Advent: The Great Anticipation; The Great Arrival.

In your world, what are you desperately waiting on? The arrival of who, or what

What has you on the edge of your seat, burning a hole in your calendar?

Another way to put it…in what/who are you putting your hope?

What future thing is going to bring you what you need? To cure your loneliness, boredom, anger, fear, shame, guilt? We all stand on a foundation of hope:

  • Hoping I have enough to pay my bills
  • Hoping I’ll find love (or that I won’t lose the love I have)
  • Hoping my medical report turns out ok
  • Hoping I don’t get found out as the fraud I am
  • Hoping my kids turn out ok
  • Hoping my theology and morality is “good enough”

We are constantly immersed in some kind of hope, and very little of it (if any) is actually under our control (which causes fear, but more on that next week).

2000 years ago there was an impossible anticipation for the coming Messiah, but all logic told them that it wasn’t going to happen. There had been a few hundred years of (seeming) Divine Silence. By all human accounts, God had chopped down all the trees of hope and promise, leaving a lifeless clear-cut forest; leaving us alone and on our own. We see this in Isaiah 9 as God warned His people of their impending exile into slavery.

Isaiah 9:14
So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail,
palm branch and reed in one day—

For them, and for us, all signs pointed to justified abandonment by God. BUT…what about God’s promises? Would he, could he, be true to his word to never forsake us? To come rescue us? Even when we’ve gone way too far. When we’ve abandoned him? Abandoned each other? Abandoned our own dignity and value?

Into this desperation comes Isaiah 11

Isaiah 11:1-3
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

The stump of Jesse: King David’s father. The family tree of God’s promises had been cut down and lay rotting on the ground. Dead. Hopeless.

And then…a sprout. Life. Hope. And not just hope, but a branch that would produce fruit…MORE life. God created a way where there was no way.

This is The Immanuel. The rightful perfect Branch that not only came from the cut down trunk, but (as we see in 10) is also the ROOT of the tree itself. Jesus is the Great I AM; present and instrumental in creation; present and intimate right here and right now; present and sovereign in what is to come. It isn’t that Jesus simply brings us hope, Jesus IS our hope.

And so now, during this Advent Season, we begin the seemingly impossible task of dislodging our chaotic minds and hearts from lesser hopes in this world — hopes that are real and very often very important, for which we are called to pray and pursue — and then to be lodged into the The Greater Hope of Christ. Dislodged from merely hoping for better circumstances and securely hoping for the Savior that has already come into our darkness, lived among us as the “God With Us” and died in order to crucify the hopelessness of Sin, Fear and Death, only to miraculously resurrect (another impossibility that the Lord overcame) and thereby BE our Hope.

So, what does that even mean? When I feel alone, shattered, afraid, hopeless — there is One that holds all the power that is lovingly present with me right here and right now. All of life will eventually fail me — financial, relational, medical, moral — every other thing in which I hope will crumble, but not Jesus. He’s already been crumbled on the cross, and now stands alongside the Father in power, and has send His Spirit as the presence of God in and with me now. I cannot be alone; I cannot be abandoned; I cannot be lost or overcome. My hope is in Him and in His hands, so even when I let it go in search for other hopes, he doesn’t let me go. He has overcome, and is, will, bring me with him. Starting here. Now. Forever.

Galatians 4:4-5
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Captivating Beauty

Psalm 84:1-2
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Every one of us are uniquely drawn to and captivated by the beauty around us, giving ourselves, our hearts, to that which we find beautiful.

> The captivating beauty of that person…if only….
> The captivating beauty of that thing I’ve always wanted….if only…

Now for a moment let’s get deeper than the shallowness of culture’s definition of beauty. Le’s get beyond mere (and fleeting) external appearance of a beautiful person or object. Let’s get to the heart of beauty. That quality, that character, that makes our heart skip a beat; catches our breath short; sends butterflies into our bellies.

> The captivating beauty of the job I really want…if only….
> The captivating beauty of this relationship….if only…
> The captivating beauty of my kids….if only…
> The captivating beauty of a better bank account….if only…
> The captivating beauty of a public accolades….if only…
> The captivating beauty of a better morality….if only…
> The captivating beauty of retirement….if only

Now lets go one level deeper, into the things we don’t realize we find beautiful, but we obsess over and seek all the same, often with even more passion than the others. These are the things of “vile beauty” that steal our hearts and our passions; rob us of our resources and leave us wrecked on the floor:

> The captivating beauty of what I use to cope with the pain and horror of life, of this relationship, of this health, of these memories…so I turn to the only thing that seems to distract me from reality. Yes, I hate it, but sometimes it’s my only friend…if only I could face reality….

> The captivating beauty of repulsive arrogance. I am so insecure and so afraid, so I perpetually elevate myself over others, criticize those that are different than me and belittle (especially those I love) so that I can, for a moment, feel like I’m ok, even through I know that I’m a fraud….if only I could believe that my value is intact in the person of Christ…

> The captivating beauty of anxiety. I am so terrified of what might be, and so I return to the god of anxiety, performing mental gymnastics as I try to play out every scenario that would result in future-destruction and how I have been abandoned by God and everybody else…I re-write the end of Psalm 23 — “surely goodness and mercy will (abandon) me all the days of my life.”. …if only I could trust in the everlasting love and goodness of God for me personally…

> The captivating beauty of my despicable sins…I hatefully obsess over my brokenness, what I have done (and maybe continue to do)…I hate it, and hate myself for it. I feel like I will never be healed and perpetually wallow in my filth…if only…then I wouldn’t need so much grace.

Matthew 23:27
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

I know that the above is an over-simplification (i.e. – anxiety strugglers often have genetic, chemical and physiological roadblocks as well). But the spiritual issue at hand is this: What captures your heart? What do you dream of, dwell on, obsess over, get immersed into and lost within? To be honest…that “beautiful object” we all worship is simply this: me. Like Narcissus in Greek Mythology, I am captured by my own self, and have been led into the dark abyss of isolating self-worship.

This is where the Gospel is such unexpected hope. When we diminish “sin” to a list of behaviors, we miss the whole point and make salvation a transaction (I will trade my badness with Jesus’ righteousness). Even though that’s correct (Paul uses financial terminology like “count it all pure joy” and the often-used word “redemption”), the true heart beneath our Hope isn’t about worship…and we worship that which we find beautiful. The Gospel invitation is to have the Lord open our eyes to TRUE BEAUTY: HIMSELF. I have to be shown that I am settling for such a lesser beauty, and that the BrideGroom himself, Jesus, is running down the wedding aisle to capture me; my loves, attention, affections and heart.

As Thomas Chalmers magnificently wrote, what we need is the “Expulsive Power of a new Affection”. Because, in reality, True Beauty is NOT in the eye of the beholder. True Beauty, which makes my heart skip a beat and catches my breath short, is objectively and gloriously in the Person of Jesus, revealed by the Holy Spirit and solidified by our Heavenly Father.

And as my eyes slowly get turned away from myself, I begin to realize that I am actually more beautiful than I even knew. Being made in the image of God, being re-made in a new birth, and being dressed in Jesus’ robe of Righteousness, I am His precious, his beloved, his bride, his child. When Jesus died the ugliest of deaths, he beautified his brothers and sisters with his glory. I am now beautiful in the depths of my soul because I am His, and nothing can remove or even diminish this. Now, to begin to be less captivated by my own Beauty and by the other beauties in this world, I need to fall more deeply in love with the One in whose image I’ve been made, the One whose beauty if reflected in all of creation, the One who is Beauty itself.

Alternate Reality

The name-masks we wear

What’s your name? Not the name on your license or the one your mamma gave you, but your NAME? Your Identity. Your Being. Your Glory. In older times people were often given identity-driven names.

  • Abram (“exalted father”) was changed to Abraham = “father of multitudes”
  • Jacob was changed to Israel = “strives with God”
  • Simon son of John was changed to Cephas (or Peter) = “Rock”
  • All the folks with vocational names like Cook, Butler, Baker and my friend from high school who should have been a dentist: Shannon Toothman…or my own last name as I’ve come from a heritage of ranchers.

In Isaiah 56 we find God’s people finally being set free from Exile and brought home to the Promised Land. But things have changed. There have been numerous additions to God’s family, people that are intertwined with the Lord, but feel like “dirty outsiders” that don’t belong.

Isaiah 56:3
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

Have you seen the movie Inception? To quickly summarize: it tells the story about how people can create, enter and redirect people’s subconscious worlds, which could result in manipulating their “real world” thoughts and actions.

It turns out that we all engage in this dangerous and somewhat effective game everyday. We find ourselves in a reality that we don’t like: pain, anger, sadness, failure, shame, fear, hopelessness. We find ourselves living lives we don’t want to live, feeling things we don’t want to feel, doing things we don’t want to do. We don’t want to live in the here and now, it’s just too hard. So we weave a coping tapestry as we dive down and make an alternate reality, one that is much more to our liking (at least for a little while). Sometimes this alternate reality is done in real-life with real actions (in our secret sins and hypocritical faces); sometimes it’s done deep down in our hearts and imaginations (i.e. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

  • When the middle-age man is ashamed of his job, family, body and/or finances, so he pours his life into work in order to prove his worth.
  • When the 10th grade boy feels unloved, so he hides in the porn-world because these 2-dimentional women will accept him.
  • When the woman in her 30s is overwhelmed at work and home, so she begins to have an extra glass of wine each night to relax, which turns into several glasses.
  • When the senior girl in college feels disrespected and marginalized, so she begins to belittle and bully freshman girls in person and online.
  • When the child is anxious when mom and dad are yelling at each other, so he throws his own tantrum just to get them to stop fighting.
  • When the pastor is afraid that if the numbers keep going down, he’ll lose his job (and his reputation), so he convinces himself that other churches are growing because they have watered down the Gospel but HE is the only one that is preaching the Truth.

Life is so hard, leaving us insecure and terrified. And so we hide. Cope. Escape.

We escape in our heads as we tell ourselves we will never be enough while we concoct imaginary lives where we are the hero (think real-life Total Recall).

We escape in the “real world” when we act out either in a way to prove that we are “enough” (work harder, do better) or in a way to prove that we aren’t enough (“If I’m a loser, I may as well act like one”).

Into this reality-turmoil there is terrible news and great news

First the terrible news: your feelings of insecurity, failure and fraud…are correct. Kinda. We are all so much weaker and have so many more rotting floorboards that we can possibly realize. From the beginning of time we rebelled against the “name” God has given us and have tried to create for ourselves a greater name. Look at how the Tower of Babel is described:

Genesis 11:4
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

In regards to sin and rebellion, it’s true. We are broken, frail, muddy and even wretched. If our reputation and love is to be built upon our accomplishments, we are in grave danger. But that’s not the end of the story. God has create a realer-reality in place of our alternate reality. He has taken the reality that we have warped and he’s re-created it into the true reality of a new name, new identity, new hope, new image. The great news is that the very thing we are desperately seeking and inappropriately trying to create has been given to us at Christ’s expense…and even more, because it’s a name that’s infinitely greater than any we could imagine, and one that will literally last infinitely longer than any we could conjure up ourselves. John in Revelation tells it like this:

Revelation 2:17
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.

On the cross Jesus’ name was mocked, proclaiming in a sarcastic tone: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” But how true it was. As Jesus’ name was mocked he died for our broken “name” so that he could give us a new name. In him our name is now Beloved, Son, Heir, Friend. In him our old names have been crucified, which now frees me from the futile and exhausting drudgery of creating and keeping up with my name; frees me to glorify His name and enjoy the new name I’ve been given by living out the vocational-aspect of my name: love, grace, freedom, sacrifice. Allowing me to replace my alternate-reality with the True Reality of an eternal name.

Luke 10:20
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”


Everyday we encounter big and small decisions and circumstances upon with we base our fickle, picky, varying and fleeting satisfaction.

  • Where should I eat today?
  • Should I get a new car (which one)?
  • Who should I date / marry?
  • How many kids should I have?
  • Which job offer should I accept?
  • Which church should I attend (or any)?
  • When should I retire?

We truly ask questions like this all the time, and most of them are completely normal and appropriate questions without a “right” answer (example: we’d be terrible parents if we didn’t care about how our kids turned out; we’d be terrible employees if we didn’t care about our careers). The questions is this: What rests on the answer? The smaller everyday questions simply hold a quick “what will make me briefly happy at this moment,” whether that happiness is what perks up your taste buds or what will garner the approval (and acceptance?) of others, which makes me happy.

But the larger questions that have long-term impact is what we are really talking about. In what and in whom are you finding your wholeness, rest, hope, satisfaction, life?

This is what was happening in Isaiah 55. This is the last chapter written to the exiled-Israel (Isaiah 56 is written to Israel after they had been set free). God’s people had been captive for 70 years and, understandably, have decided that God has forgotten them, or even worse, forsaken them; that his promises and word were void and Babylon was now their permanent home. They had decided to forget the hope, promises, love and relationship of God and get comfy in their Exile. And into this Isaiah makes one final plea:

Isaiah 55:1-2
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

This may as well be (and actually is) written directly to us. While we are sitting at the world’s dinner table, stuffing our faces with treats, the Lord is calling us hungry and unsatisfied children to come to the Real Table; to not get filled up on the debilitating fast-food piled high in front us but to, like baby birds, open up and be treated to the food that will make us whole.

To make this practical, to help us see what other “foods” we are ingesting, think about the big “If Only’s” you have in your life. Every one of us have a laundry list of “If only ___, then I’ll be whole, happy, satisfied, at rest.”

  • If only we win this game.
  • my kids turn out ok.
  • If only this job works out.
  • If only I had more money.
  • If only I could stop this sin.
  • If only he would love me.
  • If only my medical report comes back clean.
  • If only I could get enough sleep.
  • If only I get into that college.
  • If only God wasn’t mad at me.
  • If only I wasn’t mad at myself.

This list is infinite, and personal to each of us. The issue is rarely the thing itself. It’s a gift from God to be loved, to have a career you enjoy, to win a game. The problem comes with what is resting upon those good things, and realizing that their shoulders aren’t strong enough to carry my wholeness. My heart-satisfaction cannot find home in things that are movable and transient; on other things and people; on lives that, by definition, are just as weak and needy as I am.

Into this The Gospel calls us to a place of steady foundation and hope. The very thing we’ve been created for – wholeness with God, manifest in peace with creation and one another – has been offered in the Person of Christ. The highest desire we all have – satisfaction – isn’t far off. In fact, He’s come. And is here.

As our small group was talking about this last night, one of our friends (Grace Hooper) made a glorious and profound prayer, asking that God replace our “If Only’s” with “You Are’s” and God’s sure promises. To see and repent of these other foundations and be overwhelmed with the Truth of Who God Is as our only unfailing and eternal hope.

  • Replace “If only she loves me” with “God is Love” (and loves me personally)
  • Replace “If only I had more money” with Matthew 6:30 “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
  • Replace “If only my kids turn out ok” with the Truth that our Real and Loving Father cares perfectly for us and our family: “Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
  • Replace “If only God liked me” with “There is therefore now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

God is not a spoil-sport, wanting us to forgo the satisfying morsels of this world, settling for shallow spiritual platitudes. He’s actually trying to save us from the gut-wrenching despair of eating food that will only give us spiritual G.I. issues while spoon feeding us the Bread of Life, Christ himself. Even as Jesus was on the way to the cross he served the Passover Meal to his disciples, passing out Bread (his body) and wine (his blood), but leaving out the necessary and traditional lamb, which would represent the sacrifice needed to cover Sin…because Jesus himself IS the Lamb who finally and fully pays for our sinful pursuits of false satisfaction while finally and fully fills us not just with spiritual wholeness…but with HIMSELF as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, indwells as we now find our life “hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3), the satisfaction that can (1 Peter 1:4) “never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you” — but not just in heaven so we’ll be satisfied on “the other side,” but accessible now in the person of the Holy Spirit who is our Living Hope.


We throw around the word “shame” like cheap plastic beads from a mardi gras float.

  • That quarterback should be ashamed of himself.
  • Is this the best you can do? You are a disgrace.
  • I can’t believe you did that … you should be ashamed.
  • I can’t believe I did that … I am ashamed of myself.

Professor and speaker Brené Brown differentiates guilt and shame like this:
Guilt: I DID something bad.
Shame: I AM something bad.

Brené’s TED talks on shame and vulnerability have been incredibly popular, revealing how we all, to different degrees and due to different circumstances, perform a shame-dance to a violently oppressive shame-song whose lyrics tell us that we are worthless, unlovable and isolated. Shame lobs our past at us like grenades, robbing us of our dignity, hope and future. But for all who are in Christ, Shame is a liar.

When I hear the accusing voice,
That whispers hopelessness in my ear;

When I am overwhelmed by my own sin
and tell myself that I’m a failure

When I am told by others that
that I am an utter disappointment

When my darkness is revealed to the world
and I am sure that my life is over…

I have to decide: Where I will take my shame? What will I do?

Will I go the Secular route, which tells me that I am fine just the way that I am? That there is nothing wrong with me. That my “brokenness is beautiful” and I don’t need to worry about the fact that I have causes pain to others, betrayed my Creator and broken the Image in which I have been made. This is mere ignorant, hurtful blindness that tries to convince me that I don’t need a Savior; it castrates the Gospel.

Or will I go the Religious route, which tells me that I am a disappointment to God (in fact, I probably made baby Jesus cry) and that I need to try harder, be better and never do it again. If I don’t watch out, I will either be kicked out of God’s love or, more likely, realize that I’ve never been saved in the first place.

  • Secular wisdom tells us that we don’t need Jesus
  • Religious wisdom tells us that we are too far from Jesus
  • The Gospel tells us both, and neither: that we are infinitely far, yet have been brought all the way home because Jesus, the Son of God himself, carried our personal shame into his shame-filled trial and onto the shame-filled cross so that he could be shamelessly raised from the dead.

Isaiah 50:6-7a
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
7 But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have NOT been disgraced..

Jesus didn’t only need to die for us but also needed to go through a horrifyingly shameful and disgraceful trial where he was spit on and mocked because he had to take the full brunt of shame that our sin deserved. Sin, at it’s root, is a betrayal of our Identity, of God’s Image engraved into our souls. In a state of Christlessness, shame is a very appropriate response because, like Adam and Eve, we are betrayers of the Almighty and find ourselves “naked and ashamed.”

And so Jesus needed to take on shame, pay it’s full price and replace our shame with His Glory. In Christ our Identities have been utterly transformed, even re-created. We are not longer “naked” but have been clothed with Christ:

Galatians 3:27
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

And so now realize this — our IDENTITIES have been utterly renewed. There is certainly room for guilt when I am convicted by the Spirit that my behavior has been for my glory and not the Lord’s, but there is no more room for shame because I AM A CHILD OF GOD…my IDENTITY is not my behavior, but given and secured by Jesus Christ himself. The Devil (the “accuser” and the “deceiver”) will whisper in our ears that this isn’t true. He and his minions will tell us that we either don’t need Jesus or we are too far from Jesus. But he is a LIAR. We must combat these lies with the Truth of the Gospel…the greatest antidote to the disease of shame is TRUTH. We need to combat lies with what Gospel tells us…over and over again. In an effort to do this I have included below a downloadable/printable sheet with 32 proclamations of your Identity in Christ. To get you started, here’s a few:

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 3:16
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

1 Timothy 1:7
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control

A Much Greater Rescue

Where do you go when times get rough? When you are in some sort of pain (physical, relational, spiritual, financial etc) and you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel? We all have a a myriad of salves to apply to the wounds that this world inflicts, each with varying degrees of effectiveness. In the midst of these storms where resources seem scare and rescue seems distant, I have some good news, some bad news and some great news.

The Good News is that the very One that has perfectly, lovingly, personally and purposefully knit every atom in all of creation together has set his heart on you, even in our moments of chaotic confusion, anger, sadness, frustration, darkness and hopelessness. God himself passionately invites us to come to His throne of Grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16) because He has unparalleled compassion for us, desires only good things, and possesses the power to rescue. He says “come to me” when the storm is so loud that we truly can’t hear ourselves think because He has been through that storm, and a much much greater storm, and has come out on the other side unscathed. You can get more on this from my blog a couple of week ago called Gospel Butterfingers.

The Bad News (it’s not really bad news at all, but it might feel bad) is that sometimes God intentionally doesn’t deliver us right away (or maybe anytime in this lifetime) from the “thorns in our flesh” (2 Corinthians 12). Sometimes we are crying out to God in the middle of a lightning storm and He, for reasons we can’t fathom, doesn’t pluck us up and set out feet on sunny shores. And it’s really frustrating. And I often will get upset with Him for not coming though (in the way that I insist that he comes through). The reason for these seasons and situations of “bad news” is actually the Great News.

This is what the Lord was telling Israel while they were in exiled slavery to Babylon. They desperately wanted freedom (just like we would). And God said “Yes! But not yet, because I have A MUCH GREATER RESCUE.

Isaiah 49:6
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

You see, pleading with God to rescue us from our “everyday storms” is important. God wants us to come in prayer at all times, including these times. But he ALSO wants to conform us into the image of His Son. He wants SO MUCH MORE than our temporary happiness and comfort. We are so easily satisfied with being safe, having enough stuff and minimizing the causes of anxiety. But God’s plans are infinitely above my own, and He will do what He needs to do in order to mold me. See how C.S.Lewis addresses this in one of the all time great writings (1941) The Weight of Glory:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

C.S.Lewis – The Weight of Glory

The Rescue from our Sin

So, what if God’s goal for us is radically different than our goal? We will be perpetually dissatisfied and frustrated, accusing God of not coming through. Maybe my goal of a happy and content life that is relatively void of problems isn’t what Jesus was talking about when he promises us the “abundant life” in John 10:10. Maybe Barbara Duguid is right in her (really great) book Extravagant Grace when she says “that the richest fruit of God’s work in our hearts would be evidenced by increasing humility and dependence on Christ for everything, rather than in a ‘victorious Christian life.'”

Maybe God doesn’t just pick me up out of my mud-pit because this is exactly where I learn how much I need Him and where I will learn that true satisfaction will never be found in creation but in the Creator. Yes, it can be painful and really frustrating. It causes deep tears and angry accusations. It whittles me down to nothing…and what is left is sheer need: need for a rescuer that is beyond myself, but one that has come to give me a far greater rescue…a rescue not from temporary discomfort but from sin itself. A rescue not even just from sin, but a rescue from the tyranny of myself. A rescue not even for my own sake, but also for his Glory.

The Rescue For Himself

Isaiah 49:3
And He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Right there in the middle of God promising to send the Ultimate Israel (Jesus) to deliver the Rebellious Israel (you and me) he says that it will ultimately be for his own glory. God excitedly and at great sacrifice has brought us the absolute Ultimate Victory through Jesus Christ, delivering us from every shred of bondage and slavery. And in the process, He is even more glorified as we, like join in with all of creation in:

Isaiah 49:13
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.

Yes, please immediately and passionately go to God’s throne in the midst of the storm regardless of it’s severity. Go sit with your Abba Father when the thunder claps and you are hurt and afraid. And while you are doing that, and while you are passionately asking for a reprieve, join with Jesus in his Grand Finale saying “yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). As I do that, as I pray that, may the Lord give us eyes to see His Greater Rescue. May he help me fathom the depths of his Ultimate Rescue; that sometimes He gives us relief from the storms of life, but always and forever He gives us life after The Storm of Sin, Fear and Death. And upon this hope I can trust that what John Piper wrote is true:

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
John Piper

Perfect Fear Casts Out Fear

We live in an age of anxiety. Even though we have more safeguards to prevent danger and more means of rescue from danger, we are a people wrought with fear. All of these protections have convinced us that life can predominantly be controlled. But, in fact, it can’t. It often feels like we are on a raging roller-coaster with nobody at the control panel as we wait for the next disaster to happen. And for many of us that are more acutely plagued with fear and anxiety, this problem is coupled with spiritual shame as we tell ourselves how faithless and weak we are to not trust God’s love, power and plan. And down the black hole we go.

The good news (and frustrating news) is that fear is one of the most common issues we see all through scripture.

  • Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Gen 3:10)
  • God’s people were afraid of their Egyptian captors (Exodus 14)
  • God’s people were afraid to go into the promised land because of the overwhelming “giants” (Numbers 13)
  • The Shepherds were afraid of the angels (Luke 2)
  • Jesus’ disciples were afraid of the wind and waves (Matthew 8)
  • Peter was afraid for his life while Jesus was being crucified (Luke 22)

The incredible news it that “Peace” is also one of the more pervasive commands and promises God has for us:

  • God told Abraham to not be afraid to go to the Promised Land (Gen 15)
  • God told Jacob to not be afraid to go down to Egypt (Gen 46)
  • The angels on Christmas morning told the Shepherds “Fear Not”
  • Jesus told all of us to not be afraid because God even takes care of the birds (Mt 10)

Fear comes when we see a “Future without God.” We see real, imagined or potential problems and quickly deduce all the painful outcomes that could result. We naturally fall back into believing that our worlds, our problems, our lives are spinning out of control and about to fall of the cliff. It’s not that we are faithless, it’s actually a great deal of faith…faith that:

  • God isn’t loving enough to desire what’s best
  • God isn’t powerful enough to do what’s best
  • God isn’t wise enough to know what’s best.

We don’t mean to believe this, it’s just where our natural minds and hearts go.

So what do we DO about it? Is there a help, a cure, a hope?

Yes, but slow.

Believing and actually “resting” (the foundational definition of “peace”) in the Lord is a very slow marinating process. We swim in an insta-pot and instagram pool. But learning to trust is slow, and involves us, by the Spirit’s power, to re-focus out eyes off of the potential car-wreck and onto the whole journey. When I am struck with fear, I am forgetting the whole story and the character of God. I am forgetting the infinite proofs that God has always carried his people through the waters and fires. I am allowing what MIGHT happen to eclipse what HAS happened and, in the end, what WILL happen. I am believing that God is small and powerless; that his love for me is weak; that his arms are too feeble to carry me; that his wisdom is too faulty to know what is best for me and the world.

And so, once again, the initial weapon against our problems isn’t to “try harder” (“Just stop being afraid!”) but to believe differently….to be overwhelmed with the glory of God. The greatest weapon against earthly fear is the “Fear of God” — to be overwhelmed like Isaiah (in Isaiah 6) with the mind-staggering holiness, beauty, glory, power and perfection of the Lord.

Let’s look practically at a real-life example in Matthew 8

Matthew 8
24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men MARVELED, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

The wind and waves were real. The potential danger was extreme. But their eyes (just like mine most of the time) were not on Jesus but on the problems. Instead of being in awe of Jesus, they were in awe of their problems, and their own comfort. And this issue is debilitating, hindering us from living the passionate ambassador-lives to which we have been called and empowered to live. God isn’t slapping our hands for being fearful, He’s working to set us free from the slavery of fear that keeps us from fully enjoying Him and this life he’s gifted us. He’s setting us free from the shackles of this world that scream at us that “this is all there is.”

That’s why Jesus gives us this gift:

John 14:27
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.

Jesus himself gives us Peace (doesn’t just tell us to be at peace) and He himself IS our peace. He has even given us the Spirit of Peace, the Holy Spirit, who resides in us to speak peace into our hearts when the rest of the world is screaming chaos and fear.

And so today, when fear begins to gurgle up from the springs of your heart, take some deep breaths and fight mis-belief with Gospel-belief. Ask the Spirit to overwhelm your mis-belief with the True-belief that Jesus has always carried you through and, as we see in Romans 8 over and over, will carry us through to the end.

Gospel Butterfingers

Think about when you totally blank on somebody’s name…you know that you know it, but the name is hiding somewhere in a dark corner of your brain. It can be embarrassing to say the least. But what about other much more important bits of truth? Sometimes is it really hard to hold on to Truth, especially in the dark when your hands are shaking, the time you need Truth the most. It’s not Truth that is changing, but our grip on it.

It is this gospel-butterfinger epidemic that spurs Isaiah (and all of Scripture) to perpetually give us hope-reminders. It’s not because we are dumb but because we are forgetful, prone to let situations eclipse the Sun of Righteousness.

Isaiah 40
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah is talking to a people that had been taken into Exile away from the Promised Land and seemingly away from God and His Promise. He is reminding his brothers and sisters that blinding circumstances don’t negate the Truth of God; that he has, is and will always carry his people to completion. We will absolutely grow weary, faint and fall exhausted. Our grip on Truth and Hope isn’t enough. We have to be the ones being held by the One that will not grow weary, whose grip does not grow weak and who is wholly unable to let us fall.

But I so easily forget.

So here are some memory-tools God has given us to remember. They are little “means of grace” that we can utilize in times of forgetfulness, like a cheat sheet on your 8th grade English test, but these aren’t cheating.

Look Backwards

1 Samuel 7:12
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”

These “memory stones” would remind all who walked by that God had indeed miraculously showed up at that place in time, and he would do it again

Look Forwards

Psalm 30:5b
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Whatever we are in, even the most frustrating and confusing times, are only part of our journey. In this life The Author that started us out and is still writing. But when the final page is turned, it turns out that we’ve just gotten through the introduction to our life’s book, the rest beginning in Revelation 21 where there is no weeping or pain.

Look Upwards

Psalm 13
1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The most common genre in the Psalms is the Lament, and almost all of them end in worship. The pain and frustration is real, but turning from darkness to the light of worship helps train our hearts that Hope overcomes Evil.

Look Around

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…

We deeply need each other. As we’ll see in the next step, we get utterly blinded and confused. So I need brothers and sisters around me to speak Truth into me. When I can’t hold onto Truth myself I need others to hold onto it for me, sitting with me as the voice and presence of God.

Look Inside (1)

Psalm 42
Why are you cast down, O my soul,and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.

We all constantly talk to ourselves, telling ourselves what is true, false, good, bad, satisfying etc. Like I said in the last block, we so often tell ourselves (and therefore believe) in the lie that things are hopeless and God doesn’t care (or isn’t real, or is powerless). The Psalmist would have internal arguments as he went along the path of life, speaking to his soul to stop believing a lie and hold on to Truth.

Look Inside (2)

Romans 8:26
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.

More importantly than looking to an internal conversation, we can find assurance, hope and even peace that God himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit is literally inside of us, speaking not only to our own hearts but also praying to The Father on our behalf “with groanings too deep for words.”

Look Outward

2 Corinthians 1:3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Maybe it seems impossible, but loving others when we are having a hard time holding onto love ourselves will actually lift us our souls. It helps knock us out of the dark whirlpool as we see that we are not alone; that pain is universal and God has rescued us in order to be His rescuing agents for others.

Look Christward

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?

Ultimately our greatest hope is looking to Jesus himself, and resting in the Truth that if God went to the absolute greatest extent imaginable in order to rescue us (the sacrifice of His own Son) then he will absolutely continue his rescue-operation.

Scripture is brutally honest about the pain of this world, not asking us to minimize or paint the pain with a facade of “just trust Jesus.” We are invited to come to him with out true pain (like Mary and Martha did when their brother Lazarus was sick and dying) while also having expectant and open hands for him to hold as he walks us through the dark.

Uncle Ricos

Uncle Rico – from Napoleon Dynamite

“Back in ’82 – I used to be able to throw a pigskin a quarter mile…if couch would have put me in 4th quarter, we would have been state champions.” – Uncle Rico

Those of us who are “past our prime” (though we would be hard-pressed to realize, much less acknowledge it) struggle with these illusions (or are they delusions?) that we “still have it.” Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite was absolutely convinced that he was still amazing and could make it to the big time. He had these “memory remnants” of days gone by and spent his time trying to recapture it…but as you watch the movie, it is comically sad how blind he was to his reality.

And this is why our flag football team in Asheville, NC was called the Uncle Ricos (I’m #2)

We were all past our prime (though some of the guys were still pretty young and talented.) When we ran, it felt like we were flying down the field…until we watched each other run, and reality set in. We were slow, got winded easily, and had brittle bodies (I had 2 shoulder dislocations while playing in this league). Yet we pushed on in defiance to time and reality. We would also play in tournaments put on by the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte and actually do pretty well in the 35+ division. Until one day we faced off against a squad of ex-Arena-League players. It was utterly embarrassing how slow and inept we were compared to these other men.

This is where we find Isaiah in Isaiah 6. He was part of the extended royal family of King Uzziah (who had just died) and was an incredibly gifted communicator. Like all of us, he was created in God’s image and was a man of infinite value. And like all of us, he was broken. We, like Isaiah, have these memory-remnants of who we used to be. We intrinsically know that we are designed as valuable and powerful, yet we are also broken (like the Uncle Ricos). We are no longer who we were in the garden when we literally would walk in the cool of the day with one another, among creation, face to face with the Almighty God himself. When we rebelled and committed treason against the Lord, creation was shattered. Yet we are constantly unaware or in total denial of this truth…until we come face to face with True and Utter Greatness…much more than ex-arena-league players. I mean UTTER GREATNESS

Isaiah 6:1-5
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Look at Isaiah’s reality break into focus. Through in the world’s eyes (and his own) he was powerful and elite. But when he was put into contrast with The Almighty God in His Perfect Greatness….he was ruined. His actual depravity could no longer hide in the flood of light. To understand this better, let’s look at what the Seraphim (which literally mean “the burning ones”) sang: “holy holy holy” — this tripling of the world “holy” (called a “trisagion”) is extraordinary to say the least. When a Hebrew word is doubled (like we saw in Isaiah 1 with how “estranged-estranged” we are) it is essentially a super-superlative. To triple a word is inconceivable. And not just any word, or any attribute of God…it’s his Holiness. To boil it down, God’s holiness is his absolute “otherness” — it’s all of his other superlative attributes melted into one another. For God to be “holy holy holy” is for him to be superlatively love/love/love; superlatively power/power/power; superlatively just/just/just; superlatively mercy/mercy/mercy.

Now we can have the smallest understanding of how Isaiah felt being in God’s holy/holy/holy presence. He was fully aware of Exodus 33:20 where God said “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” — now Isaiah was looking at God face to face, saw His transcendent beauty and his own despicable filthiness…yet, instead of dying, God brought him the only thing that could save his life: atonement.

For Isaiah it was in the form of a live coal from the fire of purification. For us it’s the living Son of God that became 100% immanent, among us as The Immanuel, that came to be literally be “with us” to bring us atonement and into a face-to-face relationship with the Transcendent God. We know this because, instead of us dying like we should (like Isaiah should have), Jesus himself died in our place. And when he did:

Matthew 27:51
And behold, the curtain of the temple (remember Exodus 25) was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

This is the very curtain that separated the presence of God in the “holy of holies” from the rest of the world, through which the High Priest, after a blood sacrifice, would go once a year in order to acquire atonement for God’s people….so Jesus became the High Priest, was himself our final blood sacrifice, and brought us atonement, which results in the here and now a perfect face-to-face relationship with the Transcendent God.

Go back to the Uncle Rico. Before Christ, we were stuck in our memory-remnants, only vaguely remembering who we were and living as if we could live on our own power. But now, in Christ, we are a New Creation! We have had a renewal and re-creation as Image-Bearers. We have the Holy Spirit who is literally IN us, and the train of his robe fills his new temple: US! We are no longer relegated to building up our own image and fighting for our value. We are His and glorious beyond measure because of Him in us.

And so we can join Isaiah after his atonement

Isaiah 6:8
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Seeing our infinite need, God’s infinite beauty, and now our infinite rescue, we are sent out into our world (both near and far) with his infinite love and power to bring hope to the hopeless, light to the darkness, love to the lonely…like he did for us.

Estranged Estranged

We are the most connected people that have ever lived. And are shockingly isolated.

  • We are convinced of our rightness.
  • We have enthroned ourselves.
  • We believe that others orbit around us.
  • We treat others as our subjects.

The real issue, the foundational problem, is that this is actually how I treat God. I believe that my way is better; my plans are wiser; my solutions more satisfying.

We have been meticulously designed by God to be knit together with him, under his loving and righteous rule, and to be knit to one another in humble love. Which is exactly how we are NOT living. And so, with a broken heart, the Lord sees our betrayal and calls it like it truly is:

Isaiah 1:4b
“they are utterly estranged”

Estranged. Disconnected. Alienated. Alone. Runaways.

But it’s actually even worse than that. The wording is one of handful of “Word Doubling.” God says that we are “Estranged Estranged” — when a word in Hebrew is repeated back to back, it is going exponential. For instance, 2Kings 25:15 talks about a super refined silver by calling it “silver silver”. We do the same sometime. For teenagers there is an enormous difference between saying “I like him” vs saying “I like like him.” The second involves a much higher degree of passion and heart. And this is exactly what we are being convicted of in Isaiah. We aren’t just estranged from God, we are estranged estranged. In our pursuit of self we have utterly and completely estranged ourselves from our Loving, Providing, Caring, Holy Father (compare this to the younger prodigal son from Luke 15). We want to white-wash it and convince ourselves that we aren’t that bad or that far away. We point to the ways we don’t act like that or reduce the holiness of God in order to not seem so unholy (more on that next week in Isaiah 6).

But God is very painfully clear in Isaiah 1:4. In this one verse He explains in 7 different ways how dislocated we have become from him.

Which makes His Grace and Love all the more!

The more I own the truth of my estrangement, the more amazing I realize that God is because of how far he has come to get me; how much his love must have; how powerful he must be. Jesus himself intentionally distanced himself from The Father to come to Creation, and even more so, he was estranged-estranged on the cross because that’s how far he had to come to get us, and that’s the payment that had to be made on our behalf. Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus, knew this was going to happen and said it like this:

Isaiah 53:4-5
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

May we all truly hear the miraculous and (almost) unbelievable Good News. We have been brought home and the Father through the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit currently, as you read this, has perfectly and utterly “UnEstranged” you. If you are in Christ, he has perfectly paid for and wiped away (see Isaiah 1:16-18) all of our scarlet sins, making them and us pure in him…and this not from ourselves but by faith through Jesus. Your Father, right here and now, has given you “peace” and “healing” (Is 53:5). He sings over you; is satisfied with you; has brought you into him arms and his home. You are no longer estranged…and has set us free so that we can, starting right now, enjoy Him forever.

Holy Spirit, gently open my eyes to how far I have run from you, and then quickly and surely convince my heart that you have come to get me; that I am a new creation that has been brought home with my brothers and sisters to be satisfied in and by you. Convince my heart of your love and forgiveness, and point how how I am an empowered instrument of your Grace right now in the community around me.