Joy might not be the word that describes your emotional life right now. I can’t imagine what you have been going through, but after 21 of a global pandemic, rampant racial injustice, job loss and financial hardship, mental health struggles, and everyday sufferings that come with living in a broken world…well, let’s just say joy might not be the emotion any of us are feeling right now.
But hear me out—we can be joyful, even in the midst of hardship.
Ed Welch describes this intermingling of emotions well when he writes, “Joy is not…a denial of pain. Because God’s splendor ascends over the sorrow of life, joy is possible” (Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness; pg. 247).
What is this splendor? What could possibly carry us above the sorrow we experience, the sin that tempts us, and the suffering we see around us?
His name is Jesus.
The season of advent helps us to embrace these mixed emotions. On one hand, we rejoice—Christ has come! He lived a perfect life on earth, and bore our sin and shame on the cross. We are a redeemed people and can be genuinely joyful. And yet, our lives remain embedded in a world marked by sin and suffering. We grieve the loss we experience and the injustices we witness.
In a profound way, we can say that the season of advent extends outside of the time limits we give it in our regular calendar year. In fact, our experience this side of heaven most closely aligns with the reality that we live in a perpetual season of advent that is characterized by waiting for our King to return.
What, then, does this mean for our joy today?
It means that it’s okay that our joy does not always translate into feelings of happiness. We do not have to hide our tears and deny the pain we see in order to experience joy. This side of heaven, the Christian life is a life marked by an intermingling of joy and sorrow.
It also means that we can be authentically joyful, even in the midst of experiencing darkness. We can have true joy that is rooted in God’s unending and enduring faithfulness to us that is most clearly seen in the first coming of our Savior. Indeed, we need this joy that is rooted in Christ. With it we acknowledge that all is not lost—there is hope. The sorrow that surrounds us, that can feel so overwhelming at times, cannot eclipse the radiant joy we’ve found with Christ. We have salvation now. Our sins, right this moment, are forgiven. We can rejoice!
And yet, we wait, acknowledging that we live during a period of history where joy and sorrow coexist. We celebrate that Jesus has come, and we eagerly anticipate his coming once again.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimmer of what that day will be like. He writes:
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return And come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Is. 35:10)
This is the day we have in store for us as Christians, a day of everlasting joy where “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” A day where we will be reunited with our Savior and see him face to face. When our faith will finally be sight, every tear will be wiped away by God himself, and there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, and no more pain.
On that day our joy will be full.
I’ll leave you with the last stanza of one of my favorite poems. I encourage you to read it slowly.
“When tears are banished from mine eye;
When fairer worlds than these are nigh;
When heaven shall fill my ravished sight;
When I shall bathe in sweet delight,
One joy all joys shall far excel,
To see Thy face, Immanuel.”
-Charles Spurgeon | Immanuel
Joy marked with sorrow may be our present experience, but with Christ, a joy that surpasses all other joys is our guaranteed future.
Merry Christmas, my friends.
Having two kids that are starting to understand Christmas is a new and fun experience. It turns out that kids really do have a unique perspective on the world. For our kids, their joy is easily observed during car rides at dusk, and it revolves around a newer phenomenon: giant lawn inflatables. Snowmen, Santa, Mickey Mouse, it honestly doesn’t matter. If they catch a glimpse of a staked-down, wind-prone lawn decoration, they are ecstatic. But we drive past, and the inflatable goes out of sight and the next plea is always “more snowman, more Mickey”. The joy of that experience is temporary and fleeting, and it leaves the kids wanting more.
CS Lewis distinguishes pleasure from true joy by defining the latter as an unsatisfied desire or longing for God. He writes “the fact that anyone who has experienced [joy] will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.” Like my children longing for another glimpse of a blown over giant snowman during an evening drive, our hearts long for true joy. Many of us have, as Lewis wrote, experienced joy and want it again. Whether our longing is for the next life stage, a career, or the next Amazon purchase, we know all too well that true and lasting joy isn’t found in the temporal things of this world. There are not enough Amazon deliveries in the world that could satisfy our longings.
So, if joy is not just getting all the things or experiences you want, then what is it? Psalm 16:11 paints a beautiful picture for us of what joy is and where we find it:
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Joy is the satisfaction and contentment that transcends our circumstances because the focus of our joy is not an object, but a person. We find true joy – fullness of joy even! – and satisfaction in God alone through Christ. And we experience that joy in God’s presence, that is, in spending time with Him and knowing him. My prayer this season for my family and yours is that every heart prepare him room (as the famous hymn goes) so that Jesus Christ would permeate our thoughts and words and deeds to reorient our focus from the ‘seasonal inflatables’ of the world to the gift of Christ entering our world to bring us back to God.
During the American civil war, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the following words that would later become the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Earlier that year, Longfellow’s son had been seriously wounded in the Battle of Mine Run, and just two years earlier he had lost his second wife when an accidental fire in their home left her with fatal burns. Previously, his first wife had passed away following a miscarriage. Longfellow was someone acquainted with loss and sorrow.
And indeed, when we face sorrow and suffering in life, we too may feel like hanging our heads in despair. When we look around and see a broken world, when family and loved ones pass away before we had hoped, when our bodies fail us, when our careers seem stuck, and when things simply aren’t proceeding as we’d long hoped, we can be tempted to feel perhaps a little bit hopeless.
But friend, we have “good news of great joy”! As the poem continues:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Indeed, God is not dead. He does not sleep! He is the same God today who said to Moses:
“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey […]”
He has seen our sufferings and our afflictions. And indeed, at Christmastime we celebrate that He has come down to deliver us! The angels announced the arrival of Jesus, saying:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
And He came to deliver us from something far worse than even the ancient Egyptian taskmasters. He came to deliver us from our slavery to sin, to pay the penalty for our unrighteousness, and to give all who receive Him “the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). This is great news! Jesus is the perfect King, the prophesied “root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples” whose “resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10). In Him we have a real, lasting hope that can enable us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3). God’s not dead. He does not sleep.
Friend, this Christmas season as we reflect on Immanuel (God with us!), let us pray that God may “enlighten the eyes of our hearts” so that we may deeply know “the hope to which He has called us” (Ephesians 1:18) and that we may “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2) no matter our present circumstances, with thankful hearts for all He has done and all He has promised. May he strengthen us to proclaim the great hope we have to the world around us.
These past couple years have been filled with sorrow, unrest, and hardship. If each of us were to reflect for a moment, we could all testify about the hardships we have had.
To share on a more personal note, for almost two years I have been sick. It has manifested itself in many different ways, but the most humbling and challenging aspect is not knowing day to day whether I will be feeling good or bad. I have struggled with this physical weakness and have cried out to the Lord for mercy and healing on a daily basis. For the first time in my life, I have asked the Lord, “how much more, O Lord?”
I have only been able to find real and lasting hope when the Holy Spirit reminds me about Jesus and His powerful words of hope found in the Bible. The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines hope as the following: to trust in, wait for, look for, or desire something or someone. I would like to encourage us with some words of hope from Jesus as we celebrate Jesus in this Christmas season.
We can hope because:
Jesus does not grow weary of our cries for help.
Jesus is a refuge to the broken-hearted.
Jesus Christ is our ultimate future hope.
First, Jesus does not grow weary of hearing our cries for help. Psalm 71:3 says, “Be to me a rock of refuge; to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me; for you are my rock and my fortress.” Jesus never tires of hearing from us. When everyone else around us doesn’t want to listen, Jesus welcomes our prayers and our cries for mercy.
Second, Jesus is a refuge to the broken-hearted. Psalm 34:18-22 says these words, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”
All throughout Scripture, time after time, we see broken and sinful people finding comfort and hope in Jesus. He restores them. He spends time with them. He transforms their lives. And the amazing thing is, he doesn’t always change their circumstances. Jesus uses those circumstances as a way for us to hope in Him.
Lastly, we can have hope because Jesus Christ is our ultimate future hope. Psalm 27:13-14 says this, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage, wait for the Lord!” As we reflect on the hardships of these past couple years, let’s cast our eyes upon Jesus as we wait upon Him, our ultimate hope. There will be times when we struggle to see what Jesus is doing, but our hope lies in waiting upon Jesus and looking to Jesus who is our ultimate hope and Savior.
For me personally, I am still waiting and pleading with Jesus to heal me. By God’s grace, I am learning (very slowly) that Jesus is better than any physical healing I may desire. Last Christmas I wrote a song called, “In the Waiting.” The final verse summarizes the tension and worship I have been feeling through the process of learning to hope.
When my heart can feel his power making all things new
When my waiting sees his grace already pushing through
So my heart cries, “Worthy, worthy are you Jesus!”
Praising out loud! You are my King of Kings!
Friends, as we enter into this Christmas season, let’s take the time as a church to hope, to worship, and to wait upon Him.
This week’s Christmas word is hope. Sadly, hope is something that often gets crushed in our world. You have hope that you are finally going to make the team, you are finally going to get that job or promotion, your crush is finally going to respond to your charming winks and amazing pick up lines, or the Sixers are finally going to make it out of the second round of the playoffs. But then…it doesn’t happen. We have probably each had a hope crushed at some point in our lives. It seems that one of the most frequent ways you will hear the word hope used in our culture is in the phrase “don’t get your hopes up.” Many people become weathered by life and numb to hope. We as Christians can even be tempted to put away the excitement and wonder of our hope in the gospel in an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt or disappointed.
Consider Revelation 21:3-5: “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” When you read and think about a promise like this one, you may start to feel something. There is an excitement, an anticipation, a thrill, a wonder…that is hope!
Hope in this world is often a shaky thing. For example, I often have hopes for the characters in the movies and TV shows that I watch. I tend to get so sucked into what I am watching that I often have no awareness of what my body is doing. I will sit there with my eyes glued to the screen and my mouth hanging wide open in anticipation of what is going to happen to a character. Meanwhile, Steph gets more amusement out of watching me than watching the screen. Hope, in a worldly sense, is often just wishful thinking that can leave you full of anxiety until the end is made sure. Steph often whispers over to me, “You know there is a sequel to this movie, so the main character must survive!” Unlike worldly hopes, our hope to know God and live with Him forever in His Kingdom is certain because it is based on Christ’s faithfulness and not our own. Christ fulfills our side of the covenant so that all the promises of God find their yes in him! (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Do not rob yourself of the joy that comes from having hope. Hebrews 6:19 calls this hope “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” You see, hope in God is not something that can be crushed. In fact, hope in God protects you from being crushed by anything that can possibly be thrown at you in life. This Christmas, let yourself get excited about what the birth of Christ means for us. Let your knowledge of Christ allow you to be filled with wonder in your soul. This Christmas, let yourself get caught up in hope.
Dear brothers and sisters,
How would you define love? Ask ten people to define it and you may get eleven (or more!) different definitions.
Let’s consider what Paul says about love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
Here, love is given many characteristics, but we don’t see the gooey words we often hear in romantic songs that make love look so easy. In fact, many of Paul’s descriptions only seem applicable in particularly difficult situations: love truly shines when a challenging person requires patience, a hurtful lie requires truth, a hard situation needs endurance, etc.
This does not mean it’s wrong to enjoy the excited feelings of love in relation with others; these are a good gift of God! But God’s love does not seem to be based on our emotions. I don’t know about you, but my emotions are so fleeting and flaky, and—in my selfishness—I often don’t “feel” like loving those around me. Thankfully, love is more than feelings. Paul says here that even knowledge itself will pass away when compared to true love. Our temporary feelings don’t stand a chance when compared to God’s everlasting love!
This is such an encouragement, especially for those who struggle this time of year with loneliness, loss, uncomfortable family relations, or simply feeling unloved. Recall, friends, that love is greater than a feeling and that the truth of God’s love is more satisfying than anything the world can give. As Pastor Matt shared this weekend, God is love and He gave His only son for us!
Sinclair Ferguson illustrates the sacrificial and satisfying love of God in Christ at the cross: “When we think of Christ’s dying on the cross, we are shown the lengths to which God’s love goes in order to win us back to Himself…The cross is the heart of the gospel; it makes the gospel good news. Christ died for us; He has stood in our place before God’s judgement seat; He has borne our sins. God has done something on the cross which we could never do for ourselves. But God does something to us as well as for us through the cross. He persuades us that He loves us.”
God’s greatest affection for you is seen through Christ on the cross. And even when we do not feel loved or feel as though we can love, we trust the truth that Christ does love us and is sanctifying us to love others as he loves us.
Take some time this advent to explore the satisfying love of Christ through His Word. You may consider Ephesians 3:14-21, John 15:1-17, or Psalm 136 to start. Consider also what hard situations or persons the Lord is calling you to reach out to—despite your feelings—in selfless love. In this time of stress and busyness, pray for the Lord to grow in you His attributes from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (patience, kindness, etc.) and rely on His strength to move you in the action of love.
Abiding with you in that love,
As I sat down to pray and think through how I wanted to share my reflections on love, I could not help but hear a familiar sound in our house: the sound of a sleepy pup snoring. It’s one of the most soothing sounds I have come to know. If you know me, you know I share a special bond with my pups. I have the privilege of walking through life with a guide dog by my side: a partnership that changed my life and helped me to begin to comprehend what love is. If you’re not a dog person or are thinking “wow, she sounds like one of those dog people”, bear with me. 🙂
You may or may not know this about me, but I am one of those people who loves love. I love loving on people, I love the feeling of being loved, and I love the somewhat cheesy, romantic kind of love, as well as the type of love that comes with deep friendship. However, I really struggle with the idea of God equating to love. I have a difficult time seeing myself as worthy of love from an all-knowing, all-powerful God, a self-sacrificing Jesus who loves me and you so much that he gave His life for us. I grew up in a church that taught God as an authoritarian being, but I did not learn about the sheer love and adoration God has for His people.
When I was 15 years old, amidst a bit of a faith and identity crisis, I learned I was accepted to train with my very first service dog. I had no idea what to expect or what life would look like with a dog by my side. However, my world was forever changed when I met my first pup. Instantly, all of my trust and safety was placed in the four paws of a dog who I quite literally needed to trust with my life. Together, we navigated high school, college, jobs, and new cities. She loyally guided me through many phases of life for eight years until I was paired with my second pup who you see me with in church today. These dogs, as silly as it may sound, helped me begin to understand the meaning of love. Their unconditional affection and love made the idea of a loving God more realistic in my mind. These dogs, who comfort me when I am sad, who quite literally lead me home when I am lost, who are so full of joy to just be with me, and who journey through the adventures of life with me, have allowed me to grow in my understanding of love. They help me to understand how I am loved by my Creator and how possible it is to show others the same love I have been shown. I have certainly not been easy to love over the past 11 years, yet I am consistently and wholeheartedly loved by my service dogs. Their love and faithfulness to me is a mere fraction of the love our God has for us.
For anyone struggling to operationalize love, to receive and feel worthy of Jesus’ love for us, please know you are not alone, but please know you are beloved, treasured, known, and worthy to God.
Love is something I believe we are always growing in. Our understanding of it, our capacity for it, how we experience it with others, and even how to receive it well is something we inherently long for. Yet the love we see, defined by our broken world, often falls short and often disappoints, leaving us wondering and questioning.
Thankfully, the Bible tells of a different kind of love. 1 John 4 tells us that God is love and that this love was revealed to us by sending his only Son into the world: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Should this feel incomprehensible to our minds, be reassured that we’re told this love is knowledge surpassing. Ephesians 3 reveals Paul’s prayer for the church — that we would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being, to ultimately know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Sometimes this feels far off and intangible. It will take a glorious eternity to fully know, but there is enough for us here. We’re told how love might look in our lives in 1 Corinthians 13 — that it issues out patience and kindness; that it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; that it rejoices with the truth; and that it never ends. It does not look like envy, boastfulness, arrogance, irritability, resentfulness, pride, or fear.
I think A.W. Tozer worded it well: “The love of God is one of the greatest realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing, too. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end.”
This season, may our hearts truly know the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ more. If we truly want to know and experience love, we need to know Christ. Then subsequently, we also ought to love one another, as God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. As we see glimpses of this love in our world, and even more evidently amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ, may our eyes be redirected to our Lord – our fountain and source of love eternal. We love because He first loved us.
The Christmas season is often marked by an uptick of stress, exhaustion, and a burst of busyness. So much to do, with so little time. Or perhaps it is even a time of relational conflict with friends or family. Maybe some are even experiencing loss or mourning. Whatever you are going through, now, more than ever, we could use peace.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27
Of all the things Jesus could assure his disciples of before he left them, he reminded them of His peace. Why do you think Jesus chose to remind us of this? Friends, it is because we are troubled and fearful. Our hearts are tossed to and fro by the transient, painful things of this world. That is exactly why Jesus said …”in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
The peace of Jesus is permanent, lasting peace that is unchanged and unwavering despite life’s circumstances, because it rests on that which the world cannot change. It rests on Jesus’s finished work on the cross. So we can have peace, even in our greatest tribulations, because we know Jesus is with us and for us. We can rest in the fact that Jesus is in control and that his victory, is our victory.
Jesus doesn’t give peace as the world does. But how does the world give peace? The peace of this world is frequently a distraction or deliberate blindness to reality – an escape, a temporary comfort. Friends, do not fall for this cheap knock-off ‘peace’ our culture feeds you. Seek the Lord and find true peace.
Jesus even goes as far to say MY peace. Jesus who is in complete oneness and unity with God the father gives us HIS peace, the perfect peace he and the father have with one another. How is it that Jesus has perfect peace with the Father? It is because there is no sin in their relationship. Our ultimate source of conflict, and thus our need for peace, is not our difficult circumstances, but standing guilty before a holy God. We can’t experience the peace of God until we first have peace with God.
Jesus died on the cross, in our place, for our sins – ALL of our sins: past, present, and future – , so that we might have peace with God. If Jesus has satisfied our most dire need for peace with God, how much more is He able to bring peace into whatever you are going through?
So, put off any cheap, knock-off peace you might be seeking and come to Jesus for true peace. God loves you more than to see you saved from your circumstances but remain dead in your sin.
Let us give thanks to God for sending Jesus to bring us peace – . Ppeace with God and a peace that keeps us anchored in this life as we look to the next.
The Advent season provides an opportunity to take time to reflect on the fact that God brings peace to His people. This peace is one for which we as believers can revel in, specifically the truth that we are saved through the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This peace that we are afforded as Christians is a manifestation of the truth that, although we are all sinners, we are saved and that the debt has been paid through Christ. The incredible part of this truth is that, because of His sacrifice on the cross, God sees us as righteous and we are now no longer enemies of God.
Not only are we saved, but all can be united with God and can be cleansed of our sins. This is clearly reflected in Romans 3:22 where Paul writes that “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” We do not need to worry about where we are from, how much we do, or how hard we work; we are all able to be reconciled back to God. What a blessing! We are no longer separated from God; we are now in community with God. As such, we experience real peace, peace that only comes if we admit that we cannot attain salvation by our own moral goodness.
We can now serve God without the fear that we need to earn our salvation. , wWe can instead revel in the fact that Christ enables us to experience true peace with God. No longer do we build up our own achievements, kind actions, and good works to be justified by God; , we can instead dwell in the peace that Paul writes in Philippians 4:6: “the peace that surpasses all understanding”. This peace reminds us that God can, and does, meet all our needs every moment of every day regardless of our own works. Our works are not enough to attain this peace because this peace is something that can only be bestowed by our Creator and giver of life.
We acknowledge that we are undeserving, inherently selfish, and unable to earn our salvation through any works of our own, and, as such, gracefully accept redemption through Christ our savior. During this Advent season, we have the pleasure to not only celebrate in our new status with God but to also share the truth of this Good News with others! It is imperative that we love others well because we have been given life through Christ! This should encourage us and spark in us a desire to share the Gospel message, this Good News, so that everyone has a chance to learn of their need for a savior. What a wonderful gift to have and share with others. , Glory to God in the highest!
What does that mean? When we think of peace, we often think of the absence of conflict. However, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt.10:34 NKJV). So what did He mean when he said, ”Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27 NASB).
Fifteen years ago, we received a phone call from a physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver. He said, “Your son Jason (our oldest in his senior year of college) has contracted a rare condition known as Guillian-Barre’. He is currently paralyzed from the waist down, and the paralysis is spreading. You need to get on a plane and get out here now!”
We immediately began to pray and seek God. However, the severity of the situation had not completely sunk in.
When we arrived at the hospital, we found that Jason was losing the use of his arms, and we were told that, if he did not respond to treatment soon, he would lose the use of his lungs as well.
Our son was 21 years old, 6’3”, a top level competitor at national and international fencing tournaments. He had been the picture of health and strength, with a quick wit and a big heart. Now, there he was, barely able to move; even his voice was low and weak. Our hearts were broken to see him like this. Our prayers became more desperate.
Over the next week, we watched him sink lower and lower. He was placed on a ventilator when he could no longer breath, and they sedated him as the emotional strain was too great.
We had no more tears left to shed, and our hearts were ripped wide open, yet we still had peace. At this point, our times of prayer were mostly silent. We had said everything that was in our hearts a thousand times. There was nothing left to say; all we could do was sit in the presence of God. Here there was a peace;, here was the only place of comfort (Phil 4:7).
The physicians said they would try an alternate treatment. They didn’t know if this would be any better, but within a few days, Jason began to get stronger. It took months for him to regain the full use of his body. Today, he still has a few lingering effects, but for the most part, he lives a normal life.
Our precious Lord has given us a wonderful gift of peace (Jn 14:27, Gal 5:22). This peace is a gift that we need to accept and wrap around our hearts (Col 3:15). Jesus does not promise peace without a storm. Quite the opposite: He warns that storms will come, but He will show us how to survive the storm if we keep our eyes on Him (Is 26:3).
Life is full of difficult situations. As we walk along, we can choose to walk by fear or by faith. If we walk by faith, we get to see a side of God and His perspective that we would not see otherwise. We get to experience a peace that endures and comforts, not just in times of trials but always.
May His Peace reign forever in our hearts.
-Jef and Roxanne
What is making you want to flee or fight today? Maybe regime change, debilitating illness, home eviction, or dying family is no longer a looming threat but your reality as we close 2020.
Mephibosheth feared and endured similar troubles. For him, regime change included the death of his grandfather, King Saul, and father, Jonathan (2 Sam 1:17). At five, he was crippled for life in a fall (2 Sam 4:4). To avoid the new regime, he fled far from home (2 Sam 9:4).
Yet before Mephibosheth’s birth, David had lovingly promised his friend Jonathan, Mephibosheth’s father, to do good to his offspring (1 Sam 20:42). When he became King of Israel, David sought to find one of Jonathan’s family to whom he “may show the kindness of God” (2 Sam 9:3).
Ziba, Saul’s servant, told King David of crippled Mephibosheth (9:4). David had him brought from afar to his palace in Jerusalem. Mephibosheth knew he was “a dead dog” before his grandfather’s sworn enemy (9:8).
David’s first words to him were “Mephibosheth! … Do not fear…” (9:6-7). Instead of execution, David declared that Mephibosheth would eat at his own table always, “like one of the king’s sons” (9:11).
Fearful one, like Mephibosheth, you also were dead in sin before the righteous King of kings (Eph 2:3). Yet a promise between God the Father and King Jesus “to show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us” in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is your certain hope of eternal deliverance from the most dreadful thing: separation from God (Eph 2:7, 2 Thess 1:9).
If you are a Christian, consider the kindness of God in transferring you from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13). In Christ, “you have not been give a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have been given the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” amidst all the tribulations endured in this enemy territory (Rom 8:13).
Like you, Mephibosheth’s troubles didn’t end even after years of fellowshipping with the king. One of David’s sons usurped the throne, and Ziba, Mephibosheth’s servant, saw an opportunity to consolidate power by betraying his master (2 Sam 15-16:4). Nevertheless, Mephibosheth remained loyal to David in steadfast love by grieving as he awaited the return of his king.
When David safely returned to Jerusalem, he questioned this son of a promise saying, “Why did you not come with me?” (19:25). With an unkempt beard, unwashed clothes, and ungroomed feet, Mephibosheth’s obvious mourning confirmed his response: Ziba had betrayed him (19:24). Nevertheless, he entrusted himself to David saying, “Do therefore what seems good to you” (19:27).
David granted Mephibosheth and his betrayer each half of the possessions Ziba had craved in their entirety. In response, Mephibosheth attested to his deepest fear and truest love by responding, “Oh, let [Ziba] take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home” (19:30).
Fear exposes what we love perhaps more pointedly than any other emotion (Groves & Smith, Untangling Emotions). Years of dwelling in the king’s presence had formed Mephibosheth’s heart to love the king who had shown him the kindness of God more than he feared losing power, provision, or pride.
May your love for God abound more and more that you may increasingly not fear the loss of any earthly thing, even your very life (Phi 1:9). May you thus bear “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” until the day of the safe return of our True King, Jesus (Phi 1:10).
With certain hope of his safe return,
A Member of Citylight
As we approach the turn of a calendar, perhaps you feel the weight of a long year. Maybe these lengthy winter nights epitomize the emotional darkness of your days.
“Afflicted saint, to Christ draw near”, you may read hopelessly for the pall of exhaustion that envelopes the way to him. Yet these very words offer light on the path, for even in writing to you I have sung them.
God has graciously given songs, especially the book of Psalms, to his people as aids in communing with him. Certainly, many anthems are authored on great days of victory (e.g., Ps 92), yet many of the psalms were written for times of distress (e.g., Ps 130).
After being betrayed, beaten, and crucified, Jesus Christ demonstrated the power of songs as expressions of prayerful trust in weakness (Matt 26:47-27:56). While bearing the unimaginable burden of the sins of all who would believe in him, Jesus uttered the words of a psalm he had likely sung in synagogue year after year (Matt 27:46).
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1). Christ intended the meaning of the entirety of this psalm from the cross in the same way that the first line of the hymn above alluded to the promises proclaimed in its remainder:
“Afflicted saint, to Christ draw near,
Your Savior’s gracious promise hear;
His faithful Word you can believe:
That as your days your strength shall be.”
Long before Christ cried out this psalm on the cross, God had promised to take away his judgements against his people, to strengthen them in weakness, and to sing victoriously over them (Zeph 3:14-17). When Christ was resurrected and glorified, he sent the Spirit to those who trust Christ’s finished work, which fulfilled his promise to be in the midst of his people, now the church.
Perhaps, like me, your weariness is sometimes heightened by singing the anthems of this world. Let us forsake exalting unattainable wealth, security, and romance in song. Rather, let us exalt the One who has finished the work we could never have completed. Even in our weariness, let Paul and Silas, who sang hymns in prison after being tortured, serve as our examples (Acts 16:25).
If you are a Christian, your exultant praise of God follows after what he will loudly sing over you as a member of his church, his blood-bought bride, when Christ returns victoriously.
“So, sing with joy, afflicted one;
The battle’s fierce, but the victory’s won!
God shall supply all that you need;
Yes, as your days your strength shall be.”
(John Fawcett, 1782; Constance Dever, 2018)
Singing with you,
A Member of Citylight
I understand how you feel. I have dealt with loneliness much of my life. Even in the midst of friends and family, we can feel misunderstood, ignored, unknown, and even unloved. Sometimes we look at others and wish we had the friends and family they have; behind the veil though, they deal with these same issues at times.
Did you know that Christ Himself dealt with loneliness? In Isaiah 53:3 we read, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Imagine that. The Lord of all the universe, full of infinite love and compassion for His people, despised. He was rejected. He was held in low esteem – a nobody that people couldn’t care less about. And yet these things did not define Him. While people rejected Him, He knew who He was.
Do you know who you are? If you are in Christ, you are a precious child of God, one whom the Lord of the heavens would do anything – anything – to have communion with. You are known, understood, precious, and dearly loved by God (See John 3:16, Romans 8:37-39). Do you really believe that? I know there are times when I struggle to own this truth. I may acknowledge it, but I don’t really make my union with Christ my identity.
I encourage you at this time to look beyond the brokenness of this world and past the human relationships that at their best pale in comparison to communion with our Savior. I pray that you will find all your identity in Christ. No matter how good our relationships are in this world, they fail in light of the love of God. I pray that this fundamental Gospel truth – that you are dearly loved and fully known – would pass from mere assent to heartfelt conviction. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” You may have but a glimpse of the love of God for you; you will one day know this fully, just as your God knows you fully, even now. You are dearly loved and fully known.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. I would encourage you to pick up a small book by John Owen called “Communion with God.” Get the version by Puritan Paperbacks. Read it. Meditate on it. And know that while loneliness is at its core a human condition, intimacy and communion with our Lord is both now and forever our truth and the meaning of our lives.
I have been thinking about you… how Christmas is normally your favorite time of the year and how much you love the hustle and bustle of the season. However, the uncertainty and stress of this year have contributed to you feeling tired, stressed, and worn out. So many areas of life seem hard right now: work, relationships, health, finances, political and racial division, and significant events being rescheduled or cancelled. You feel isolated and alone. You are exhausted and weary.
Weary One, you have been on my heart since our conversation last week, the fatigue and sadness in your voice… and now you can’t see your family this Christmas, everyone uninvited because of the pandemic. I am sorry, I know how much you were longing to be with your family. Please know that I am praying for you as I write you this letter.
Since we spoke I have been thinking about your family Christmas plans and the anomaly this year of being “uninvited” to events, the disappointment we feel when plans are cancelled and our expectations are crushed, especially when we are hungry for the familiar. I found myself reflecting. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive an invitation that we can wholeheartedly accept without even the lingering possibility of being uninvited, knowing this invitation would not be revoked?
The truth is that we have that invitation from Jesus. He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Weary One, I want to encourage you to reflect on how you might respond today to Jesus’ invitation, “Come to Me.” He longs for you to come as you are, with your weariness and suffering, in your brokenness, shame, and sin. Accept His invitation for true rest, the salvation of your soul. Take a minute to remember who invites you: the One who gave sight to the blind and caused the deaf to hear and the lame to walk; the One who cleansed the leper, raised the dead to life, and brought the good news to the poor (Matthew 11:5-6).
He is able to save, but He does not stop there; He invites you to more. The very Son of God wants to have an intimate relationship with you. He doesn’t want you to just know about Him. He invites you to come to Him, sit with Him, listen to Him, and abide in Him. He loves you.
He invites you to intentionally connect yourself to Him daily, so you might learn from His gentle and lowly heart and learn to embrace the gift of limits, His yoke.
May our Lord still your weary heart with His steadfast love.
A lot of us are feeling discontent this year. As I think about it, the feeling of discontentment, as common as it is to our human experience, is actually intimately connected to who we are as people created in the image of God. The reason we are discontent, at bottom, is because we live in a world that is not as it’s supposed to be. We were created for glory—for rich relationships, rewarding work, and intimacy with God—but since Genesis 3, the world as we know it does not give us those things – at least, never as much as or in the way we want.
This year we are probably more prone to discontentment than ever. Maybe you are alone, struggling through lockdown with little or no companionship. Perhaps you gaze wistfully at the reverse-image wall of your apartment or house through your zoom webcam, longing for a better place to call home. Perhaps work has taken an unexpected turn—or there’s no work at all. For these reasons and more, we feel like what we have is not enough.
When we poke under the surface a little more, however, darker thoughts emerge. For we who believe in a loving and merciful God, “I don’t have what I want” quickly turns into “God isn’t giving me what I need.” We harbor hard thoughts of God, acknowledged consciously or not, and begin to accuse him of holding out on us.
Happily, the cure for discontented souls is the same as the cure for most everything else that ills us: repentance and faith. However, where discontentment is concerned, a couple of other steps actually help to fill out the process.
First, be thankful. Taking honest stock of all the rich and beautiful things that God has given us can often help get us unstuck, and move us to the place where we can repent and turn to him properly. The Apostle Paul writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Spend some time dwelling not on what you’re missing, but on what God graciously and freely has already given you – and watch how your thoughts begin to turn around.
Next, repent. Bring those hard, ugly thoughts of God into the light, and reject them for the lies they are. James writes, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3). Not all desires are wrong, but many are, and many good desires get twisted by our never-ending obsession with ourselves. Give it all to Jesus. Receive afresh His forgiveness and cleansing (see 1 John 1:9-10).
Third, acknowledge (or believe) that God actually has already given you everything you need in Him! One of the most encouraging verses in the Bible to me is Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Look to the cross—the place where God once and for all proved His love for you. If He gave you Jesus, can’t you trust Him to give you everything else you need, and for the things he hasn’t given you, to believe that it’s for your good somehow? Replace those hard thoughts of God with true ones based on His good and gracious character.
Finally, rejoice! With a new-found appreciation for what God has given you, and a heart that thinks rightly about God and His ways, enjoy the freedom of walking humbly with Him, casting your cares on Him because he cares for you (See 1 Peter 5:6–7; Philippians 4:4–7).
If you’re anything like me, this little regimen can work wonders. Your situation may not change, but your perspective can, quickly—and the freedom this brings is worth more in the long run than any of the things you hope God might give you but hasn’t yet.
My friend, I pray that God encourages you by lifting you out of the discontentment and into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
By reflecting on this summary of church life from the very beginning of the Christian movement, we learn to live as Christ’s Kingdom Community (the Church). This kingdom community is a Word-centered, generous, relational, worshiping, and expanding community of people devoted to Christ and His work in the world
Acts (The NIV Application Commentary), Ajith Fernando
Exalting Jesus in Acts, Tony Merida
At the end of all things, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes tells us to fear God and keep his commandments.
Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons, Sidney Greidanus
God is with us when we ruin our lives (and we’ve all ruined our lives). Despite the fact that Jacob unleashes a maelstrom of destruction in his life and the lives of his loved ones, God remains faithful to him and promises His abiding presence with him.
The church is an accountable community for the purpose of discipleship. Jesus calls His people to submit to the authority and oversight of a local church for His glory, our restoration, and the purity of the church. Church membership is biblical principle where the local church affirms a Christian’s salvation and cares for their soul so as to present the Christian pure before God on the last day.
In a world that is fractured and where it’s hard at times to feel the joy of Advent, Isaiah encourages us to be a people who anticipate, proclaim, and display good news.
As you’ve surely heard by now, Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States, after what has been one of the most divisive and acrimonious presidential elections in modern memory. This is Mark Giacobbe, one of of the pastors at Citylight, and I’m writing today to consider: What does this mean for us, the church of Jesus Christ?
Well, in one sense, nothing has changed since our previous email earlier this week: as Christians we are still, as always, called to pray, engage, build up, and hope. We must pray for our President, as commanded in Scripture, whether you were for him or against him (1 Tim 2:1-2). We must pray also for our country, that wounds might be healed, and justice might be done for the poor and marginalized (Prov 29:7). We must also continue to engage with issues of concern to us as believers, making our voices heard and speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15).
In light of how divisive this election has been, however, we want to particularly emphasize the Christian commands to build one another up and to hope. We your elders realize that some of you were pro-Trump, while others were pro-Clinton. Many others found grave problems with both candidates. But with the election behind us now, we want to encourage you, in the strongest possible terms, to place our identity as brothers and sisters in Christ first and foremost in our minds and hearts. Whether you are Republican or Democrat or neither, whether you felt the Bern or were with her or wanted to make America great again, our citizenship is first and foremost in heaven (Phil 3:20), and we are all members of one another (Eph 4:25).
Let’s live this way. Let’s be careful, in our speech and social media interactions, to love one another and bear with one another (John 13:34; 1 Cor 13:7). Let’s try to understand where someone of another perspective is coming from, especially those who are hurting, angry, or afraid, being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:9). And let’s show the world, by our commitment to truly love one another, that we are disciples of Jesus, shining like stars in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation (John 13:35; Phil 2:15).
As John Piper has recently said, every president–and America itself–will one day be just a footnote in history. All human kingdoms will fall, but the Kingdom of God will stand forever (Rev 11:15). And Scripture says that we all, of various races, nations, and languages, called out of darkness and into his wonderful light in Christ Jesus, will be priests together in this Kingdom (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6).
As God’s priestly people, throughout the next four years and beyond, let’s mediate the grace of God to a broken and dying world that so desperately needs it. For in the end there is no President, no party, no system, and no leader that can put the world to rights again. Only King Jesus can do this. Let our hope be fully in this, in the redemption of the world that comes through Him. And through our prayers, words, and deeds, let’s work together to see His Kingdom come, and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10).
P.S. There are many good Christian leaders writing now about the aftermath of this election. For further thoughts from a trusted source, see this piece by Russell Moore.
Everyone is a worshiper. Its just a matter of if our worship will be towards God or towards someone or something else. We imitate what we worship. Therefore the object of our worship is of utmost importance as well as what we do in order to rehabituate our lives to love that object.