Tag Archives: joy

A Christmas Surprise [Fourth Sunday of Advent]

2 Jan

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

Today we’re going to meet shepherds.  But as I studied these passages, what emerged was something surprising, something unexpected!  During Advent, we have been following the readings in the Lectionary, and our first passage is Micah 5:2-5a. Micah gives us in verse 2 a prophecy of a future ruler who would come to rule over Israel.  Can you figure out why this is a prophecy that is mentioned at Christmas almost every year?

Because of the reference to Bethlehem!  That is the first part of the prophecy: notice that it actually says it is given to Bethlehem Ephrathah.  Bethlehem was the town, and Ephrathah was the region.  It says that Bethlehem was a small clan, and yet in the nation of Israel, it might be the second most famous city behind Jerusalem.  Why?

Bethlehem was the birthplace of kings!  Do you remember the first king who was born there? David, the greatest king of Israel.  Now in this prophecy we are told that there was going to be another king born there.

So Israel was awaiting the arrival of the King.  Why?  Because, as Micah tells us in verse 3: Israel broke the covenant God had made with them, and they were abandoned by God.  Israel could read this passage and you could see how they might not fully get the part about their sinfulness.  The passage doesn’t say “Israel you broke my covenant, so I am abandoning you.”  But there are plenty of other places in the prophets where God said to the people, “You disobeyed me. You broke our agreement.”  We saw this in Jeremiah’s prophecy which we studied a few weeks ago.  But here in Micah 3, it could seem like God is just randomly abandoning them, and so when this new king is born and rules the people again, that new king is going have the power of God and bring security and peace to the land.  If you are living in Israel through all the many occupations by foreign powers, Micah 5:2-5 sounds really great.  Right around the time of Jesus’ birth, you might be expecting a savior to be born who would lead Israel’s armies to fight the Romans, and kick them out of the land and bring peace. 

But there is more to the story!

In verses 4-5 we learn that this new ruler, this new King from Bethlehem will shepherd his flock.  It will be a wonderful peaceful time.  This would have been a familiar image to the people of Israel because their great king David, the previous king born in Bethlehem, started his career as a shepherd.  Then fast forward to Jesus’ birth, it was the lowly shepherds whom the angels of God visited to declare the amazing news that the new king had been born in Bethlehem.

So in Micah, we read the prophecy of a new Shepherd who was to come from Bethlehem.  Now we turn to the second reading, Psalm 80:1-7, written by Asaph, and one we actually studied the last year, when we were studying psalms of lament.

Who do we meet in verse 1?  The Shepherd of Israel!  But this is an entirely different shepherd than the one promised in Micah.  The psalmist is writing a song that a group of people would sing, and we see that they are singing to God.  They say that God is a shepherd who leads Joseph like a flock.  Joseph is one of the nation of Israel’s patriarchs. In fact, do you know who Joseph’s dad was?  Israel (also known as Jacob), which is how the nation got its name.  Thus the psalmist is using the word “Joseph” to refer to the whole nation of Israel.

Then the psalmist talks about the one who sits enthroned between the cherubim.  That is another very Jewish image.  The cherubim were angels that were crafted out of gold and placed on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant.  Remember the Ark of the Covenant?  Not the big boat that Noah made.  That Ark was essentially a small box that was kept in the tabernacle and later, the temple.  I’m talking about the same Ark that is featured in the movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Do you remember what was kept inside the Ark?  The stone tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments, some manna, which was the food God sent Israel from heaven, and finally the high priest Aaron’s staff which had budded with almond blossoms.  And God’s presence would rest between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant.

So while this psalm is referring to God as the Shepherd of his people, their situation is dire. Look at verses 2 and 3.  Asaph is calling for help, salvation, and restoration.  Things are bad.  He uses the word “awake,” making it sound like God is asleep.  That is very similar to the word “abandon” we heard in Micah.  Israel knows that God is powerful, but for some reason he is not answering their call for help. What this call for help indicates is that they can’t do this alone.  They need God.

In verses 2-7 then we have a nearly identical theme to Micah: they are feeling God has abandoned them, and they are crying out for restoration.  There is a deep longing in this psalm for God’s salvation.

Now we fast forward to the First Century AD, to our third passage, where are going to hear about the fulfillment of the prophecy of Micah and the answer to the prayer of Psalm 80. Turn to Luke 1:39-45, where we read a fascinating story.

It is a story of two women.  Mary and Elizabeth.  Relatives.  Mary is from the northern part of Israel.  She is a young girl from the tiny town of Nazareth.  She is engaged to be married to a man named Joseph.  But there is a problem.  Mary became pregnant before she is married.  We know that the baby growing inside her is a miracle baby, placed there by God.  But no one in Mary’s town knows this.  Only Joseph.  So as Mary starts showing, it could get very uncomfortable for Mary and Joseph.  Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her relative, who lives near Jerusalem in the south.  We don’t know the specific relationship between the two ladies: aunt & niece, or maybe great aunt, etc.  We just know Mary is young, Elizabeth is old.  Both are pregnant with special children. 

These babies are the two messengers! Do you remember the two messengers of Malachi 3?  In that chapter we learned that one messenger would arrive and prepare the way for the second messenger, who was the Lord.  These two babies had been predicted over 400 years before, and now they are about to be born.  Read verses 39-45.

Isn’t that wild?  The first messenger, the one who would prepare the way is John, which is Elizabeth’s baby.  There he is in the womb, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice, because Mary is the mother of the second messenger.

The story gets even wilder as we read that Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit, and in a loud voice said speaks this really cool poem. 

In the poem, Elizabeth has blessings for Mary, for Mary’s child.  She praises Mary for her belief in God, and she proclaims that Mary’s child will be her Lord!  And in the middle of it all we read Elizabeth’s question: Why am I so favored?  Elizabeth is marveling at how God has blessed her!  Elizabeth is getting to see the fulfillment of prophecy and the answer to centuries of prayer come to pass right before her eyes.  And she is mother to one of the babies, and her relative is mother to the Lord!  Wow! 

It is hard to put into words what a wonderful scene this is!

After Elizabeth speaks, then Mary speaks.  What we read next in verses 46-55 is Mary’s Song, sometimes called Mary’s Magnificat, which is the first word of the song in its Latin translation.  In our English translations it is the word “glorify” or sometimes translated “magnify”.  “Magnify the Lord, O my soul.”

Look how she describes the Lord, just like the ruler and shepherd who will be the savior of the world.  He is a just and merciful and good God.  He scatters the proud, but he lifts up the humble.  He feeds the hungry, but sends the rich away empty.  He cares for those who are oppressed and he is not impressed with those who the world worships.  

With this amazing vision of our savior God in our minds, turn to our fourth reading, Hebrews 10:5-10.  Here we meet the one who was promised in Micah, the one prayed for in Psalm 80, and the one the Mary raised as a baby.  But what we find is that this savior, this Jesus, is not at all what we thought

The passage starts in verses 5-7 with a quote from Psalm 40.  Look at verse 5.  Isn’t it interesting that God does not desire sacrifices?  It sure seems like God desires tons of sacrifices when you read the OT Law.  But Psalm 40 reminds us in verses 8-10 (here in Hebrews 10) that sacrifice is not sufficient.  God actually wasn’t pleased by them.  There was, however, one sacrifice that was sufficient.  The shepherd who sacrifices himself for the sheep!  Hebrews 10 doesn’t use the phrase, “the shepherd who sacrifices for his sheep,” but Jesus did.  He said in John 10 that he was the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep.

When Jesus came to us, even in the form of a little baby, he was saying, “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.” 

It is like the writer of Hebrews is envisioning a conversation in heaven between Jesus and God the Father.  God is saying, “My people have turned away from me, and all those sacrifices they do are empty and meaningless because their hearts are far from me.  They are just going through religious rituals. But that is never what I wanted!  I wanted to be in a real relationship with them, a loving relationship. But they are so easily tempted away by lesser things like false gods, destructive addictions, empty possessions, things that will never satisfy.  What can change the human heart?”   

I imagine heaven goes silent.  And then Jesus raises his hand.

He exclaims, “I’ll do it!” and he could.  He alone could do it.  He alone could become a human, live a perfect life, show us the way of his Kingdom, call us to follow him, and then give his life as the ultimate sacrifice, once for all.  Jesus willingly came and gave his life.  

When Jesus made that sacrifice, the writer of Hebrews tells us in verse 9 that God honored that sacrifice, setting aside the first idea, which was all those sacrifices at the temple that we read about in the Old Testament.  That sacrificial system was set aside, and God established a second new plan, that of Jesus being the once and for all sacrifice.  And look what happened!

In verse 10 we read that we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all!  When Jesus gave his life on the cross and then 3 days later rose again from the dead, he showed that his sacrifice was the one true sacrifice!  He defeated sin, death and the Devil, and made a way for us to be holy like he is holy.

That is not at all what Micah or Psalm 80 expected.  They wanted a military ruler to defeat the Romans, and Jesus said, “Here I am, I have a much, much better and bigger plan than that.  I will defeat sin, death and the Devil.”  And that is just what he did.

Now we can see clearly why Elizabeth and Mary are praising God!  Jesus is the savior of the World.  It was totally unexpected.  The Shepherd gave his life for the sheep.

In the midst of the darkness of sin in our lives, we have hope.In the midst of our pain, no matter what you are struggling with, we have hope.

We can choose to rejoice just like Mary and Elizabeth.  On Christmas Eve we rejoice!  And we can rejoice any day throughout the year, no matter what is going on because we have a Shepherd who cares for us, who gave his life for us.  One of the ways our family has been trying to apply this principle is to be intentional about playing worship music, especially in those moments when life is hard.  Instead of wallowing in the pain, getting bitter about it, we have been playing worship music to purposefully redirect our thoughts to the hope we have in our Good Shepherd who loves us and gave his life for us! How will you rejoice?

When I’m not feeling happy or content in my relationship – 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

22 May

happy vs joyAre you feeling discontent in your relationships? Maybe you’re not feeling happy about a relationship?  But are you feeling joy?  Is there a difference?  And what does it matter?

When we are unhappy or discontent, we are very tempted to RUN!  In our passage from this past Sunday, Paul says “Remain in the situation in which you were called.” Over and over he says this. Remain? What if we don’t like the situation?  As I have said before, if it is an abusive situation, this would not apply.  Get safe!

But what about when a relationship is frustrating?  What about when there is a lot of anger and arguing?  In Relationship Month, we have heard clearly from Paul that we should avoid separation and divorce at all cost.  In this section again he says, “Remain.”  Then he adds in verse 19, “keeping God’s commands in what counts.”

My NIV Study Bible notes summarize it well: “There is nothing wrong with seeking to improve your condition in life, but be content at every stage.” There is a tension between being content and keeping his commands. Sometimes keeping his commands means we need to make a change.

My dad, Harold Kime, has taught Corinthians for many years at Lancaster Bible College, and in his notes he says: “Keeping God’s commandments does have spiritual value and worth. The verb, “keep”, that Paul uses here is not a simple obedience. When he says “Keep his commands” it also includes the idea of guarding or preserving. This is not a mere outward obedience but an obedience that guards and preserves the very thing obeyed. We can infer from this that certain types of social condition require a radical change. Certainly Paul would not say, “Were you called being a prostitute, think nothing of it.”

We could summarize like this: Remain in the life state that you are in, but do not sin.  At the root of all this is a heart that is committed to say that “Lord, your way is the best way.”  Keep his commands requires a heart desire that believes that following God’s way is the best! “Find your satisfaction in the Lord”  Paul is not saying that the believers in the church should stay as they are for eternity. He encourages slaves, if they can, to be free. But the focus is to be content in the Lord where they are at. Things may change, but the focus for now is to grow that passionate, heartfelt relationship with the Lord.
We can be so discontent about life. We can start to grow a bitterness about our station in life. Paul says that the Christians should find their contentment in the Lord. And we can grow that deep inner joy without having our circumstances change one bit.

Contentment is being able to be joyful no matter the circumstance. There is a big difference between inner and outer joy. One way to describe the difference is to look at the difference between happiness and joy. I am bit hesitant to use these two terms because they are basically synonymous. But think about them this way: happiness is that outer expression of emotion based in how we are feeling. We like happiness a lot because it means we feel good. Joy is different from happiness because it is a deeper inner state of heart and mind that is trusting in God no matter how we are feeling, no matter our circumstance, no matter our station in life. This deep inner joy, this contentment is what Paul is saying the Corinthians believers need.

There is much about life that we can be discontent about. Paul would say to the Philippian church in Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

What are you discontent about? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your job? Your finances? The state of the world? Paul is saying that we should be a people who avoid rushing to change, but instead remain as you are, be content, find that deep inner joy in obeying Christ, and commit yourself to grow in your relationship with him. Here’s what’s interesting about contentment. It is okay to allow the deep inner joy of contentment to bubble up to the surface of your life and overflow with emotional outward happiness. We should never confuse that outward emotion for the inner real thing. But it is okay to be outwardly happy. I would go so far as to say that when we are content in Christ no matter our situation, we will see that outward happiness, that outward rejoicing on a more regular basis! And it starts with a contentment in our relationship with Christ.

It is not just in the pain that we can experience deep inner joy. We can also celebrate the joy of the Lord in the good times. We can and should be content in the Lord, no matter if life is difficult or abundant. A friend of mine from my youth group is now a professor at LBC. He and his wife were married a few years ago, it took them some time to start a family. They are now just weeks away from the birth of their son. I asked him this week how they are doing, and he said “Excited, things are going great, but they’re also thinking about those many sleep-deprived nights ahead of them.”

I wrote back and said, “You will get through it. I won’t deny that I had a hard time in the middle of the night. But it is a phase that passes. I think what I have been learning with my kids, though, is that I can yearn too much for each phase to pass. I can be way too focused on “getting them out of diapers” and “getting them out of car-seats” and so one. In so doing, I have found that I can miss out on the wonderful aspects of the present phase. I think this is the message of Ecclesiastes: eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. Enjoy the moment that God has given you. While the moment definitely can have its hardships, it also has great joy. Be content no matter the circumstances. I would encourage you to revel in each and every one of those nights of seemingly endless crying and feedings.”  (Not that I was the model dad in that regard…)

What will it mean for you to grow contentment in the Lord?

Follow up to Joy & Peace (aka “resting in the liver”)

13 Aug

What an amazing Sunday!  We got to celebrate with seven people as they were baptized, proclaiming their faith in Christ and their desire to be his disciples for life.  That visual image of moving from death (under the water) to life (rising above the water) is so clear.

Through those baptisms on Sunday we saw a bit of what Jesus meant when he said he came to give us abundant life.  We also learn about that life through the Fruit of the Spirit.  On Sunday we took a brief look at Joy and Peace.  Very similar to the difference between “Like and Love”, which is the difference between opinion and conviction, we talked about how we can experience joy and peace despite the circumstances.  James reminds of this when he says “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”. 

Wow.  Read that a couple times reflectively.  James knew what it meant to rest in the liver, which is, by the way, one way some cultures talk about peace.  In our culture, the heart or stomach or mind is the seat of our emotions.  But liver?  Yep, the liver.  We might say “give your liver a rest,” but when we say that, we’re not talking about emotions!  In some cultures they feel emotion is centered in the liver like we say we feel it in our heart.  Just different body parts, that’s all.  Same phenomenon.

The question is how do we properly deal with our emotions.  James is essentially saying “Use your mind (consider) when you are dealing with life’s crap (it) to control your emotions (joy).”  Consider it joy.  Yeah, it’s that simple.

Yeah, right.  Simple?  Try impossible.  Or at least it can seem that way.

So I came across this very helpful article.  Check it out.  Maybe it will help you grow joy and peace in your life.  Another excellent resource about emotions is the book The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allendar and Tremper Longman.  I urge you to begin a study of it.  Have you contacted a friend to help you?  Why not meet with them week by week until you finish studying the book?  We’re growing fruit this month!  Maybe discussing it more here will help too?

Resting in your liver

10 Aug

Joy and Peace.

Two things we followers of Jesus are to be known for.  And yet, how many of us don’t feel joy and peace?  How about you?  Are you feeling a lack of peace in your life?  Not feeling joy?

What we need to learn to do is to rest in our liver.  Yeah, that’s right!  Rest in your liver.  Know how to do that?

The second sermon in our Fruit of the Spirit series is tomorrow, and we’ll be taking a look at Joy and Peace, including what it means to rest in your liver.  Join us to learn more!

Also, we are excited that we’ll be baptizing seven people tomorrow!  Pray for the Lord to help you grow joy and peace as we study his word together and praise him for the work he has done in each of the people’s lives who are being baptized.