Tag Archives: darkness

How NOT to wait during hard times [First Sunday of Advent, part 4]

6 Dec
Photo by Maia Habeggar on Unsplash

We have been studying the concept of waiting during dark times in this series of posts on the Lectionary passages for the First Sunday of Advent.  In part 3, we introduced the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36, where Jesus prophesies his second coming.  Christians throughout the ages have been waiting for his return. That waiting can be difficult.  Jesus remarks that in the watching and waiting we should be on guard against the temptation toward dissipation, drunkenness and anxiety. 

Personally, I’ve had periods of hardship where I have actively felt and prayed, “Jesus, I am ready for you to comeback!”  But those have been far and few between.  As we age, though, or as we go through hard times, we are more apt to long for his return. 

But in a wealthy, privileged society, with so many opportunities available to us, I think the opposite happens.  We might not want him to return.

I remember thinking as a teen, “Lord, Please don’t come back until I get my driver’s license.”

And then as a college student, “Lord, please don’t come back until after I get married.”

And then as a young adult, “Lord please don’t come back until after we get to meet our kids.”

Have you had thoughts like this too?  There are so many reasons why we might not want Jesus to come back.  Reasons that have us focused on the opportunities of life, whether good or bad.

In verse 34, Jesus warns his disciples about losing focus on him and his return, and having their attention in life drawn to things that could potentially harm them, or worse, harm the mission of God’s Kingdom.  He refers to three dangers in particular: dissipation, drunkenness and anxieties of life.

We don’t use the word “dissipation” much.  I had to look it up. Actually I looked up the meaning of the Greek word that Jesus uses here, and I found that the word refers to the bad things people do when they are very drunk. (Louw & Nida)

So of course that relates to the next word Jesus uses, “drunkenness.” Drink too much alcohol, and you are no longer fully in control.  In the ancient world Jesus lived in, alcohol was pretty much the main drug.  In our day and age, we have so many options for losing control, don’t we? All kinds of substances.

With the words “dissipation and drunkenness,” we have a clear teaching from Jesus: do not overindulge in anything that takes you out of control of your life. Here’s the thing, though, when you are going through hard times, the temptation to escape the pain and get lost in a substance or an addiction is a powerful force in our lives that can lead to much evil. Jesus is right to warn us about it.

The third concept he cautions us about is, “anxieties of life.” And this one hits me square between the eyes.  I struggle with anxiety.  I wrote about my battle here. Jesus says be careful or you can be weighed down or burdened by it, and I know exactly what he means. Anxiety can become all-consuming.  It, too, is a powerful force that can be hard to battle. Jesus is right to warn us about this too. 

How about you?  In the times of darkness in your life, while you are waiting, have you struggled with dissipation and drunkenness?  How about anxiety?  Please know that you are not alone.  Many people battle as well, and there is hope!  What is that hope?  Check back in tomorrow for part 5 of this series, as Jesus has a very practical suggestion that can give us all hope.

There is hope in dark times! [First Sunday of Advent 2019, part 1]

3 Dec

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

For Advent 2019, Faith Church will be following the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Each Sunday we’ll look at how the four readings tie together thematically, all supporting the goals of the season of Advent.  Thus we are pausing our series on Deuteronomy.  We’ll return to that after the New Year 2019.  Why does Faith Church observe Advent?  This post explains our thought. And this post from the Deuteronomy series refers to it as well.

In this series of posts we start by meeting a guy who was living in a very dark time.  It was one of those difficult phases of life that most of us know by personal experience, times when you can look all around you and seriously question whether God is real, or if he is able to keep his promises.  You look around you and you wonder, “Why? Lord,Why?” 

I was talking to someone this week who was going through a difficult and painful time in their career, and they said that very thing, “Why is this happening to me?” At times like this, it can seems like there is no hope.

Maybe you’ve been there.  The worst is when the difficulty and the pain carry on and seem like they are not going away anytime soon.  As Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  And in the waiting game,you can be very tempted to have dark thoughts.  

So let’s meet Jeremiah.  He was in one of those dark times. Turn with me to Jeremiah 33:14-16.

To get a sense of the backstory of this passage, look back at Jeremiah 32 where we learn that Jeremiah is prophesying at the very end of the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (which was the southern kingdom of Israel).  The scene takes place in the capital of Judah, the famous city of Jerusalem.  A powerful enemy force of the superpower nation of Babylon has built siege works around the city walls, and they are starving the people.  It’s only a matter of time until the city gives up, and all is lost. 

So Jeremiah, directed by the Lord, buys his cousin’s field, as a prophetic sign. Kinda weird, right? At that moment when Babylon’s armies are surrounding the city, God wants Jeremiah to buy a field? The people inside the city walls, Jeremiah’s friends and family would have been thinking, “Jeremiah, what in the world are you doing?  This is a ridiculous time to buy anything.  We’re all going to die!” But God had a reason for Jeremiah to buy the field, and he sure got their attention.

God’s message was that, though things look dire now, one day people will buy and sell property in the land again.  Through Jeremiah, God says that Israel has turned its back on him, and so he is allowing Babylon to wipe Jerusalem from the face of the earth as punishment for Israel’s sins.  But one day in the future, there will be restoration.  And that promise of restoration is what we read about in Jeremiah chapter 33. 

Specifically looking at 33:14-16, we see the words, “The days are coming!” What days?  The days when God will fulfill the gracious promise he made to his people.  Look at verses 15 and 16.  There we read of the promise of a new king.  He uses the image of a branch sprouting from David’s line.  The famous second king of Israel, David was known as a “man after God’s own heart.”  Long before Jeremiah’s time, 400 or so years earlier, David ruled the land, and God promised David that, if his descendants followed the way of the Lord, David would always have someone from his royal line on the throne of Israel.  Well, as Jeremiah looked around the city, he knew the 400 year streak of having a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem was nearly over.  The kings had turned away from God, and thus God allowed Babylon to capture them.  And that is what eventually happened soon after this passage.  Jerusalem was destroyed, and never again was a Davidic king on the throne. 

But here in Jeremiah 33 we have a new hope, a prophecy of a new Davidic king who will come, who will do what is right and just in the land.  A new day is coming, declares the Lord, a new David! And who might that be?

We find out about 600 years later,when God sends an angel to a humble unknown peasant girl.  In Luke 1:26, the angel Gabriel appears suddenly to a young lady named Mary in the Northern Israelite town of Nazareth,and the angel says Mary is highly favored, that the Lord is with her.  Mary’s life is about to change forever.  The angel tells her in Luke 1:31 that she is going to bear a child, and that child will be great, the Son of the Most High, and get this, God will give Mary’s son the throne of his father David,and her son will rule over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.  Imagine Mary hearing that! 

Mary knew that she was of the line of David, but 600 years had gone by.  That would be like a descendant of George Washington in our day saying, “George Washington is my great, great, great,great, great, grandfather.”  The lineage is interesting, but it doesn’t mean anything anymore.  So there’s Mary, knowing that David is her great, great, great, great, great, grandfather. But what is God talking about?  She’s going to have a son who will be on the throne of David?  And he will have a kingdom that will never end?  What does it mean? To get some perspective, we’ll need to turn to the second reading of the day, and we do that in the next post.

How lament can shine light into the darkness of our world

8 Dec

Image result for psalm 80

Do you sense the darkness in our world?

I started this series of posts by describing the tragedies in our world, all adding to the darkness.  Just last evening, my wife and I watched the episode of The Crown where a dense poisonous smog settles on London.  It stayed there for days, and thousands lost their lives.  The result of burning coal, that smog is an apt metaphor for darkness in our world today.

How will light shine into the thick darkness?

In the last post, we started looking at our first Advent 2017 Psalm of Lament, Psalm 80.  Asaph, the author of Psalm 80, wrote this lament in three sections, each concluding with a repeated refrain.  The last post looked at the first two sections, in which Asaph passionately cries out to God to restore the afflicted nation of Israel.  In his third and final section, Asaph gets right back to the business of lament.

Section 3 – Verses 8-19

Asaph now likens Israel to a grapevine, mirroring the nation’s journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  He depicts God as uprooting a vine from Egypt and replanting it in a new land, making a new walled vineyard for it.  But now time has passed, and the vineyard is in bad shape.  Passersby pick its grapes, and wild animals eat from it.  So the Psalmist is once again calling for God to intervene.

In verse 14, he pleads with God, “Return! Look down from heaven and see!”

Then in verse 16 the situation gets worse, because now the vine is cut down and burned.  This is dire.  A vine cut down and burned is being eliminated, right?  So Asaph is desperate, calling out for a major intervention. The psalmist is saying, “God, we are about to be destroyed! Do you see this? Help!!!”

In verses 17 and 18 Asaph calls out for God to rest his hand on Israel.  Then, he says, if God will do this, Israel will not turn away.

He calls for God to revive them.  Revive is a word that means “to bring back to life.”  Asaph knows that the nation, if it stays on this trajectory, does not have much time.  They need revival.

Psalm 80 concludes, as do all three sections, with a message of hope. In Verse 19 Asaph asks for restoration, that God might shine his face on Israel, that they may be saved. This is his third plea for restoration, each time increasing the length of God’s name.  Remember the previous instances?

In Verse 3 he said, “Restore us, O God.”  There he is calling out to God, but not by name.  He is just using the title “God.”

But in Verse 7? He adds another title.  “Restore of us, God Almighty.”  Almighty adds the idea of God’s strength.

Now jump to verse 19, and Asaph gets personal.  “Restore, us LORD God Almighty.”  See the capital letters in the word LORD?  That means in the Hebrew he wrote in, Asaph is using the personal name of God, Yahweh.  He used God’s personal name, Yahweh, already in verse 4, so there is a sense in which the whole psalm has been personal.  But Asaph’s gradual lengthening of the name of God in the refrains adds an urgency to his emotional, personal plea to God.

This is lament, crying out deeply, personally, directly to God, asking for restoration.  In particular, Asaph’s lament in Psalm 80 is asking for God to make his face shine into Israel’s national darkness.

We live in another time where there is great darkness.  Asaph demonstrates for us that one important response to the darkness is lament.  Lament is calling out to God in our pain.  Asking him to intervene.  Asking him to shine light in the darkness.

I’ve entitled this Advent series Community Lament.  The psalms were not just private poems.  They were placed together in the Book of Psalms and used whenever Jews met to worship.  People would read and sing them as a group.

We, too, can practice community lament as well as private lament.

We can and should lament the tragedies going on in our world, in our nation, in our communities.

Do you need to practice lament?  It will require more than “thoughts and prayers”.  It will require time, perhaps blocks of time.  Perhaps journaling honestly to God. Perhaps gathering a group of others to share your lament with.

I will admit that as I studied this, I realized that lament is mostly foreign to me, and frankly, I don’t know that I want to do it.  I suspect some of you might be feeling that too.  Do we have to lament?  Won’t it be depressing and sad?

Clearly, this psalm does not teach, “You all must lament or you are bad sinners.”  It doesn’t say that.  Instead Psalm 80 is an emotional response to a tragedy.  It is an honest embrace and examination of a situation, of our feelings, of our culpability, and of God’s involvement.  That’s where lament starts, a willingness to be very open and honest about what is going on.  A willingness to cry out to God, then, even if we don’t have all the answers, and even if we might be really confused and frustrated with what is happening. But in the end, lament is an act of faith.  A clinging to God, desperate, for him to intervene.

And because of that, lament is a practice that we would do well to add to our lives.  Let’s go beyond thoughts and prayers and passionately plead for God to shine his light in our darkness.

What would it look like to lament on Facebook?

What would it look like to lament as a family?

It could be that you write out your lament, just as Asaph did.

It could be that you organize a communal lament.  Gather people together to grieve, share stories, hold a vigil.

I urge you to practice lament during Advent.  With Asaph in Psalm 80, reach out to God, cry out for restoration and revival.  Call out for God to make his face shine on us, that we may be saved. Instead of saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” I urge you to lament.

When you hear about the next shooting, lament.

When the news talks about people committing sexual deviancy, lament.

When you hear about a broken relationship, lament.

Feeling low this Christmas?

9 Dec

Image result for christmas depression

Fear.  Sadness.  Longing.  Disappointment.  Loneliness.

Are you feeling any of these emotions lately?

It seems like the world can be a dark place.  Even at this most joyous time of the year, we can feel low.  As we look around our lives, our culture, and our planet, we can have a distinct impression that things are not as they should be.

We see the Christmas lights, watch the many commercials advertising Christmas sales, and perhaps even feel the anticipation seeping through the lives of our children.  Only a couple more weeks to go until the big day!  But maybe you’re not as excited as those kids.

Maybe the cost of life has you stressed.  Bills don’t let up.  Stuff keeps breaking. Relationships too.

Maybe you’ve lost a loved one, and Christmas is a reminder that you won’t see them at a family gathering like you normally do.

Maybe you are watching the traumatic news stories of the day and you feel an uneasiness inside you.  Think about what has happened in our world in just the last few weeks.  A bitter presidential election between candidates that many people were disappointed with from day one of their nomination.  The candidate who won the election lost the popular vote, a situation demonstrating the polarization in our nation.  A severe wildfire devastated Tennessee, a fire we are now learning was arson.  The tragedy of a church shooting months ago is back in the news, ripping open the wounds of racial tension in our land.

Around the world the Syrian city of Aleppo is decimated by a senseless war, with thousands of innocent non-combatants brutalized and dead.  Many other thousand have fled the disaster zone, homeless, starving, seeking a new country.  There seems to be no end in sight to the bombing.

On another front, armies continue fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, as the months tick by, one after the other, in what is now a 15-year-long battle.

That is just to name a few of the hot-spots flaming our embroiled human race.

Talking about heat, our global temperature is rising is so many ways.  It is a very unsettling time, outside and deep within us.

This coming weekend is the Third Sunday of Advent, and the next prophecy of Isaiah that the Lectionary guides us to is Isaiah 35.  We learn as we peek ahead into Isaiah chapters 36-39 that the world into which Isaiah speaks was just as topsy-turvy as our own.  The powerful nation of Assyria was blitzkrieging the surrounding nations, continuing unimpeded through the fortified cities of Judea, and now they’d arrived at the Judean capital, Jerusalem.  It was painfully obvious to the people inside the city, and to their king Hezekiah, that they were out-manned and outgunned.  The Assyrian army numbered in excess of 180,000.

Jerusalem at the time is well-fortified and stocked, and could hold out for many weeks.  The Assyrians would rather not, however, play a game of attrition in a siege.  They would win, but they would lose men and time in the process.  It would be costly.  So they would much rather force a treaty.  The Assyrian King, Sennacherib, sends out his field commander with a proposal.  Envoys from Jerusalem go to meet him.  The field commander speaks:

“Go tell Hezekiah…” (doesn’t call him king) “…that the great king, the king of Assyria…” (notice which person the field commander thinks is real deal) “…says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours?”

Then the field commander continues relaying the message from Sennacherib, a message meant to tear down any confidence that Hezekiah might still have:

  1. Military strength?  Nope, Hezekiah has no chance.
  2. Help from Egypt? Nope, they are as dependable as a splintered reed which a man might attempt to use as a staff, only to find it piercing his hands and wounding him.
  3. The LORD?  Nope, Hezekiah already removed a bunch of high places and altars saying that the people should only worship in Jerusalem.  (Clearly, Sennacherib wasn’t well-acquainted with the LORD!)

So Sennacherib concludes that Hezekiah has no other option than to make a bargain with Assyria.

The envoy from Jerusalem asks the field commander to speak only in Aramaic so those guarding the wall of Jerusalem, soldiers who only understand Hebrew, won’t be able to know how dire the situation is and defect.  The field commander ignores the request and calls out in Hebrew to the men on the wall, “Do not let Hezekiah persuade you when he says the LORD will deliver you.  Instead, make peace with Assyria and you’ll have a wonderful life in Assyria, filled with good food.  The LORD hasn’t protected anyone else.  You really think he will deliver you, Jerusalem?”

Whew. It reminds me of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when Arthur approaches a walled town asking to speak with it’s king.  The men on the wall just mock him, ruthlessly.  This situation in Isaiah is reversed.  Here the big bad country with it’s locked-and-loaded army is mocking the helpless Judeans inside the walls of Jerusalem.

Talk about dark days.  It seemed like this was the end.  What should Hezekiah do when the envoy returns to him to tell him the story of this conversation with the field commander and the men on the wall?  It’s not looking good at all.

The choices are tenuous.  Stay and fight and almost surely lose, except for a miracle from God.  Or surrender to Sennacherib and lose the city, and be taken in exile.

Are you feeling like there aren’t any good options in your life right now?  Are you feeling afraid, upset, confused, low, at Christmas this year?  Know that you are not alone.  But also know that Isaiah 35 has a vision that you might want to hear!  Join us Sunday at Faith Church as we talk about this further.