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#Advent13: An Ancient Path

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wastelands. The desert will sing and shout for joy; it will be as beautiful as the Lebanon Mountains and as fertile as the fields of Carmel and Sharon. Everyone will see the LORD’s splendor, see his greatness and power.

Give strength to the hands that are tired and to knees that tremble with weakness. Tell everyone who is discouraged, “Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue, coming to punish your enemies.”

The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy. Streams of water will flow through the desert; the burning sand will become a lake, and dry land will be filled with springs. Where jackals used to live, marsh grass and reeds will grow.

There will be a highway there, called “The Road of Holiness.” No sinner will ever travel that road; no fools will mislead those who follow it. No lions will be there; no fierce animals will pass that way. Those whom the LORD has rescued will travel home by that road. They will reach Jerusalem with gladness, singing and shouting for joy. They will be happy forever, forever free from sorrow and grief.

— Isaiah 35:1-10  (GNT)

The Word of God for the people of God.

Isaiah is writing to a people in exile.  These are a people who have been through it—and most of it of their own accord.  They failed to follow God. They were exiled from the land that was promised them—a land that they never fully occupied.  And, now, on the banks of the Euphrates they wonder how to sing the praises of God (Psalm 137).  The Prophet—the same one who told them they were headed for exile—tells them that a road is being paved on which they will head home.

Isaiah’s prophecy doesn’t just hold hope—confident and joyful expectation in God’s goodness—for the Israelites waiting rescue from the grasp of their captors.  It holds hope for us.

As we travel throughout the world and talk to front-line workers, one of the—almost unanimous—prevailing themes that comes out of those discussions is that they are tired.  The are worn out.  The work is hard.  It’s long.  It’s often without immediate fruit.

One of the things that God has challenged us to do in our ministry to the “give strength to the hands that are tired.”  To speak courage to them.  To remind them of Who is on the throne of the Kingdom in which they live.

On more than one occasion as we have sought out the word of the Lord for where we were to go, this passage has been a part of that word.  A reminder of the call with which God has challenged us.  Go.  Give strength.  Speak courage.

And, that’s what we do.  Our “mission” is to speak life.  To impart blessing.  To pray over.  To give courage.

One of the most important things that you can do for us—and for our friends in the nations—is pray that we readily recognize the “Road of Holiness”—the ancient path.

In another of the exile prophecies, Jeremiah (6:16), tells the people to “stand at the crossroads and look.  Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is.  Walk in it, and you will live in peace.”  Pray that we will always know which is the ancient path. That we may be able to stand alongside the workers in the nations and help them see the ancient path.  That we may strengthen them as they walk along the path.

It is the ancient path that we walk between the first lighting of the Advent Candles and the lighting of the Christ Candle.  It is the ancient path that leads us from the now to the not yet.  It is the ancient path that takes us from our home in Edmond into the nations and back again.  It is the ancient path that leads us all into the nations—be it physically, in prayer, through finance, or inviting the nations to us.

Strengthen the hands that are tired.  Give strength the the legs that are weak.  Speak courage.  Speak blessings—impartations of life that call one into their God-given destiny.

And, in this, we see the Kingdom come.  We see the now move closer to the not yet.  We see God’s desires accomplished in the nations.

An Ancient Road, Perge, Turkey

An Ancient Road, Perge, Turkey

Lent 2012: 6.1 — The Fleecy Thing

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

Later, the LORD sent this message to King Ahaz: “Ask the LORD you God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want–as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead.”

But the King refused, “No,” he said, “I will not test the LORD like that.”

Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

— Isaiah 7:10-14 (NLT)

The beginning of our text for today reminds me of another story in the Scriptures. Remember Gideon? Unlike King Ahaz, he wasn’t at all worried about putting God to the test. In Judges 6, we get the story. God tells Gideon that he needs to lead the army against the Philistines. Gideon isn’t so sure. After all, he’s small and weak–“My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” (Judges 6:15, NLT). So, Gideon puts out a fleece. He puts God to the test.

I once heard Jon Peterson (from 24/7 Prayer) say, “God likes the fleecy thing.”

Yet, Ahaz, decides that even though the prophet has told him to put out a fleece, he isn’t going to do that. Judah is in a tight spot. The Northern Kingdom, Israel, and Syria have joined forces against them. Our text places us in the midst of this story. If we back up a few verses, we find God telling the Prophet Isaiah to tell Ahaz to stop worrying (vs. 4). “Yes, the kings of Syria and Israel are plotting…”, but, “…this invasion will never happen” (vs. 5, 7).

And Ahaz is in that spot where we often find ourselves. Somewhere between the promise and the fulfillment. All Ahaz can see is the situation surrounding him. War is inevitable. He can see the armies at his door.

Yet, he has a word from God–“this invasion will never happen.”

Firmly planted between the promise of God and the reality of the moment.

Firmly planted between the now and the not yet.

Firmly planted between the promise of Messiah and the reality of the cross.

So, Isaiah, offers Ahaz a way to see his faith. “Ask the LORD for a sign.” Ahaz declines. So, Isaiah says, “God Himself will give you a sign.”

Proof of the promise.

The fleecy thing.

What happens when you’re in that spot? You can see the armies coming against you. It looks dreary. Yet, you know God has promised that the invasion will never happen. It’s easy in that moment of being stuck in between to get discouraged. It’s easy to think that God has all but forgotten His promise.

I believe today’s text is telling us that it’s ok to ask for God to reaffirm that promise. I believe it’s ok to say, “God, I trust you, I believe you, yet right now I could use a bit of reassuring.”

After all, God set the rainbow in the sky to remind Himself of the promise (Genesis 9:12-16).

So, don’t be afraid of “the fleecy thing.”

Advent 2011: 3.4 — Rejoice! Always?

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

Week 3: A reading from Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians.

Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.

 — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NET)

Rejoice always.

In every circumstance.

In every challenge.

Rejoice.

When the road seems to be a dead end, rejoice.

Sometimes, reading the Apostle Paul can be an exercise in frustration. Be joyful always?!? Is this guy for real? Does he not understand the challenges that simply being alive brings???

We began our week with a prophecy given to Isaiah about God’s chosen people. A people that appeared to have chosen sadness as their destiny. Yet, Isaiah tells them to rejoice becuase God is about to rescue them. Now, we find Paul. As Jewish as one can be. Telling a church in a heavily persecuted area to rejoice always.

Paul doesn’t stop there. He adds on: Pray constantly and give thanks for everything.

Salt, meet wound.

The trifecta of challenges. “No matter what’s going on around you,” Paul says, “Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks.”

He then opens the entire salt shaker and says: “For this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.”

God’s will?!?

Paul knows a thing or two about suffering. He outlined it all very clearly for the church at Corinth:

I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.

And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. –2 Corinthians 11:24-29 (MSG)

Emily Asleep in the Word

Emily falls asleep reading the Word.

Rejoice always.

It would seem to me that these three commands–Rejoice, pray and give thanks–are linked together for a reason.

The lynchpin here is thanksgiving. As we begin to give thanks for everything: food, clothes, shelter, family, clouds, sun, moon, pets, water, coffee, maps, phones, shoes, kids, parents, next-door neighbors, church, pastors, teachers, and on, and on.

From out of the giving of thanks will come rejoicing.

From out of the giving of thanks will come prayer. Prayer that will no doubt start with, “Awesome and giving God!”

Paul understood the importance in giving thanks. Thanksgiving brings joy. Thanksgiving brings a humble awe that leads to prayer.

Consider Paul’s writing to the church at Philippi:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity [to show it]. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret [of being content]-whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. — Philippians 4:10-13 (HCSB)

Paul understood that our joy wasn’t contingent upon our circumstance. As, Rev. Thorpe showed us yesterday, joy comes from knowing God. Joy come from knowing that Immanuel has indeed come, and will come again.

Are you walking in joy this Advent season? Are you living in the revelation of who God is? Are you living a life that illustrates to the world that Immanuel has come and is coming again?

Give thanks.

Pray continually.

Rejoice always!

Advent 2011: 3.1 — Dancing in the Ashes

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 3: A reading from the Prophet Isaiah

The Spirit of the Lord and King is on me. The Lord has anointed me to tell the good news to poor people. He has sent me to comfort those whose hearts have been broken. He has sent me to announce freedom for those who have been captured. He wants me to set prisoners free from their dark prisons. He has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free. He wants me to announce the day when he will pay his enemies back. Our God has sent me to comfort all those who are sad.

He wants me to help those in Zion who are filled with sorrow. I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes. I will anoint them with oil to give them gladness instead of sorrow. I will give them a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness. They will be like the oak trees that are strong and straight. The Lord himself will plant them in the land. That will show how glorious he is. They will rebuild the places that were destroyed long ago. They will repair the buildings that have been broken down for many years. They will make the destroyed cities like new again. They have been broken down for a very long time.

The Lord says, “I love those who do what is right. I hate it when people steal and do other sinful things. So I will be faithful to those who do what is right. And I will bless them. I will make a covenant with them that will last forever.

Their children after them will be famous among the nations. Their families will be praised by people everywhere. All those who see them will agree that I have blessed them.” The people of Jerusalem will say, “We take great delight in the Lord. We are joyful because we belong to our God. He has dressed us with salvation as if it were our clothes. He has put robes of godliness on us. We are like a groom who is dressed up for his wedding. We are like a bride who decorates herself with her jewels. The soil makes the young plant come up. A garden causes seeds to grow. In the same way, the Lord and King will make godliness grow. And all of the nations will praise him.”

— Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (NIRV)

We’ve made it to week three of Advent. The week of Gaudete. The “pink” week. The week of rejoicing.

We’ve established hope. We’ve experienced peace. And, now, we rejoice.

Joy while living between the yesterday and the tomorrow. Joy in the midst of sorrow. Joy that brings healing.

Joy.

As has been the case each week throughout Advent, we begin the week with the Prophet Isaiah. I’ve often imagined Isaiah as this cantankerous old fella who had a long grey beard and said things in a really gruff sounding pirate voice. Now, I have no idea if my imagination is close to reality or not, but, I urge you, re-read the passage with that in mind.

Now, that you’re back.

In this passage, Isaiah (as he does in many other passages) brings hope to a group of downcast people. He reminds the people of God about who their God is.

He draws a beautiful picture. He turns ashes into crowns. Ashes of mourning turned into crowns of rejoicing. Ashes of death turned into crowns of life.

Life.

I think about Job. As he sits and hears servant after servant telling him the tragedy that is unfolding in his life, he responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and reflecting upon who God is.

I think of Mordecai. As he learns that Haman has suckered King Xerxes into what will amount to genocide, Mordecai responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and praying for deliverance.

I think of Jacob. As he hears the lie that Joseph is dead, he puts on sackcloth, covers his head in ashes, and cries.

Ashes.

Dad's Coffee Mug -- Used 35 years and washed only a handful of times.

I think of the day we held my Dad’s memorial. An urn filled with ashes and surrounded by flowers and flanked by a coffee mug and a plaque commemorating the Marine Corps naming him an Honorary Gunnery Sergeant. A crowd of people–all of them, in their own way, family.

Some reflecting upon who in that moment and that context is God.

Some praying for deliverance from the emptiness they felt.

All in deep sadness.

Yet, Isaiah offers hope. Isaiah offers peace. Isaiah offers joy.

Joy in that which is not yet, but is soon to be.

Messiah is coming.

He’s quite nearly here.

And when He comes, He will bring a spirit of praise that will replace the spirit of sadness.

When He comes, He will set His people free from their darkness and downcast spirit, and set them about rebuilding the City of Peace.

He will set them about dancing in the ashes.

He will set them about joy.

As we light the Gaudete candle, let us remember that His Light breaks into our darkness. It breaks into our sadness. It breaks into our sorrow.

And, like the mythical Phoenix, we are risen up out of the ashes to dance again.

Advent 2011: 1.1 – Molded in Hope

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

A reading from the Book of Isaiah:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can be be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.

— Isaiah 64:1-9 (NIV)

Our journey through Advent begins with the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is reflecting upon the behavior of the Israelite people. They hadn’t always been faithful to God. They had wandered in sin. They had lived their life as if they were in control.

In this, the first week of Advent, as we light the candle of Expectancy — of Hope, we find the Prophet lamenting the behavior of his people.  He is lamenting the behavior of a people who believed they could be their own best hope.  Who believed they could chart their own course.  Forge their own destiny.

Ultimately, we find the Prophet telling us that trusting in our own ability leads to a life of no hope.

We end our reading from Isaiah with the Prophet declaring to YHWH that He is the Potter and we are merely the clay.  In essence, the Prophet is saying, “I’m no longer in charge.”

The Prophet is saying, “My hope is no longer in myself.”

Where is your hope?

Are you like the Israelites of old who believed that they could find a better way?  Or are you like the Prophet Isaiah who is willing to say, “I’m not the boss of me.”

See, clay has no way of telling the potter the type of vessel it should be.  Clay can only sit and be molded by the potter.  The potter who has in his mind a vision of what type of vessel the clay could become.

In the midst of our achievements…

In the midst of our failures…

In the midst of our joy…

In the midst of our grief…

The Potter molds us.  The Potter forms us into vessels from which He can bring Kingdom into the world.  The Potter molds out the flaws in us to create vessels of beauty.

The Potter in HIS Wisdom is creating the best possible vessel from the lump of clay.

All too often, we attempt to control the outcome of the potter’s hands. We attempt to mold ourselves.

Yet, Advent is a time for us to relinquish control and allow the Potter to instill the Hope of that which is to come into our souls.  The Hope that is Kingdom on the Horizon.  The Hope that is Immanuel.

In this, the beginning of the Advent season, may you let go of your destiny.  May you relinquish control of your molding.  May you allow the Potter to make you into a vessel that can be used to pour Kingdom Light into a dark world.