Tag Archives: satisfaction

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 4 (the drastic action needed)

25 Oct
Image result for destroy a tv

We started this series of posts looking at satisfying videos, thankful for them, but noting that they cannot satisfy the soul.  We talk about our phones yesterday and how they promise so much, but they, too, don’t satisfy the deepest longings of our souls.  What can satisfy the soul?  We found one answer: only God can satisfy.  We found that Moses tells the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 12 to take dramatic action to make sure they find their satisfaction in God alone. That dramatic action carries on into chapter 13.  We’re not going to read chapter 13, but instead we’re going to look at its structure.

In chapter 13, Moses talks about three groups of people.

  1. Prophets who teach false gods in verses 1-5.
  2. Family members who teach false gods in verses 6-11.
  3. Wicked towns who teach worship of false gods in verse 12-18.

And what does God say the people should do to each of these three groups? Eliminate them.

In chapters 16:21-17:7 this theme continues. “Purge the evil from among you.” These are brutal passages, I know.  God is talking about stoning people, totally destroying them, even people from within one’s own family.  It raises up inside some of us those difficult questions about violence in the Old Testament and why God would ever command that kind of purge.

I listened to an Old Testament scholar recently remark that when he hears concerns about the violence in the Old Testament, it is often from people who have ingested probably hundreds of hours watching violent movies and television shows, and they seem not to have a problem with that media.  The scholar makes a good point about the irony or possibly hypocrisy of people who would be disgusted with violence in Deuteronomy 13 on Sunday morning, only to go and choose to spend money watching a violent film that same afternoon. 

But one might respond, “Wait a minute, in those violent films, it is not God doing the violence, but in Deuteronomy 13 it is.”  Is it, though?  Or is God responding with loving protection for his people?

We can hardly imagine what it was like in ancient pagan cultures, and for those with a slave mentality. We simply have to go back to the fact that a nation of slaves needs to have a dramatic and decisive kind of protection, and that could require total elimination of all evil influences, even from within the nation and from within one’s own family.  Can’t stomach it?  Me neither. I don’t like Deuteronomy 13 at all.  I’m glad we live in a different time and under a different covenant.

We need to remind ourselves that what we are reading is God’s covenant treaty with Israel, and it is not for us.  We are under the New Covenant, and we are not bound to follow the rules of the Old Covenant. We need to hear that clearly. These rules are not for us. 

So is there any principle from Deuteronomy 13, 16 and 17, that can carry over to those of us under the New Covenant?  I think there is!

Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5?  “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your eye causes you to lust, gouge it out.”  Now was Jesus speaking literally?  When I mentioned this live in my sermon, I asked everyone to hold up their hands.  I didn’t see any chopped off hands or gouged out eyes.  If we were taking Jesus literally, there should have been  some evidence of chopping and gouging!  We are right not to take Jesus literally, as he was using figurative language to make a point. Jesus was saying “Take drastic action.”

We simply must be lovingly, graciously, restoratively concerned for purity and holiness in our own lives and in a church family.  And we must take dramatic action to get there. Ask yourselves the question: what dramatic action in your life in order to pursue God’s ways? What are strongholds that you need to destroy?  What are your high places? 

Media? Sports? Addictions?

Are you trying to find satisfaction in your life from sources that cannot satisfy? Much of media and sports are neutral.  I’m thankful the Redskins have what looks to be a somewhat competitive team this year. I also enjoy a number of television shows. But those things cannot provide satisfaction, except temporarily.  Our inner selves are longing for something more, and God knows this.  He instructs the Israelites to worship him only, and not other false gods, because those false gods cannot satisfy.

He instructs Israel to worship him in his ways.  Not in their ways.  God has their best interest in mind.  He wants to preserve their newfound freedom.  He wants them to enjoy the abundance of the Promised Land.  God also is a God of justice, as we saw a few weeks ago, and he wants to eradicate the unjust and detestable practices found in foreign lands, and to do all that, Israel must stay true to him.  They must find their satisfaction in him, and not be lured into the false religion of the powerful, unjust nations around them. 

I encourage you examine your own life.  What will it look like for you to pursue finding satisfaction of your deepest desires in God alone?  What do you need to stop?  And what do you need to start? Do you spend time with God?  Do you need to open up space in your life to drink deeply from the well of his Word, of listening for his voice in prayer?

What can satisfy the soul? part 2

23 Oct
Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

You are what you worship.  Agree?  Disagree?  If I had said, “You are what you eat,” that would be a bit easier to agree with.  Food goes in, metabolizes, fuels and shapes the body.  You actually are what you eat.  But what about worship?  Does worship have the same affect on us as food? 

All week long we are seeking to answer the question, “What can satisfy the soul?”  Clearly, food satisfies a hungry belly.  Food is also a delight to the tongue, and for many food is emotionally satisfying.  Have you ever heard of the phrase, “stress eating”?  But no matter how much food we eat, there is no perfectly satisfying meal, as within hours we’re hungry again. 

But what about worship?  Does worship shape us?  Does it satisfy?  Is it true that “you are what you worship?”  It’s an intriguing question, and the answer to that question is at the heart of what God is saying to the people of Israel as we continue studying Deuteronomy 12. 

As we saw yesterday in our first post on Deuteronomy 12 & 13, God has to be strict about requiring Israel to worship him and him only. This is why the very first thing he says, in chapter 12 verses 2-3, is that Israel is to destroy any and all pagan centers of worship and idols in the Promised Land.

That might sound harsh.  But again, remember the slave mentality? If you don’t know what I mean by “slave mentality,” please pause this post and read What can satisfy the soul? part 1 as there I explain what I think was going on in the hearts and minds of the nation of Israel.

It seems to me that what God is saying to Israel here is that sometimes it is best to take drastic action in your life.  I once encountered a situation like this in my own life. It was the summer after my freshman year of college, and I was going through what I call my adult conversion, where for the first time, I was totally surrendering my life to God, to follow his ways.  I looked at the many verses in the New Testament like Philippians 4:8 where one of the earliest followers of Jesus, a guy named Paul, says, “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” and I wanted to follow that.

One area where I was allowing impurity into my life, and my thoughts, on a regular basis, was the music I listened to.  So some church friends and I got together, and a bunch of us agreed that this was a concern.  We went through our music collections, grabbed anything that we felt we needed to get rid of, and we threw it into a 50 gallon drum, poured gas on it, and lit it on fire.

I will tell you that Michelle and I have, in the years since, bought some of that music back, thinking, “Why did I get rid of that one, there was nothing wrong with that????”  So maybe I was overzealous.  I will admit it.

But at the time it was absolutely the right thing to do.  I would do it again, and I would recommend others of you to do the same.  Who wants to have a bonfire?  Get rid of the porn, get rid of stuff that tempts you, get rid of stuff that is holding you back.  Sometimes you need to take drastic action to break the power of the stuff that has a hold of you.

Also what we see in Deuteronomy 12 is the concept of being set apart.  God wanted Israel to live a different way, which was a far better way, than the way of the pagan nations around them.  If the people of Israel, who had a slave mentality, were to be set apart to follow this new way of God, the major first step was that they needed to remove the pagan false gods.  Look at verse 3, at how specific God is, when he says that he wants the names of those other false gods to be wiped out. That’s not just removing an idol, that is removing the memory of that false god.  Verses 1-3, therefore, show us clearly that Israel was to be set apart, different, following Yahweh, the one true God.

He adds to this in verses 4-6 saying that they must not worship in their way, they must worship in God’s way, and they must worship in God’s place.

Notice that he never names the place.  That should jump at out you, because there was a place. The tabernacle. They had been using it for a long time by this point.  Because he doesn’t mention the tabernacle, because he uses the generic word “place,” that means he wants them to have a different focus.  The tabernacle, or the temple that would follow, or the city of Jerusalem where it would be located, those are place names.  God, because he doesn’t use a place name, intends the focus not to be on the place, but for the focus of their worship to be where?

On him!  God wants their focus to be where it should be, on him.  He knows how easily people become enthralled with buildings and cities and places, and how our hearts and minds can get caught up in the wrong things. He knows how especially starry-eyed we become with the work of our own hands.  You know the emotional boost you get when you make, create or fix something?  It is a human tendency, and the feeling would only be more intense for Israel, considering their journey from slavery to independence.  God is quite aware that Israel, when entering the Promised Land, will be very tempted by their victory, their success, and be lured away from him.

Because of that temptation, he wants them to be very aware that the place of worship is not so important, as is the fact that he will be there.  His name will be there.  This is why he tells them to wipe out the places of worship and even the names of the false gods, and focus solely on God and his name.

God continues in this vein in verse 7. Worship in the presence of the Lord.  Be there, eat there, rejoice there.  Why? Because God has blessed them.  Which is a tie-in back to chapter 11 which we studied last week. Remember that? Obedience brings blessing.

Verses 8-14 describe that the people of God are not to do as they see fit, they are not to worship how they want.  Instead they must worship God’s way.  Again, God must be the focus of their worship.

We can learn from this too.  We need to focus on worshiping God, and in his way.  The conclusion is that worship does shape us.  In a very real, physical and emotional way, we are what we worship. God is saying to Israel, if you do you take drastic action to clear away false worship from your land, you could easily be tempted to indulge in what is false, and that will destroy you.  Place your focus, therefore, on God.  Worship him.  God isn’t saying that we will become gods.  But the more we focus our lives on him, the more we worship him, the more like he we are inclined to be.  He does want to shape us to be conformed to the image of Jesus.  So I urge you to consider what it might look like for you worship Jesus more? 

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?

Who Can Satisfy Our Souls? – A Japanese Worship song

11 Nov

Yesterday at Faith Church we had a special treat as Yoriyoshi and Emiko Abe visited, encouraging through the preaching of the Word and leading us in worship.  Yoriyoshi told us how the Lord worked in his life, tying that in with the wonderful words found in Isaiah 55:1-3.

Emiko closed the sermon by leading us in a new song.  It is actually a Japanese worship song translated “Who Can Satisfy Our Souls?”  It was the perfect choice for the sermon, and it is a beautiful song.  As you read the song, may it be your prayer.

Oh Lord we come to you

Our souls thirst for you

We desire to be renewed

We lift our hands in praise

to glorify your name

Who can satisfy but you?

Jesus, Lord you’re the only one

who fills our heart, who gives us life,

who satisfies our soul

Jesus, Lord you’re the only one

who’s worthy to be praised

So I offer all to you

What do you need to do make this prayer a reality in your life?

What satisfies you? (…a message from Japan!)

8 Nov

This Sunday we welcome Yoriyoshi and Emiko Abe from Japan!
Yoriyoshi and Emiko Abe

I first met Yoriyoshi about ten years ago when he visited Lancaster, considering studying at the Bible College.  That ultimately didn’t happen, but in recent years the Lord brought him to Myerstown to study at our seminary. Yoriyoshi’s family has a long-time history with the EC Church of Japan.  This past summer he and Emiko were married, and they both returned to Myerstown so that Yoriyoshi could finish his studies.  He currently serves as Pastoral Intern at our sister church, Grace Community of Willow Street. Once he graduates, they will seek the Lord’s will about future ministry opportunities.

I’m excited to hear from this couple on Sunday!  Yoriyoshi will be preaching and Emiko will worship in song.  I was in seminary with Yoriyoshi’s cousin Tomo.  Think about this: when they come to our seminary, those guys are studying in a language that is not their birth tongue.  That alone blows me away.  But add on top of that, a significant section of their coursework is to study theology, which in itself can be complicated, let alone in another language.  Yet there’s more.  They also study biblical Hebrew and Greek, taught to them in English.  And their birth language is Japanese!  I praise the Lord for the gifts he gives his people.

Yoriyoshi will be speaking on Isaiah 55:1-3, “Who can satisfy us?”  Do you ever feel less than satisfied with life?  I definitely do sometimes.  Think you should have made more money by this time?  Have more socked away for retirement?  Think you should have accomplished something more?  Made it big?  Do you have a nagging feeling within you?  Are you disatisfied?  Pray that the Lord will speak to you on Sunday.