Tag Archives: hope

A Guided Lament you can use right now

21 Dec

Image result for lament

Do we lament when life is so rotten and dark that we have no where else to turn?  Yes.

Do we lament when there is still hope, but much work yet to be done?  Yes.

What we have seen this Advent as we’ve studied psalms of lament, is that lament is a faithful, clinging to God, an emotional plea asking him to intervene.

When we lament, we pray, “How long O Lord?” because we are waiting for him in the midst of our pain.

When we lament we are asking God to restore and revive us.

As you read this post, you may be at your wits’ end.  And you might not be.  No matter if you are going through a difficult time, or if things are relatively good, I encourage you to practice lament.  Include lament as a regular part of your prayer.  So what I’ve created below is a guide that you can use to help you lament.

Maybe even take the guide and use it to lament with your family or small group.  When we used this guide during our worship service at Faith Church, I read a section, then gave a few minutes for people to lament.  I invited our church family to lament out loud if the wanted.  Some did!  Most prayed quietly to themselves.

You’ll notice that the guided lament below starts broadly, lamenting for our world, and then gradually narrows, finishing with a lament for yourself.  Feel free to read over the brief description I’ve created ahead.  You might want to personalize, add to it, totally change it!  What I have listed below is just a guide.

So find a quiet place, away from distractions.  You might want to put your phone on airplane mode, light a candle, and take a few deep breaths.  Maybe read Psalm 126 again.  And then when you’re ready, address your lament to God.

Lament for our world

Lament for our world.  Lament for the refugees without a home, often scraping together an sparsee existence in a war-torn camp.  Lament for the families around the world who have lost loved ones because of terrorist attacks. Lament for fractures that run deep between people and nations in our world.

Lament for our country

Lament for our country.  Lament for the homeless who wonder how they’ll survive the winter.  Lament for damage that sexual predators have caused.  Lament for the pain caused by mass shootings.  Lament for communities devastated by flood and fire.

Lament for your community

Lament for your community.  Lament for the hungry coming to food banks for help.  Lament for the people living in motels.  Lament for broken families and how deeply it affects children. Lament for the many in our community who do not know Jesus.

Lament for your church

Lament for your church.  Lament for those in your church family who have been experiencing physical pain for many months and years.  Lament for the families that have dealt with a different kind of pain, the pain of loss and brokenness in its many forms.

Lament for your family

Lament for your family and all the difficulties you’re facing.

Lament for yourself

Lament for yourself.

Is there hope during these dark days of Christmas 2016?

22 Dec

Image result for people walking in darkness

Just in the news on Monday 12/19/16:

  1. The Chinese Navy intercepts a US Navy underwater drone.
  2. A Turkish man assassinates a Russian Ambassador.
  3. A man drives a truck into a Berlin, Germany, Church Christmas market killing 12, injuring dozens more.
  4. The American Electoral College elects Donald Trump president, a candidate whose major proposals included building a wall to keep immigrants out of the USA, and deporting Muslim people from the USA.
  5. Lots of discussion about whether Russia interfered in our election process through hacking of emails.
  6. People fleeing the bombed-out Syrian city of Aleppo.

That was all on one day.  Geesh.  Kinda gives me the shakes just looking at it.

The other day I was driving my car down the road to the church as I always do, and it struck me how normal the drive was.  People in other cars passing me.  Houses.  Trees.  All very normal.  And then I thought, I wonder how life will change in these next four years with our new president.  Will driving down the road be just as normal as it is today?

That might sound like a ridiculous question.  But I wasn’t really thinking about the act of driving, or the technology of a car.  We know that car technology is changing, and in four years from now there will be different cars, with different technology.  Maybe there will be cars that drive themselves, or cars that talk to one another.  Maybe it will be a safer way to travel.  But that’s not what I was thinking about that day.

In my mind I was thinking about the world.  I was thinking about the news and how troubling it all is.  Any one of those news items I mentioned are serious and in bygone eras have been acts of war that led to devastating conflicts.

I think about the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  You know that song?  Here’s how it goes:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

You’d think the song was written for our time.  But it wasn’t.  The lyrics of the song are based on an old poem.  One of America’s greatest poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote the poem “Christmas Bells” on Christmas Day 1863.

Think with me about what was happening in our country in 1863.  The Civil War.  In March of that year Longfellow’s oldest son, joined the Union Army without his father’s blessing.  Longfellow found out in a letter.

Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day just a month after getting the news that his son was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia.  Two years before that, Longfellow had lost his beloved wife of 18 years when she was terribly burnt in a fire.  It was a dark Christmas day for him.

We might not be in Civil War, but the world feels very dark this Christmas Day, doesn’t it?  As we have been learning this past month studying Isaiah, the world was a dark place for the Judean Israelites during Isaiah’s day too.   Armies from all around were constantly threatening to invade them.  The world was dim.  In the next prophecy God talks to the people walking in darkness.

Into that dark world, both theirs and ours, God gives Isaiah a prophecy.  Join us this Sunday, Christmas Day at Faith Church, as we look at Isaiah 9:1-7.  Will we find light and hope to encourage us in the darkness?  I trust we will.  I know this.  We will learn the end of the song.  There are more verses…

How to survive the holiday blues

12 Dec

surviving-the-holiday-bluesAre you feeling low this Christmas?  Though there are Christmas lights everywhere, does your life feel like a dark place?

In the sermon intro blog post, I introduced a story in the history of the Israelite nation of Judea.  At the time, Hezekiah was King, and he was trapped inside the Judean capital city, Jerusalem.  Outside the walls of the city, the powerful Assyrian juggernaut, 185,000 soldiers strong, was knocking on the door saying “Surrender or die.”  If you want, you can read that post before continuing here.  And look up Isaiah 36-37 to catch up with the story.

When we left off, we were on the battlefield just outside the walls of Jerusalem.  The Assyrian field commander had just mocked the Jews.  In fact, take a look at verse 20 and notice the very last thing he said: “How can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”  He had just pointed out that so far no one else’s god has saved them.  If you look back just a few verses farther to 18, he says to the scared Jewish soldiers on the city walls, “Don’t let your king Hezekiah mislead you when he says the Lord will deliver you.  We’ve been bulldozing our way through every town, and they all have gods too, and no one is stopping us.  You think your God is any different?”

What a challenge!  He even uses God’s personal name.  YHWH.  Notice in verse 20 how the word LORD is in all capital letters?  That means the Hebrew here is actually using the personal name of God, YHWH.  That’s a real slap in the face of God. This Assyrian field commander thinks YHWH is a joke, just like the other so-called gods that had put up no fight.

Hezekiah’s envoy returns to the palace and tells him the dire news.  It’s not looking good for Jerusalem.  The choices are awful: either try to hold out on a siege and slowly starve, or surrender and lose everything.  What would you do?

Hezekiah’s response is amazing.  Look at chapter 37:1.

He tears his clothes and put on sackcloth.  Instead of calling his response “amazing”, I could have said that it is strange.  If you didn’t know this was in a Bible story, you’d think it was a Hulk Hogan move, tearing off his t-shirt.  In our culture, tearing your clothes is not what you normally do when you are sad, afraid, scared or nervous!  What do you do you when you’re upset?

Lay in bed.  Get a huge bowl of ice cream.  Shop online.  You probably wouldn’t tear your clothes and put on a canvas bag.  That would be seen as odd. And no one would understand you.

In the Ancient Near East, however, when you were really worked up, you tore your clothes and put on sackcloth.  It was how you showed everyone that what was going on was a big deal to you.

What Hezekiah does next, though is awesome, and it will seem a lot more familiar to you.  He goes to church.  In Jerusalem, the church was the temple.  Hezekiah is deeply distressed, and so often when we are distressed like that, we do what Hezekiah did.  We seek God.  Then he sends for the prophet Isaiah.  He wants to hear from God.  He is seeking out counsel.  This is just like you and I might seek out wisdom from a trusted spiritual advisor, a pastor, a counselor, and we might go to the Bible and pray.

Hezekiah tells his envoy to pass a message to Isaiah the prophet telling Isaiah all that has been going on.

Isaiah hears and responds.  In fact, he has a message from YHWH.  Now this is getting good.  YHWH, who has just been defamed by the field commander of Sennacherib, is now speaking back.  What does God say?

“Do not be afraid of that underling!”  Isn’t that awesome?  God calls the field commander an underling.  And what’s more, God says that field commander is not going to last long.

“Do not be afraid.”  Maybe you’re are one of those people who likes to count things.  How many times in the Bible do think God says “Do not be afraid”?  There are people who have counted it.  And they found that God says “do not be afraid” 365 times in the Bible.  One for each day.  That would be a cool study to do throughout a year!

Will Hezekiah give in to his fear?  Or will he trust in God?  And what will his men do?  Will they be faithful to their king, or will they mutiny?  We’re about to find out.

Briefly the setting of the story moves away from Jerusalem.  We read that the Assyrians are winning still more battles, and Sennacherib continues to taunt Jerusalem in a new letter to Hezekiah saying that there is no stopping them.  Not Jerusalem’s God, no one, can match the power of his Assyrian army.

Now what does Hezekiah do?  Things have gotten worse.  Any help that Judea might have gotten from surrounding cities and nations isn’t coming.  Assyria controls it all. What’s worse, YHWH hasn’t shown up yet.

Sometimes when life is low, the hardest part is the waiting.  When you pray, how long should you have to wait for God to show up?  We want him to respond immediately.  He might, but he might not.  The fear, the uncertainty, can start to eat away at our already-thin faith.

Was Hezekiah starting to lose faith?  We’ve been learning a thing or two about Hezekiah.  He was a good dude.  He does what he did before.

He takes this new letter to the temple. He spreads the letter out before God and starts praying and says “All this stuff Sennacherib is saying, Lord?  It’s true!  Nothing has been stopping him.  But you, Lord, deliver us, so that all may know that you are the one true God.”

And just like last time, after Hezekiah went to the temple and Isaiah had a word from the Lord, now Hezekiah has gone to the temple again, and Isaiah has another word from the Lord.  This time the Lord rips into Sennacherib’s arrogance and says to him “I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth and make you return.”  That’s YHWH saying “I will totally dominate you Sennacherib.”

Then YHWH speaks directly to Hezekiah in 37:30: He talks about the future, planting vineyards, and a remnant of people that will take root and bear fruit, a picture of growth and health and vitality.  This is a new vision of hope, and he says “the zeal of the Lord will accomplish it!”

Zeal is not a word we use all that much.  Here the word in the original Hebrew is often translated “jealousy” or “envy.”  God is saying that he has strong feelings for Israel, and he will achieve his goal.

What about this massive Assyrian army?  YHWH says in verses 33-35, “Don’t worry about the Assyrians.  I have got this.”

What happens next is absolutely mind-boggling.  That Assyrian camp of soldiers that was laying waste to everyone and everything?  An angel of God goes out and puts 185,000 of them to death.  It is total decimation.  The men on wall of Jerusalem wake up the next morning to get a look at their enemy, and to their shock, they see nothing but dead bodies.

Sennacherib?  He doesn’t make it either.  By the end of chapter 37, the war machine of Sennacherib is gone.  YHWH did what he said he would do.  And why?  Look back at 37:21!  One little phrase tells us why.  “Because Hezekiah prayed to YHWH.”  Hezekiah trusted in God. God said “Do not be afraid,” and Hezekiah believed and trusted.  Therefore the prophecy was fulfilled.

There are generally three kinds of fulfillment we normally see in prophecy: the conditional, the immediate, and the future kinds of fulfillment.

The story of Hezekiah and the Assyrian attackers is so helpful for understanding the prophecy one chapter earlier in Isaiah 35.  Notice that for the one who listens to the prophecy and trusts in it, the promises come true!  Most prophecy is like that.  So often we think of prophecy as just telling the future no matter what.  But most biblical prophecy is conditional. When I say “conditional”, I mean that most prophecy says “I will tell you what the future will be like, IF YOU TRUST IN ME.”  Fulfillment of the future vision was contingent on the people trusting in and obeying God.

As we walk through the prophecy in Isaiah 35, we see these elements of prophetic fulfillment.

First, in verses 1-2, this prophecy with its images of a desert wasteland blooming into a garden reminds us of a future peaceable kingdom similar to the one we talked about the previous two weeks.

Second, in verses 3-4 we see the admonition to the people, such as those in Hezekiah’s day who were possibly the first ones to receive this prophecy, to stand firm, and wait for God to come and save them.  That is a conditional prophecy.

Third, verses 5-6 sure seem like they are describing the ministry of Jesus don’t they?  The blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.  That is future fulfillment.

Next, the second half of verse 6 and into verse 7 we find an image very reminiscent of Moses’ ministry, through whom God provided water for the children of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt.   Some people have talked about how modern-day Israel has done a lot with irrigation, and thus how this passages shows us that we are in the end times.  Or is this image just a symbolic of the Messianic peaceable Kingdom?  We don’t know.  Again, what the prophecy is suggesting is future fulfillment.

The final section of the prophecy is in verses 8-10, and there we see the future ministry of the Messiah to make redemption possible.

While there are five parts to the prophecy with various levels of fulfillment, two of these I would like to look at further for the practical way they relate to our lives.

In verses 3-4 the prophecy says “Be strong, do not fear, your God will come.”  We might not get to be the ones who see this part of the prophecy fulfilled.  When this same thing was happening in Hezekiah’s day, not all people in Jerusalem got to see it.   People still were born, lived and died.  Generations of them did not see it.  But it did happen.

Yes, there was an immediate fulfillment of deliverance in the story of Hezekiah that they did see.  But there was also a future fulfillment 700 years later in the birth of Christ they did not see.  The same goes for us.  We might not live to see the second coming of Christ.  That is hard to take because we look around our world and there is much to fear.  But we have the same words spoken over us: be strong, do not fear, your God will come.

No matter how low you feel this Christmas, be encouraged.  God will keep his promises.  It doesn’t mean that we go hide in our houses and just let wickedness and injustice rule.  No we work for the flourishing of God’s mission now.  We don’t sit on our hands and wait for God to come.  We do what Hezekiah did.  We pray for deliverance, we seek godly counsel (meaning that we avoid individualism, we avoid going it alone), and we faithfully obey God.  We obey even when we don’t feel like it, when it seems ridiculous.  Imagine how tempting the thoughts of surrender would have been for Hezekiah.  As he is waiting for God to keep his promise, maybe Hezekiah feared the Assyrians were right, and the Judeans would have a better life in Assyria?  I can see how Hezekiah would be wrestling with this.  Yet he obeyed the Lord.

The next practical application in the prophecy is found in verses 8-10, and there we have a problem.  The vision describes a highway, the Way of Holiness it is called.  This is the Way to God.  The problem is that the unclean, the wicked will not be able to walk on the Way of Holiness.  Aren’t all of humans unclean and wicked?  Surely there are many of us who aren’t that bad as to be called wicked, when you consider how deeply evil some people can be.  But none of us are holy.  This Way of Holiness requires perfection.  That’s a huge problem.  Who can walk on that way to God?  Who are the clean, the righteous ones that are able to walk in that way?

Look at verse 9-10.  The ones who can walk on that highway are the redeemed, the ransomed of the Lord.  So what does it mean to be redeemed, ransomed of the Lord?  1 Timothy 2:5-6 tells us that there is someone who can ransom us.  Jesus.

We need to remember the story of the Good News of Jesus, starting with Christmas and carrying through Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection.  When we trust in him by believing and obeying him, we can be redeemed.  Have you been redeemed?  Have the chains of sin been broken in your life?  If you’re not sure, I’d love to talk with you about that.

Hezekiah is a great example for us.  We show that we trust not just by believing something in our mind, but by staking our life on God’s promises.  Hezekiah’s decision to go to the temple, to pray, to not give in to the powerful Assyrians, was an amazing act of faith.  It was risky.  It was literally putting his life on the line.  God had to show up, or Hezekiah and Jerusalem were finished.  There was no human way of stopping the Assyrians from destroying Jerusalem.  And God did show up.

The same thing goes for us.  When we look around our world and we don’t have hope, when there doesn’t seem to be a human solution, we can feel hopeless.  In those moments, when we still obey God, when we still walk in his way, we show that our faith is real.

So put these two applications together.  Combine them in the middle of your life situations.  I know that there are many situations in life that can bring us down. Scary situations.  Hardships.  God says to us “Be not afraid.”  He is a faithful God that we can trust in!  I’m not saying that he is promising to make all the bad stuff of life go away.  Instead I am saying that when we trust in him, we can know that we will always have his promises in our lives.

First there is the promise of a future in his peaceable Kingdom.  Even if life is hell on earth on for us now, we can hold on to the hope we read about in verses 9-10, the hope of gladness and joy, everlasting joy, and our sorrows and sighing fleeing away one day in his Kingdom.

But second, there is also the abundant life of Christ that we can experience now.  And I would love to talk with you about that.  If you feel like the word “abundant” is not describing your life now, and you have little hope that you will experience the abundant life of Christ, please don’t be forlorn or upset.  You’re not alone.  Many people don’t experience it.  And many wonder why.  What should you do?  The first step is to talk about it. Follow Hezekiah’s example.  Reach out to the Lord and to the people who know him.  Please feel free to comment here to talk further!  There is hope!

Guest Post: Why We Tell Our Stories

22 Oct

Today’s guest post is once again written by Lisa Bartelt as a follow-up to last week’s post.  We thank Lisa and her husband Phil for sharing their lives with us!  

The past two Sundays at Faith Church, we’ve shared stories of restoration. Personal stories from the teaching team of how God has taken broken, hurtful experiences (ones we’ve caused and ones done to us) and restored lives. (If you missed them, you can listen to them here and here.)

So, why tell those stories? We certainly didn’t have to tell them. We could have lived among you for years and not shared our painful pasts. And the telling isn’t necessarily easy.

But it is important. Here are three reasons why we told (and continue to tell) our stories.

First, it follows what we read in the Bible. Toward the end of John’s Gospel, he writes, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Later, in his first letter, John writes again, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.” (1 John 1:3) The Old Testament, too, is full of commands to tell redemption stories. Tell them to the next generation. Remember what He’s done. Tell about His power so that the nations will know there is a God.

We tell our redemption stories so others believe there is a God who does the impossible. He restores.

Second, and sort of related, we tell our stories to heal. Ourselves, and others.

I’m reading a book right now by Neil Gaiman called The Ocean at The End of the Lane. There’s a scene where the main character is remembering a time when he and a neighbor girl encountered a creature in the woods. The neighbor girl spoke a foreign and magical language to the creature, a song of some kind. He says he has dreamed of the song, and in the dream he knows the words. Then he says this: “In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. … In my dreams, I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, ‘Be whole,’ and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.”

By telling our stories, we are saying to each other: Be whole. We are speaking a language of shaping, of turning brokenness into beauty, of seeing God use our hurts to mold us into someone we couldn’t imagine being.

Third, by telling our stories, we give other people permission to tell theirs. None of us are perfect, but it’s so easy to look around and think everyone else has it all together and we’re the oddball that doesn’t.

If you heard our stories these last weeks, you’d know that’s far from the truth.

This quote I saw on Pinterest recently puts it another way: vulnerable-gift

Our prayer and hope is that this series of restoration stories would not end here, but that we all would continue to tell our stories. To each other. And, if the Lord leads, to the church as a whole.

Guest Post: Origin stories, superheroes and what defines us

17 Oct

Today’s guest post comes to us from Lisa Bartelt whose blog Living Echoes chronicles her journey as a wife, mother of two, writer and avid reader.  The Bartelts moved to Lancaster a few months ago, and have quickly become part of the family of Faith Church.  Lisa’s husband, Phil, is an EC Pastor and part of the Faith Church teaching team.   

Phil and I like to unwind by watching television, and one of our new favorite shows is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a comic-book spinoff of the popular Avengers movies and characters. A couple of weeks ago, the show featured the “origin story” of a villain I’d never heard of. The promo for the show was “every villain has an origin story.”

What little I know of comic books and their characters, I know that the origin story is true for the heroes and the villains. According to Wikipedia, it’s the “back story revealing how a character or team gained their superpowers and/or the circumstances under which they became superheroes or supervillains.”

Bruce Wayne sees his parents murdered by a mugger and becomes Batman to root out crime in Gotham City. Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider-like powers, which he uses to fight crime to alleviate the guilt he feels for his uncle’s death. Doctor Bruce Banner becomes the Incredible Hulk through exposure to gamma rays and transforms into the raging green monster whenever he’s angry. And on and on and on. (Check out Wikipedia’s “origin story” entry for more.)

But you don’t have to be a superhero (or a supervillain) to have an origin story. We all have moments, good and bad, that contributed to who we are today. You know your origin story. Does anyone else?

On Sunday, Phil and I will pick up where Joel left off with the second part of our Stories of Restoration mini-series. You’ve seen us at church for the past three months. You’ve met our kids, Izzy and Corban. You’ve heard Phil preach.

But you don’t know our story. Yet.

We’ll tell you about the moments that shaped us individually, and as a couple, into who we are today: our origin stories.

Unlike the superheroes and supervillains, though, our origin story doesn’t have to be the whole story. As Christians, those so-called defining moments, which make the comic book characters who they are and what they do, don’t have to define us. God can use even the most painful experiences in our past to bring about something new.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

Are you in the wilderness in some area of your life? Do you feel like everything around you is a wasteland?

We’ve been there, too. Join us on Sunday to hear how God made a way in the wilderness for us and to be encouraged that He is making all things new.

Stories of Restoration, Part 1 – Joel & Michelle

14 Oct

When I started as pastor of Faith Church, I remember standing before the congregation most Sundays thinking to myself, Look at all those smiling faces, those well-dressed people.  They don’t need to hear this sermon.  My feeling has long been described by the phrase “you’re preaching to the choir”.

Five years has passed, and my perspective has turned 180 degrees.  I now look out each Sunday morning thinking, they all need this! 

Why? Because I have learned a lot about your stories, your families, your struggles.  And most of all, I know about my family, my struggles.  All of us have them.  We are a people in progress.  We all have a story to share, a tale of what the Apostle John would describe as the light crowding out the darkness in our lives.

Yesterday, then, I shared three stories from Michelle’s and my life.  My car accident when I was 17, a difficult situation in Michelle’s past which led to her struggle with anorexia, and finally our year of personal pain as church-planting missionaries in Jamaica.

Ours is a story of restoration, of God’s healing in our lives on multiple levels, and we praise him. But you know what?  We still need restoration.  Michelle and I are still sinners in need of a savior to change us, and that is our prayer.  Don’t put us on a pedestal.  It’s not like we have been perfect for the last 12 years since our return from Jamaica.  Many of you have seen us mess up in big ways right in front of you.  If you haven’t, just ask our kids!  Our prayer continues to be that the Lord would change us and make us more like Jesus.  God wants to make us new!  He wants to do the same in your life too.

So what about you?  Do you need to share your story?  Might sharing be the beginning of healing?

(If you want to read a longer treatment of my accident story, you can do so here.  Also, my parents and I were interviewed once about the accident, and you can listen here, including my parents’ thoughts.)