ADVENT III – JOY  

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But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)


This is the third of four Advent messages I will be presenting to you. During this blessed Advent season, what begins with waiting and advances through preparation ultimately results in the experience of great joy.

 

From a biblical perspective, joy at the deepest level is something altogether different from happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances and what is going on around us, while joy is based on Christ and what is going on within us. While we wait and prepare for Christmas, we must remember that joy is an inside job, and it is always a choice for the Christian.

 

What was the “great joy” the angels promised to the shepherds? It was the coming of Jesus. Jesus is our joy. And knowing that He has promised never to leave us or forsake us, we can be assured that joy is to be a continual experience. Joy sees problems as possibilities and obstacles as opportunities. Joy sees life from God’s perspective, not our own, and when it does, we can echo David, saying, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4 ESV).

 

When the Bible speaks of the joy of the Lord, we are to understand that joy is something much more than a mere feeling. If that was not true, how in the world would we be able to experience it during the inevitable storms of loss and grief that will pass over us? Only when we understand joy as Jesus, seeing ourselves as branches in union with the vine, will we be able to experience unspeakable joy. And as we saw on Wednesday, we increase our joy during our time of preparation through time in prayer and time in the Word.

 

Here is one more thing to consider: When we consider the character of Christ, we make deposits in our joy bank. Jesus lived a sinless life for us. Jesus died a sacrificial death for us. Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead for us. Jesus is coming back from heaven for us. Jesus has loved us, eternally and unconditionally, and He has forgiven us completely. The more we consider His character, the more joy we experience in this life, regardless of whatever we may currently be facing.

 

And this brings us to our final Advent message on Monday: Love. God is love (1 John 4:16). I hope you’ll be back to join me in reflecting on His amazing love, expressed so powerfully in the birth of the baby Jesus.

 

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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ADVENT II – PREPARING

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A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3 ESV)


Today offers the second installment of Advent messages; this one focuses on preparing. And that makes sense, does it not? While we are waiting on the Lord—living a life of dependence on and trust in Him—we should be preparing for what we are waiting to receive from Him. No one just plants seeds in the garden and waits for the harvest to come in. They plant, water, nurture, and prepare in every way to maximize the harvest that will come in the fall.

 

So how are we to prepare for all we are waiting on from our Lord? Let’s look and see.

 

SIMPLIFY

 

Life is full of distractions, with countless voices and activities vying for our attention. Those voices amp up during the Christmas season, with one advertisement after another for the latest products blaring how our lives will be fuller and richer and happier if we will buy this or that new thing. Church, family and friends, and often even employers invite/expect us to attend holiday events that keep us moving from place to place. It is all too easy to forget the real Reason for the season when we are so busy being busy! With everything that seeks to divert our focus from the Lord, we must simplify, and we do so by learning the way of our Lord in two vital areas of our lives.

 

Prayer

 

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

 

No one lived a busier life than our Lord Jesus Christ, yet His life was saturated in communion with His Father in heaven. Jesus continually retreated to pray; we read that there were times when He spent entire nights in prayer. Notice that Jesus went early before the demands of the day engulfed Him, and He went to a solitary place to minimize distractions. Is this the confession of your life?

 

Word

 

“It is written . . .” “It is also written . . .” “For it is written . . .” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10)

 

When Jesus fought His battle against the devil during His wilderness experience, He conquered Satan with the Old Testament Scriptures —which was all that had been written at that time. In order for Jesus to continually quote the Scriptures, He had to know the Scriptures, and to know the Scriptures, He had to be meditating on and marinating in them. Is this the confession of your life?

 

One of the very best ways to prepare for Christmas is to simplify our lives, and the best way to simplify is to consistently be on our knees with the Bible in hand.

 

On Friday we’ll look at the outcome of our waiting and preparing for the Advent season: joy.

 

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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ADVENT, PART I – WAITING

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Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)


Throughout the next four messages leading up to Christmas Day, I would like to shift our focus onto Advent—a word derived from the Latin Adventus, which means coming—that period of expectant waiting and preparation for the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as a babe in a manger . . . and the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as the conquering King. Most Bible-believing churches use the four Sundays and weeks leading up to Christmas to focus on the real meaning of the season.

 

Today we will sharpen our focus on waiting. As a child growing up, the hardest thing for me was waiting for Christmas Eve, when we would be allowed to open one of our Christmas presents under the tree. After we finished that family tradition, I had to endure the long night of counting sheep and waiting for the sun to come up to enjoy the day that I had I waited every day of the year to arrive.

 

Waiting today is just as difficult as it was for me as a child, for a variety of different reasons . . . my natural, sinful tendency to impatience being the primary one. And yet waiting is part of God’s perfect plan to mature each one of us and to grow us up in our Christian faith.

 

What have you been waiting for from God this year? The prophet Isaiah assures us that “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 40:31 ESV). Isaiah is talking about the source of our power. When you picture the eagle in flight, you see that this magnificent creature is completely dependent upon the Lord, who has given it wings and the unseen currents of air on which it soars.

 

To wait upon the Lord is to live a life of dependence and trust in a power greater than our own, a power that will lift us up and give us strength and joy . . . and, yes, even patience! Waiting upon the Lord is trusting God even when we cannot trace Him. It is understanding that God’s will often requires waiting, because it is one of God’s great graces in our lives. And how are we to wait? We wait expectantly, hopefully, knowing that whatever we receive from the hand of our God is always what is best for us and it always does its best work in our lives when it comes to us in God’s perfect timing.

 

So as you are waiting to celebrate the birth of our Savior and waiting on God to answer your prayers as you confront life’s pressures, challenges, and difficulties, let the unseen currents of God’s Holy Spirit lift you up higher and higher—lift you up on wings like the eagle’s—knowing that your strength is being renewed by your Redeemer moment by moment and day by day.

 

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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NEED A LITTLE REST? 

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There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.  (Hebrews 4:9)


All Christian believers know full well the promise of the Sabbath-rest that awaits us on the other side of the grave. But is there any rest for us now? Does the writer of Hebrews have a promise for us concerning our day-to-day lives? Read on and be encouraged!

This Sabbath-rest will find its fulfillment when we are living in the new heavens and the new earth with our God and His people. But before we experience that fulfillment, we are to experience the first installment during our life here on this earth. We have received so great a salvation that we can rest from trying to save ourselves!

When Jesus shows up, He puts an end to our self-salvation projects. When He cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” He meant what He said! The work of salvation has been freely and fully completed. We can cease from trying to earn God’s favor through our good works, which, as Isaiah 64:6 tells us, really aren’t that good at all—they are mere “filthy rags” compared to the glory and goodness of our holy God.

There is no more fatiguing and fruitless a work than to try to earn our way into God’s continued favor and blessing. And there are millions who are burdened under this great weight week after week, month after month, and year after dreary year. The joy of the Lord is as far from them as the east is from the west, because they are buried under the weight of working for a blessing, rather than resting in the ones they have already received from Christ. You see, only by trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ can we experience this Sabbath-rest in a world that is marked by restlessness, turmoil, and discontent.

Remember this truth: Jesus Christ not only earned this perfect rest for us, He is this perfect rest. By resting in Him we begin to experience in part what we will one day experience in full: that Sabbath-rest that remains for the people of God. So if you need a little rest, rest in the shadow of the cross, where your Lord paid the penalty for your sin, satisfying all the demands of God’s justice. Living in the light of this truth will set you free to enjoy the fruits of His work in you, rather than laboring for the fruit that Jesus has already freely given you in love.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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FROM SEEING TO BEING 

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As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (Psalm 17:15)


Today we have a twofold blessing uttered to us in the Word of God: we have been promised God’s presence in this life right now, and we will be conformed to His likeness in the life to come. Let these blessings be a word of comfort to you today, right where this finds you.

The apostle Paul described our first blessing this way: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). We have been promised the blessing of seeing, through the eyes of faith, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. To be sure, we see only dimly now, but we do see, and in seeing we are given a foretaste of heaven above. But that is only the beginning of the blessing, as we progress from seeing to being.

Throughout this life, God is at work conforming us into the image and likeness of His beloved Son. What we see today, we shall be tomorrow when we cross the Jordan. When we are received into glory, we shall see ourselves as reflections of the beauty and perfection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, I know this promise may seem too good to be true, as we struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil on this side of the grave. But we have been given this promise, “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). To rightly rephrase an old bumper sticker, “God said it. That settles it. I believe it.” And so should you!

Are these promised blessings not a cosmic comfort to you today? To go from seeing to being is a promise that you can count on just as surely as David did when, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he penned our verse for today. Do you see it? Do you believe it? Let that confident assurance be the confession of your life, that what you see now as the glory of God in the face of Jesus, revealed throughout the pages of Sacred Scripture, you will one day be when you breathe your last.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW 

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When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13)


Today’s verse provides us with a great word of instruction for the humbly inquiring mind that desires to know all truth. Is that you today? Let’s take a brief look at three wonderful truths that are contained in these words from our Lord today.

First, let us rejoice that the Spirit of Christ has come to every believer. Earlier in this same Upper Room Discourse, Jesus told His disciples, “I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor [Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Jesus has ascended into heaven and is now sitting in the position of power and authority at the right hand of God the Father, but He has not left us alone. He has sent His Holy Spirit to be with every one of His children.

Second, let us rejoice that the Spirit of Christ has come as our Guide. We all know that we are as prone to wander as we are prone to err, and so we are in great need of our Guide. Operating under our own strength, we will invariably drift away from the truth. We need our Guide to keep our feet on the straight and narrow path, lest we stray to the left or to the right. Jesus has sent His Holy Spirit as our personal Guide and Teacher, and the Spirit will transmit the truth of God’s Word to our hearts and our minds.

Third, let us rejoice that the Spirit of Christ has come to guide us into all the truth. We do not want a portion of truth, which would lead to living a life that is out of balance. Without the whole counsel of God, we would grow only into a fraction of the person He is calling us to be. Only when we are guided into all truth will we be prepared to weather any storm wind that blows our way. Those who receive only a portion of the truth will find themselves consumed by the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth, and will fail to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13:22).

Do you have an inquiring mind that wants to know all truth? You have the perfect Guide who has promised to guide you into all the truth, creating in you a joy and a fruitfulness that will exceed all understanding. And all you need to do to receive this truth is ask . . . seek . . . and knock (Matthew 7:7).

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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THE WISDOM OF FORREST GUMP 

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And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. (1 John 4:16)


Tom Hanks uttered a line in the movie Forrest Gump that surely resonates with all of us: “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.” Is this not true of each and every one of us? Do we not all know, regardless of our age or station in life, what love is? And why do we all know this? Because God is love, and the entire story line of the Bible is God’s unfolding plan of redemption—in a word, His love for us!

This love is unlike any other kind of love. God’s love is a saving love. God’s love is a sacrificial love. God’s love is a supernatural love. And there is no better picture of this love than the one we find in our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Is this not what our Lord did for you and me? Did He not come into this world to lay down His life so that we could have eternal life in Him?

Here is something we must remember regarding the love God has for His people: it is a love that is ready, willing, and able to afflict both the One who is demonstrating the love and the object of its affection in order to work a greater good that could be accomplished in no other way. We should draw great comfort from this truth. God does indeed love us just the way He found us (dead in our trespasses and sins), but He loves us too much to leave us in that condition. God is at work, both in and through us, to make us alive in Christ and to change and conform us into the image of His beloved Son, and He will stop at nothing to complete the good work He has begun in us.

So regardless of where this message finds you today, remember the wisdom of Forrest Gump and keep the love your Savior has for you in constant view. He bore the unimaginable cosmic punishment for your sin in order to have a personal relationship with you forever and ever. He took your condemnation. He took your scourging. He took your crown of thorns. He took your nine-inch nails. He took your cross. And He took your death. Why? Because He loves you enough to die for you! He knows what love is.

Perhaps committing the following verse to memory will prove profitable during those times that will inevitably come when you feel a bit unloved or unlovable:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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