Tag Archives: longing

Peer pressure and our longings – First Sunday of Advent 2019, Part 2

3 Dec
Image result for peer pressure

Have you ever been swayed by what other people think, even though you don’t really agree with them? Have you ever been influenced to act contrary to your beliefs because you feel pressure from others? Often we say that teenagers succumb to peer pressure, but the reality is that adults of all ages are just as susceptible. We have deep longings to be accepted and liked, and those longings can impel us to think and act in ways we never otherwise think or act. What can we do about these longings?

In the first post in the series, I made the claim that Jesus alone is where we will find the answer to all our longings.  But is it true? Let’s talk about that. And to do so we’re going to study a section of the Bible, Galatians chapter 2.

Since we are jumping right into the middle of a passage, let me give you at least a little bit of context about what we are studying.  Galatians is an ancient letter, written by one of the Christian church’s earliest leaders and missionaries, a man named Paul.  Not too many years after Jesus died and returned to heaven, Paul traveled around the Roman Empire preaching the good news about Jesus and as a result people who heard his preaching became followers of Jesus.  Paul would group them into local churches in the various cities and towns.  Sometimes he stayed in a place for just a few weeks, sometimes months, but rarely would he stay for as much as a year.  Once he felt they were ready, he would install leaders in the church, but then he would move on to keep preaching and start more churches.  But he didn’t forget them. He would write letters to check in on them, advising and teaching them.  This letter is called Galatians because it was written to a group of churches in a region of the First Century Roman Empire called Galatia.  Paul was very concerned about what he was hearing through the grapevine about these churches.  How do we know Paul is concerned?  We just need to look at three verses in the letter.  One before the passage we’ll be studying, and two after it.

Look at Galatians 1:6.  There Paul says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all.” 

Now turn to chapter 3, verse 1.  Here he gets even more intense: “You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?” and then, staying in the same chapter, skim down to verse 3, “Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

In those verses Paul is bewildered that the people in the churches in the region of Galatia have veered from what he taught them.  He calls what he taught them, “the gospel”.  But now, he says, they are turning to a different gospel, which is actually no gospel.  The word gospel means “good news.”  It is the story of Jesus, his birth, life, death and resurrection, and the message connected to his teaching and his victory over sin, over death and over the devil, that there is a new hope in him and him alone. 

As we will see in chapter 2, even a revered church leader was being swayed to follow a different gospel.

What I would suggest is that you start by reading Galatians 1:11 through 2:10 because I want you to hear the story of how Paul came to follow Jesus.  It is amazing.  Originally Paul was not one of Jesus’ disciples.  In fact the opposite is true.  If you like, pause reading this blog and read Galatians 1:11-2:10.

What we learn in that section of the letter is that Paul was originally persecutor of the church, but God saved him, and he became a missionary for Jesus.  Take special notice what he says in chapter 2, verse 4.  What he says there gives us a clue as to what Paul is so concerned about in this letter.  In that verse he says some false brothers had infiltrated the church to spy on the freedom they had in Christ Jesus and to make them slaves.  He doesn’t mean physical enslavement.  He is talking about spiritual enslavement, which has some very physical ramifications.  He means that these false brothers didn’t believe the part of the good news story of Jesus that taught that people are free to follow the new life of Jesus.  Instead those false brothers believed that Christians still needed to follow the rules and regulations of the Old Testament Law, and thus Paul saw that as an enslavement to the Law.

Paul goes on to say that after he started following Jesus, he eventually met with the leaders in Jerusalem, famous guys like the disciples Peter and John, and the brother of Jesus, James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and they give Paul the right hand of fellowship, which means they welcomed him and accepted him. 

But then Paul describes a serious problem. You can read about the problem in Galatians chapter 2, verses 11-14.

It’s a bit of a shocker.  Paul says that Peter was behaving contrary to the gospel, and even Barnabas was led astray.  Peter and Barnabas were two pillars of the church.  In stature and history it doesn’t get any higher than Peter.  And yet here is Paul describing Peter as swayed by what people think.  As I thought about it, though, it struck me that this was not the first time Peter did this.  Consider his denial of Jesus three times before the rooster crowed at Jesus’ trial. But what did Peter do this time that has Paul so concerned? 

We’ll get to that in the next post!

Why did the US death rate jump sharply in recent years? – First Sunday of Advent 2019, Part 1

2 Dec
Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash

If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?

What this question gets at is longing.  This Advent, we are talking about longing. 

Advent is a season of longing.  Ancient Christians created the season of Advent as a four week long preparatory time for the great celebration of Christmas.  Advent means “coming,” and it looks back to the first coming of the Messiah, when Jesus was born.  It also points forward to Jesus’ second coming.  As Jesus taught us, we need to be ready for his second coming.  There is a sense, then, in which Advent is a period focused on longing for Jesus to return, and so we would do well to evaluate our longings.  Are we longing for the right things?

I read an article this week in which the author asked the same question of her readers that I asked you: in one word, what do you want more of in your life?  This is just another way of asking, “What do long for?”  Nearly 800 people responded, and the results were fascinating.  I’m going to list the top 8.  What do you think nearly 800 people in our society said they want more of? 

  • 8 – Confidence
  • 7 – Fulfillment
  • 6 – Balance
  • 5 – Joy
  • 4 – Peace
  • 3 – Freedom
  • 2 – Money
  • 1 – Happiness

People have many longings.  This is no surprise.  What is alarming is that there seems to be a growing sense in our culture of longings going unfulfilled.

Another article I read talked about this.  The article studied the death rate in the USA from 1959 through 2017. The general trend: the death rate improved a great deal for several decades, particularly in the 1970s, then slowed down, pretty much leveled off and has recently reversed course after 2014, increasing dramatically since then.

The article reported sharp especially among those in mid-life, ages 25-64.  The report showed the trend to be true both genders, all races and ethnicities.  By age group, the highest relative jump in death rates between the years 2010 and 2017, a jump of 29 percent, was people age 25 to 34. What is going on?  The title of the article is “There’s something terribly wrong.” 

One person in the article said:

“Whether it’s economic, whether it’s stress, whether it’s deterioration of family, people are feeling worse about themselves and their futures, and that’s leading them to do things that are self-destructive and not promoting health.”[1]

This is alarming because, we are the richest country in the history of the world.  We’re not in a major war.  Our health care is amazing.  We have loads of connection through social media.  We are more educated than ever before.  We have so much opportunity.  Yet there is deep despair in so many in our culture, leading to self-destructive behavior.  What is going on?  Perhaps at the root is a epidemic of unfulfilled longing.

As I answered for myself the question above, “What do you want more of in life?” I’ll admit that “peace” and “money” were the first two words that came to my mind.  Let us consider this: How many of us thought of Jesus?  How many people are longing for Jesus? 

We might actually find that a bit odd.  “What do you mean, ‘longing for Jesus,’ Joel?” What I am referring to is the long-held Christian idea that in Jesus and Jesus alone is where we will find the answer to all our longings.  But is it true? Keep following the blog, as our next few post will look into that.


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/theres-something-terribly-wrong-americans-are-dying-young-at-alarming-rates/2019/11/25/d88b28ec-0d6a-11ea-8397-a955cd542d00_story.html

What can satisfy the soul? part 3 (can your phone?)

24 Oct
Photo by Stephen Petrey on Unsplash

Our smartphones promise so much.  Can they satisfy the soul?  Take note today how often you use yours, and lift up your eyes and observe how often other people are on their phones.  The first iPhone came out in June 2007, and in 12 years smartphones have swept the globe, with about one-third of every human using one.  In the USA, research finds that 95% of all Americans have a cell phone, and 77% have a smartphone!  Get this: in the 18-29 demographic, 94% use smartphones, and 100% have a cellphone.  100%!  Even if the actual percentage is 99.5% and they just rounded up, these stats paint an astounding picture of phone adoption rates.  And it happened fast!  From 2011 to 2018, smartphone use by Americans increased from 35% to 77%.  Is there any question that we love our smartphones?  What does this say about us and our inner longings?  What does this say about what we worship?  All week long we have been looking at Deuteronomy 12, seeking to answer the question: what can satisfy the soul?  Can our phones?  Let’s continue into Deuteronomy 12 to find out.

We saw yesterday in part 2 that God must be the focus of our worship. Moses goes on in Deuteronomy 12, describing to Israel how this worship of Yahweh is to occur in verses 15-28.  There are lots of sacrifices and blood and I encourage you to read that at some point.  In this post, however, we are going to jump to verses 29-32 where Moses summarizes his theme again. Take a moment and read that.

He says, “Do not worship like the people around you worship, as it is detestable.”  Look at verse 31: “They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”  Human sacrifice, God says, is totally detestable.  This is a major way that Yahweh was different from other gods of the nations around Israel.  There are actually many ways that Yahweh and his expectation for the people of Israel was different, and we’ve seen some of those ways already in our study through Deuteronomy.  Here are some examples: He chose Israel, a weak, slave nation, rather than picking one of the powerful nations.  He wanted to be a loving close relationship with them, rather than to be distant from them.  He was deeply concerned that they, a nation of slaves, be protected and provided for, so they could be transformed into a life of freedom and flourishing.  When they messed up, and they disobeyed him, he was gracious and forgiving.  All of these characteristics of Yahweh are strikingly different from the other Ancient Near Eastern gods.  Now here we see another distinction, as Yahweh is concerned about human life, in particular wanting to eradicate the horrible practice of human sacrifice.  In the Ancient Near East, ritual human sacrifice was all too common, and Yahweh wanted it abolished.

Do you think there might be worship practices in our culture that God would find detestable?  We’ve already talked about the possibility that Israel had a deep-seated slave mentality that could lead to them to be tempted to worship the gods of the powerful nations around them.  It is hard for us to imagine Israel seriously considering false worship to the point of engaging in human ritual sacrifice.  But God is right to be concerned about this, knowing that his people are so easily lured away.  There was a deep dissatisfaction in their souls, and God knew that it would be attractive to Israel to attempt to fill that longing by worshiping like the nations around them.  Could the same be said of us? Let’s be humble and teachable as well, considering the possibility that we, too, might engage in false worship, trying to satisfy our souls.  No, Christians are not sacrificing infants, but we would do well to ask if there are any practices of false worship that might be tempting us?

It begs the question: What is true worship? What worship does God desire of us?  To show up at church worship services, sing songs, pray, and listen to a sermon?  Does God want us to perform religious rituals like communion?  Before we identify false worship, let’s first make sure we clearly define the worship God desires.  Worship that God desires is celebrating, rejoicing and honoring him, and not just in a ceremony for one hour, but through a life of following him and obeying his ways.  Worship that God desires is a life of making things right in the world.  Worship includes battling injustice in society, healing brokenness in relationships, serving God, and pursuing the mission of his Kingdom.  And you know where that starts?  Giving our hearts to him. Finding our satisfaction in him.  There are plenty of times where God would say that Israel was doing all kinds of sacrifices, fasting, and rituals, but he said it was worthless to him because their hearts were far from him.  In those moments, they showed they were not satisfied in God alone.

And so where are our hearts?  The shocking message of false worship, God says, is that any worship can become false worship if our hearts are not satisfied in God.  The music and the sermon might be wonderfully faithful to God and his Word, but if we are not satisfied in God alone, we can be tempted to desire those worship elements to satisfy us.  One way to discover if our hearts are not satisfied in God alone is to evaluate our reaction to worship services.  If the are “not up to par” or “boring” or if we have a critical spirit about them, or if we think or say, “I didn’t get fed” about a sermon, then it could be our hearts are far from God. 

I will admit that sometimes, my heart is all about is sitting on our sofa, phone in hand, scrolling through the app store trying to find a new cool app that will make my life better.  I think I want to get the most out of this phone that I am paying for every month. Like going to the buffet.  I want to go there and eat all day long to get the biggest bang for my buck. 

And yet what is really going on beneath the surface?  I think a new phone app, or lots of great food, will satisfy me or fulfill me, and make my life better.

But that is a lie!  When I went on sabbatical, I got rid of Facebook and games on my phone, and it literally felt like an emotional ripping away, but you know what? It made my life better!  Instead of escaping to social media land or a phone game, which I did way too much, I tried to read a book or focus on my family, or pray.  And that prayer was the major change.  I tried to learn to sit in God’s presence and hear his voice.  I tried to learn to be satisfied in him.

What I found is that it wasn’t my smartphone that was the problem.  In fact, while I removed a bunch of distracting apps, I went on the install a handful of prayer apps that have been incredibly helpful in pointing my heart to God. 

We simply cannot find our satisfaction in anything but God.  And that is what God is saying to Israel, “you will not find your satisfaction in worshiping those other gods, or like they worship.”  True satisfaction can be found only in God.

So follow the teaching of Yahweh, in Deut. 12:2 – take dramatic action, break down the altars to the things in your life through which you are seeking to satisfy your soul.  Delete the apps, cancel the subscription.  Is there music, movies, books, or something else holding you back?  An addictive habit?  Let it burn.  Tear down those strongholds.  Take dramatic action.  Find your satisfaction in God alone, because only he can satisfy the longings of our souls.

What can satisfy the soul, part 1

22 Oct
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Do any of you watch satisfying videos? 

They’re a thing.  Every now and then, someone in my house enjoys watching them.  Just go on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean.  There is a whole genre of satisfying videos.  Here’s an example of one that caused a delay in writing this post…because I couldn’t stop watching it!

These satisfying videos and photos are especially heartwarming for perfectionists.  They capture moments in time that are precise.  But here’s thing.  These videos and photos satisfy for a moment.  Then they are done.  Sure, we can watch more videos and view more photos.  But if we are longing for deeper, sustained satisfaction, it becomes clear real quick that these videos don’t go that deep.  Not to mention the fact that we can’t sit on our phones or TVs and watch videos all the time.

Furthermore, while satisfying videos are humorous and kinda cool, the problem of dissatisfaction is not funny. We can feel dissatisfied in so many areas. Relationships, finances, health, stress. Many of us are aware of deep inner longing, of a dissatisfied life.  It’s why we sit on our phones so much, binge-watch so much TV, and try to ease the pain of life with addictions and escapes of many kinds.  So is there anything that can satisfy the soul? 

As we continue our series in Deuteronomy, we have arrived at chapters 12 and 13, and we’re also going to jump briefly into a few verses at the end of 16 and beginning of 17.  What can satisfy the soul? Let’s see if Moses can help us answer the cry of our inner longings. 

First of all let’s look at the intro to chapter 12, verses 1-3.

Here Moses is introducing the next and longest section of the book of Deuteronomy, and what the book of Deuteronomy is named for, the Second Law, or the second telling of the Law.  Chapters 1-11 have been part historical account, and partly a re-establishment of the Ten Commandments and how they are summed up in the idea of Loving God. This is the foundation of the covenant. Now in chapters 12-26, Moses gets into the specific laws. 

Before we get into the laws and commands of God in chapters 12 and 13, I think it will be helpful to briefly talk about why God has these commands in the first place.  It could seem like he is micro-managing the people.  Scan through Deuteronomy 12-26, and you will see there are a lot of laws.  Why does he have to be so specific and detailed?  Isn’t it a bit controlling, all these commands?  Is God a dictator?

It reminded me of when our son Tyler came home from Army basic training and AIT.  He had been gone for about 5 months, living a totally regimented life.  There was almost no freedom.  Especially at Basic Training, just about every moment of every day is spelled out for you by your drill sergeants.  But then it was all over, and he returned home.  On one of those first days back, Michelle found Tyler in his room sitting on his bed, just staring.  She said, “What’s wrong?”  And he replied, “I’ve been sitting here for 20 minutes, and I don’t know what to do.”

You see what happened?  In just under 5 months, his life had been transformed to the point where he lost his sense of personal freedom, and was used to having someone tell him what to do.

Now imagine if it wasn’t 5 months.  Imagine if it was over 400 years, and your entire culture and nation was raised up under that kind of control?  Where you and your parents and your grandparents, and many generations before them, were always slaves, and nearly everything in your lives was dictated by the ruling powers!  For those of us not from an ethnicity that ever experienced that, it is very hard for us to put ourselves into that mentality.  But that slave mentality is exactly what was deeply entrenched in the people of Israel.  They had been brainwashed for centuries, and that mentality doesn’t just leave them the moment they cross the Red Sea.  In fact, if you read the books before Deuteronomy, the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, you will see the people of Israel reverting to their slave mentality often. God knows this.  And he desperately wants them to be free of that slave mentality.  He knows that mentality goes down deep in their lives, and thus they could easily be lured into worshiping the gods of the nations around them, nations that were far more powerful than Israel.  And you know what more powerful nations do to weaker nations?  The more powerful nations enslave the weaker nations.  God knows that unless Israel takes drastic action, following his ways for them, they will almost certainly be defeated by those other nations and enslaved all over again.

With that, we set the stage for the recounting of God’s laws to Israel in Deuteronomy 12 and 13.  What will he say first?  And how will he address the longing of their hearts?  And if we are struggling with dissatisfaction, what might we be able to learn from ancient laws to help us?  Check back in tomorrow, as all week long we’ll be seeking to answer that very question: what can satisfy the soul?

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.