retribution or risk of punishment.
  • God’s perfection, purity and trustworthiness enable Him to rule impartially and fairly. God alone can be both “just” and the justifier” for sinful man (Rom. 3:24-26).
  • God is the only real answer for the “heart issues” we face in 21st century living. The Lord’s reign over heaven and earth gives us hope in the midst of a “fallen” (Gen. 3) and “falling” world (1 John 2:16-17).

The Lord’s reign is fully realized in the coming of Jesus the Christ.  In Jesus’ arrival the kingdom of God is ushered into this world we now live in.  It is here that those who are in Christ are to take authority and witness to this glorious fact—God reigns!

In the Presence of God

“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” Psalm 139:7-8 (NRS)

Our life consists of more than “flesh and blood”.  It includes our assumptions, beliefs and behaviors that regulate our personal preferences and pursuits; they can be “of the world” or “of God.” These assumptions, beliefs and behaviors eventually influence the choices we make daily and are ultimately reflected in our life style.

It is important that God’s influence is evident in our lives.  This begins by our acknowledging His glorious presence.  In Psalm 139 David shares the effect such knowledge can have in the life of the believer.

In this psalm God’s presence is demonstrated through several of His key attributes. In verses 7-12, from which our text for today is found, David speaks specifically of God’s omnipresence.  God is everywhere all the time.  In Jeremiah 23:23-24 this characteristic is spoken of by God Himself.  “Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off?   Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.”

The impact of living in God’s presence offers extraordinary benefit for the believer.   First, knowing God is everywhere offers us great comfort.  The new norm for living in the 21st century requires us to be ever vigilant—watching for potential risks and dangers that may threaten us physically, financially, and/or socially. To know that we are never out of the presence of God should settle the faint-hearted.  God alone can make good on His promise that He will “never leave nor forsake us” (Gen. 28:15).

Secondarily, believers living in the presence of God possess great confidence knowing that God is ever-present. Even in the most routine of transactions, recognizing that the “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) is there to guide and direct our steps, releases us from unnecessary stress and concern (Phil. 4:6-7).

Finally, living in God’s presence provides us great clarity as to how we are to live in this present age (Titus 2:11-13).  This acknowledgment requires that we live obediently according to His Word and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  God’s Word, especially the Epistles, describes God’s expectation of the believer’s conduct in light of living in a fallen world. The believer’s reality is expected to be very different from the world’s view (Rom. 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:13-16; 1 John 2: 16-17)

As believers in Christ, our reality recognizes that God is the center of our universe and it is God who sustains us and keeps us (Ps. 3:5; Heb. 1:3).  We are to joyfully seek His will—the divine purpose of the ever-present God.  The believer’s life and reality is derived from knowing we live continuously in the presence of God.

Abundant Living

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.   John 10:10 (RSV)

In her book, The Wired Soul, Tricia McCary Rhodes describes what it feels like living in the hyperconnected age of the 21st century:

While I am not personally prone to panic attacks, but these days there are moments when I find myself out of sorts, almost as if I can’t quite catch my breath.  I don’t think I’m alone in this.  People of all ages seem terminally distracted, perpetually hurried, and often harried.  It is rare for an answer to the question “how are you?” not to include the word busy and elicit some degree of angst.  Collectively it feels as if we are losing something important in the name of progress, as if life itself is slipping through our fingers.    

I know I’m not the only one who identifies with Dr. Rhodes.  I listen to friends, associates, and even strangers share their frustrations as they attempt to be “all-and-everything-to-everybody-while-no-good-for-themselves”.   Is it time for you to reclaim your life?

Moses experienced this dilemma as Mediator for the Israelites until he received wise counsel from Jethro (Ex. 18:14-18).  Moses reclaimed his life!  Believers are sometimes like Moses.  Even when we work in ministry or in the church, our hectic schedules and conflicted priorities keep us from serving God well.  Many times we’re too tired and over committed to assist when needed.  We’re even unavailable to keep the “divine appointments” God sends our way.  The thief comes only to steal.

In our text today, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, contrasts his nurturing care for His believers with that of a thief.   In this analogy, the thief refers to the leaders of Israel who didn’t care for the spiritual good of the people but only for themselves.  Who is the thief for believers today?  It’s anything or anyone who robs believers of the promises and blessings of God (Ep. 1:3).   For those attempting to reclaim their life, the thief is noise, hurry, and crowds.   It’s our bad habits, our toxic relationships and yes, our over-committed calendars.  The thief is social media—that constant intruder who interferes with our ability to live in the present and in the presence of God.  Are you a slave to the notification bell that pings every time you receive a new text?  Do you jump when Periscope whistles to you when a new broadcast is about to begin?  The thief comes only to kill and destroy.

But Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” So what does “abundant life” look like?  Life (zoe) is defined as “real and genuine”.  It is a life vigorously devoted to and in personal relationship with God (John 15:4-5) and with others.   Life offers spiritual freedom and eternity with God to those who put their trust in Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 6:14).  Life lived abundantly (perissos) is possible through the leading (filling) of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).  Abundant living is everything we need to reclaim our lives—balance, energy, peace, simplicity, and happiness.

Gratitude Power

No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:18 (NLT)

In the New Testament, gratitude and appreciation expressed in thanksgiving, has three primary associations.  The first, thanks is given at the communion service (Eucharist) for the broken body and blood of Jesus (Matt. 26; Lk 22; 1 Cor. 11); the second time, thanks is given for the blessings that come through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 2:14; 9:15) and finally, thanks is given for those who come to know Christ and who bring joy to the Apostle Paul (Col. 1:3; Eph. 1:16).

In his letters to the early church and ministry, the Apostle Paul lavishly expressed gratitude to those he wrote to for their role in both receiving the Gospel and in extending God’s “hope of salvation” to others within their immediate sphere of influence.  Paul was well acquainted with the power of gratitude (Ep. 1:15-19; Phil. 1:3-4).

Because gratitude is critical to not only individuals but also to the health of society in general, new focus is being placed on how to increase its occurrence.  Recent studies in the area of psychology confirm that we can intentionally cultivate gratitude with the consequence being increased well-being, joy and happiness.

In addition, gratefulness, especially expression of it to others, is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.  The positive psychology movement has embraced these studies and in an effort to increase overall well-being, has begun to make an effort to incorporate exercises to increase gratitude into the movement.[1]

It is God’s will that in everything, we give thanks.  It is not God’s will that we express gratitude for “gratitude’s sake only” but because with the giving of thanks, His power can be released into our life in ways never before seen.  This includes the formation of incredible joy, unshakeable hope, and unbroken peace (1 Pet. 1:2-4).  The outward expression of appreciation to God and others, works to bring new power and access that, under other circumstances, would be unattainable.

As we examine our walk of faith, we must ask ourselves, “Am I harnessing the full power of gratitude?”  “Am I receiving the benefits of gratitude that are now available to me?”  According to the Greek writer and philosopher, Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Maybe it’s time for you to begin engaging in gratitude power.

[1] Wikipedia, “Gratitude”.

The Language of Gratitude

Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?  Luke 17:17 (NRS)

How is “grateful” language developed?   Gratitude, as we defined it is an expression of thankfulness for benefits or goodness.  God is our Eternal Benefactor providing us both good and perfect gifts (Ps. 103:1-6).  While it is understandable that believers should desire to express our gratitude to Him for all His many benefits, we must exercise greater intentionality in displaying our gratitude to the world.  We must develop the language of gratitude.

Interestingly, the concept of thankfulness is noticeably absent in the early writings of the Old Testament.  Instead language that was ordinarily translated as “praise”, such as yadah and todah, was used to convey the concept of thankfulness for God’s works and character (Ps. 118).  It would be later in the wisdom literature that God’s people would be encouraged to express purposeful gratitude for God’s provision and protection (Ps. 107:21-22; Eccl. 5:8-6:9).

In the New Testament the vocabulary for thanksgiving and gratitude expanded with the use of “thanks” (eucharisteo) and other terms such as “grace” (charis).   Jesus thanked God for hearing His prayers (Matt. 11:25) and for raising Lazarus (John 11:41).   The Gospels and the Epistles later developed the concept that gratitude for God’s deliverance in Christ characterizes the language of gratitude (Col. 1:12-14).   As God revealed Himself through His various dispensations, thankfulness and gratitude became a key response by creature man.  This was true in the case of the one leper healed by Jesus in today’s text.

As Jesus passed through the region between Samaria and Galilee, ten lepers entreated Him to have “mercy on them”.  They recognized the possibility of receiving beneficence from Jesus—He would help them in their affliction.  Jesus “saw them”—He recognized their need in this dire circumstance—and then “sent them” to the priest to verify their healing.  As they went, they were made clean.  But one of them saw that he was healed and turned back to Jesus, praising (doxazo) God.  He prostrated himself at Jesus feet and thanked (eucharisteo) Him.   The one leper showed the proper response to Jesus’ act of grace (charis) but what about the other nine?  Were they not grateful?  Why were they not also praising God and thanking Jesus for their healing?

As you read the narrative of the Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19), who do you most identify with—the one leper who returned to thank Jesus or the other nine lepers?  What stands in the way of your expressing gratitude to God?  Do you attribute your accomplishments to your efforts and yours alone (pride)?  Do you compare your current life circumstances with that of others and feel “cheated” of your rightful blessings (envy/covertness)?   Are you dissatisfied and discontented with life desiring more than is currently yours (greed/thankless)?  Let your expressions of gratitude mirror those of the one leper who could do nothing less than praise, worship, and thank God for all His goodness.  Begin today practicing the language of gratitude so that when you enter heaven, your gratefulness will explode into joyful praise (yadah and todah) as you stand before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the One who made eternity possible for you (Rev. 19:1-6).