Category: Isaiah (page 1 of 9)

The Heart of Christmas

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” ~Isaiah 9:2

This is a very well-known Christmas text, a famous Christmas text that speaks to the coming of the Christ. And it describes the condition the Christ is coming into as darkness. People are walking in darkness. People are living in the land of darkness. We read this a lot at Christmas, but we don’t ever read the verses right before it. The end of the previous chapter actually tells us why the world is so plunged in darkness:

“When people tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?… If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn… They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” ~Isaiah 8:19-22

People are looking toward the earth for help. Men and women are looking toward themselves for wisdom and salvation.

Yes, we’re living in darkness; yes, things are really messed up; but we can fix it ourselves! There’s poverty and hunger, greed and lust; but if we’ll just all look out for each other and learn how to give more, we can change it! There’s broken lives, broken hearts, and broken relationships; there’s twisted bodies and warped minds and institutional vileness and moral evil all around us; but if we just vote for the right people, if we just pass the right laws, if we just use the right technology, if we just invest in the right companies, we can overcome it!

Listen, the message from the Hallmark holiday movies and the holiday music and the Coke commercials and emails and billboards is that we have it within us. The love and goodwill that exists in each of us is enough to create a world of unity and peace. In other words, we have the light inside us. And if we just work together, we can eradicate the darkness of the world. If we’ll all come together, we can overcome poverty and injustice, violence and evil. With what’s inside us, we can build a world of love and joy and peace.

Really? Can we?

We can’t save ourselves. Have you noticed?

We’ve been trying for centuries. We are completely unable to save ourselves. In fact, believing that we can save ourselves — that education or politics or hard work or some system or ideology  can save us — has only led to more darkness!

See, the Christmas message gives us a very realistic way of looking at life. At it’s core, Christmas is very unsentimental. It’s not mushy or fantasy. Christmas is not, “Cheer up! If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place!” Christmas is not optimistic thinking like, “We can fix the whole world if we try really hard.” And Christmas is not pessimistic doom, either, like, “Things are awful and they’re getting worse and nothing’s ever going to change.”

The heart of Christmas is this: Things really are terrible and we cannot heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark. Everywhere. But, there is great hope.

On those living in deep darkness, a light has dawned.

It’s not, “A great light has sprung up from the world” or “The light has come from the people.” It’s ON the people, a light has dawned. ON the world, a light has come. The light has come from outside us. The hope has come to us from outside the world. Christ Jesus is that salvation light. That light is the Holy Son of God.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not conquered it… The true light that gives life to all people was coming into the world.” ~John 1:4-9

The true light was coming. The eternal light that gives life to all people has come. The one light that shines in the darkness and overcomes the darkness — the light from above, the light from outside us has come!

And we celebrate that light at Christmas. But that’s not really the right word. We stare at it dumbstruck. We’re lost in wonder at it. We fall down on our knees in awe of it. God himself comes to us in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ to provide for us what we simply do not possess, to do for us what we could never do ourselves. He brings to us from outside of us holiness and righteousness and peace.

Peace,

Allan

Godly Fasting

Fasting is not the purely personal thing you might think it is. Fasting is never between just you and God.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the traditional kickoff of forty days of prayer and fasting leading to Easter Sunday. This is the day to confess, the day to throw off the sins that hinder, the day to begin fasting in order to tune yourself to God. A lot of people give up red meat for the Lent season, some sacrifice their iPhones or their TVs, others fast from caffeine or cursing or Little Debbie snack cakes.

That’s good. Fasting and praying to pay better attention to the voice of our Father during this holy season is commendable. I highly recommend it.

But while you’re giving up these physical and tasty delights, why not consider giving up what our Lord gave up.

Instead of just thinking about it, why not begin living it?

Christ Jesus gave up the glory he shared with the Father to redeem us. He gave up all power, all dominion, all wealth, to come to earth to rescue us. Jesus gave up all his rights, he gave up his own honor, he sacrificed his own security and health, to restore us. He gave up his very life.

How about while refraining from chocolate over the next few weeks, you also give up your right to be offended? Since you’re giving up red meat for a season, how about you also try to keep from saying anything bad about anybody else? No caffeine? Sure! How about no asserting your own way for a while? How about sacrificing your demand for fairness for yourself and seek justice for somebody else? How about considering the needs of others more important than your own?

How about making your Ash Wednesday / Lent fast about something more than just you and your self-improvement? It’s not just about you and it’s not just about you and God. Fasting and praying should always result in Christian ministry to others. It should always lead toward meeting the needs of other people.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter,
when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
~Isaiah 58:5-9

Fasting doesn’t do anybody any good unless it leads to doing somebody some real, physical, tangible good in the name of our Lord Jesus who gave up everything to do lasting, eternal, salvation good for us all.

Peace,

Allan

The Light is Dawning

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
~Isaiah 9:2

candleoneI hope this is not a ‘newsflash’ for you, but we are living in a very dark place. It’s dark in Amarillo, Texas.

The homeless rate across the country is going down, but in Amarillo it’s actually going up. Today there are more than 1,200 homeless people in our city. A lot of them are young children, which explains why the average age of a homeless person in Amarillo is eleven.

Sixty-eight-percent of the students in the Amarillo I.S.D. are classified as economically disadvantaged. That number is 71% down the street from our church building at Bivins Elementary — almost three out of four.

Teen pregnancy rates are going down across the U.S., but they’re going up in Amarillo. Texas ranks fourth in the nation in teenage pregnancies and the panhandle has the highest rates in the state, much higher than the national average.

And last year a record number of women were killed in domestic violence incidents in Texas, with Randall and Potter Counties clocking in with the highest rate per capita in the state.

It’s dark in Amarillo.

But our Father in heaven, our God, the eternal Creator of Heaven and Earth, looks down with compassion on his children and says “I will not leave them in this darkness!” God says a light will dawn and his people will rejoice. The yoke will be shattered. The burden will be lifted. The enemy’s tools will be destroyed. Light will shine in the darkness. Victory will come from defeat. Life will spring from death.

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given.”
~Isaiah 9:6

As followers and imitators of the incarnate God who saves us, we are charged with proclaiming that life-giving light of Christ — to preach it and live it, to embody it and share it. God through Christ is defeating the Evil Empire, and we shout that from the rooftops!

And we pay better attention to exactly where our Lord is shining his light around us. We look for it. We anticipate it.

Just in this past year — just in 2016 — Downtown Women’s Center has opened up a transitional housing complex one-and-a-half blocks north of our church building. CareNet has relocated its regional headquarters five blocks east of our building. And two miles west, the brand new principal at Bivins Elementary is giving our church unprecedented — and maybe even questionable — access to the hurting families there.

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God with us is good news of great joy for all people! And I feel like his light is shining right here, like it’s really concentrated right here in our church neighborhood and there’s this giant star right on top of our building and people in Amarillo can see that this is a place where their yoke can be shattered and the rod of their oppression can be broken forever by this light that gives life to all people!

The people of Amarillo and the people of Texas and the people of the United States don’t need a new president or a new form of government. We don’t need more security or more jobs programs or more creative ways to wage war. What people need is Jesus. People need his light.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
~Isaiah 9:7

May the joy and peace of the season by yours today and forever.

Allan

Central’s Resurrection Video

(Here’s the link to the video — “We Believe” — that goes with the following thoughts from the end of our sermon here at Central this past Sunday. Thank you to everyone who participated.)

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” ~Revelation 21:3-4

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Some of us are battling the challenges of old age. Some of us are bravely struggling against cancer. Some of us are mourning the death of loved ones. Some of us were born with disabilities that have impacted every single minute of our lives. Some of us have been limping for years because of something that happened a long time ago. Maybe your life is marked by some kind of tragedy, some past event. Maybe something really dark. And it still impacts you; it’s shaped your whole life. Some kind of violence or abuse, I don’t know. But there’s a wound in your soul, a deep scar. It’s this cloud that’s hanging over you every day — it’s there when you wake up in the morning and it’s there when you go to bed at night. For years. It’s always there.

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice in what I will create… the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard no more.” ~Isaiah 65:17-19

No more fight. No more struggle. No more disappointment or depression. No more battling every day trying to forget and move on. Perfect healing forever. The Lord says, “Write this down. These words are trustworthy and true. It is done!”

We put undo hope in things that can’t deliver. We don’t rely on God like we should; we put more trust in ourselves and our stuff. It’s not because we purposefully downplay or reject the promises of God in Scripture. I think it’s because we don’t slow down enough to allow ourselves time to really reflect.

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Imagine your own resurrected body. Perfectly healed. Inside and out. Top to bottom — body, spirit, soul, heart, mind — all of you, made perfectly new, completely whole. Can you see that? Whatever the ailment, it’s gone. Whatever the physical limitations, whatever the emotional issues, they’re gone. Whatever walls there are between you and your spouse and between you and your children are gone.

Imagine sitting across the table from that loved one who died years ago and eating and drinking together. And laughing. Imagine introducing me to your grandmother. I can’t wait for you to meet mine. Imagine all the cancer and all the worrying about cancer gone. Imagine the guy in the wheelchair running and jumping and rejoicing. Imagine the friend with Alzheimer’s looking right into your eyes and knowing exactly who you are and remembering perfectly everything you’ve ever done together.

Imagine my daughter not wearing hearing aids and hearing my voice clearly, her almost-surgically-repaired feet made completely whole and not killing her every day, being able to communicate everything she wants to communicate to me, and me being able to understand everything about her the way I want.

And imagine nothing between any of us.

“He said to me, ‘It is done!'” ~Revelation 21:6

Peace,

Allan

Good to Be Reminded

It is good for God’s people to be together today. It is good for us to be reminded, to remember together, to affirm together as one people that, yes, this world is being saved. This whole world is being redeemed and restored. Everything is being fixed. Not by politicians or platforms or parties. Not by power or force or money or threat. This world is not being saved by democracy or elections or the media. Salvation is being won by God’s love and mercy and grace. Reconciliation is happening through forgiveness and service and sacrifice. Our salvation and the salvation of the entire planet belongs only to our God through our risen and coming Lord Jesus.

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
~Isaiah 12

It’s good to be reminded.

Peace,

Allan

Heaven and Nature Sing

“Praise the Lord from the heavens… praise the Lord from the earth.” ~Psalm 148

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Scripture tells us clearly that our God is one and that God created with his Word everything that is and he calls it good. God loves his creation. He delights in nature. And in response to that love and delight, all of creation sings praise to God. Heaven and nature sing.

Psalm 148 — the title to the song is “Praise the Lord” — is the most obvious example of this. The psalm is divided into two parts. The first half begins with “Praise the Lord from the heavens” and mentions heavenly bodies and creatures that worship God in song: angels, heavenly hosts, sun, moon, and stars. The second half of the psalm begins “Praise the Lord from the earth” and lists the things of nature that sing to God: great sea creatures, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, winds, mountains, hills, fruit trees, cedars, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, flying birds, kings, all nations, princes, young men, maidens, old men, and children.

Psalm 65 says the meadows and valleys shout for joy and sing. Psalm 98 tells us the rivers clap their hands and the mountains sing together for joy. Isaiah writes that the mountains burst into song, the forests and the trees sing for joy, the hills sing, and the trees of the field clap their hands.

“Let the heavens rejoice, the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. The trees of the forest sing for joy; they sing before the Lord, for he comes.” ~Psalm 96:11-13

All of creation recognizes the Creator and responds with joyful praise and worship. In other words, heaven and nature sing. So when we praise and worship God, we join all of creation in praising and worshiping God together.

The foundational first act of the Story of God is that the Father created the world and everything in it. He loves his creation. God blesses his creation. And at the very center of the Story is the Incarnation. This is our bedrock Christian belief: God so loves the world that he becomes part of it. God Almighty puts on our flesh and blood and comes to his world to bless the world and redeem the world. Incarnation is a confirmation of the world. God comes to this earth in the form of a human baby. And that says something important about the sacredness of creation, how important the world is to God, how valuable to God is the human life into which he came. God is not too good to join us right here. He is not too high and mighty, God is not too holy or proud to come to us on our level and to participate in this earthly human life.

And it really happened.

In this baby Jesus we have God With Us. Immanuel. He came to us. God came here to his creation. And it’s not just a beautiful idea or an abstract theological truth. When we consider God coming to us in the baby Jesus, we’re not talking about a “feeling” of God’s presence or something in our hearts. It really happened. It’s history.

We’re talking about a particular time. The Gospels say it happened in the days of Herod, when he was the king of Judea. When Quirinius was governor of Syria. We’re talking about real geography: in Bethlehem, in Palestine. We’re talking about real politics: a census was being taken, there was the threat of revolution in the air. We’re talking about real economics: his family was poor, Jesus was born in a barn. It really happened.

And when it happened…

“A great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all people!” ~Luke 2:13-14

And…

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard.” ~Luke 2:20

God comes to his creation, he comes here to bless his creation and to live among and redeem his creation. And both heaven and nature sing. Both mighty angels and lowly shepherds sing.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing!

Peace,

Allan

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