Category: Isaiah (Page 1 of 12)

Everything New!

The five most exciting words in all of Scripture are “I am making everything new!” I think the Lord’s words in Revelation 21 and Isaiah 43 are electric with excitement. These five words just crackle with potential and promise. They explode with hope and expectation and possibilities. “I am making everything new!”

We are moving from an old year into a new one. We are also moving toward God’s glorious forever where everything we know is made new. Individually, each of us is always moving somewhere, to something. So let’s be intentional about it. Let’s pay attention to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At GCR this Sunday, we are beginning a new five-weeks sermon series on the story of Naomi and Ruth. The whole story is about moving: from Moab to Israel, from bitter to full, from three funerals to a wedding and a new child, from famine to harvest, from no future to complete redemption. The story is full of ordinary, mundane matters such as family and work, cities and laws, life and death. So much of this story is easily relatable to all of us today. And we see God’s gracious hand at work in the middle of it all to bless his people and bring salvation to the world.

So, yes, the whole stage and front of the GCR Worship Center is filled with moving boxes, bubble wrap, packing tape, and dollies. We are really focusing on the idea of “moving.” We want to embrace and embody the concept of “moving” toward a wonderful place with our Lord and with one another in his will.

I know we just moved into our newly remodeled room. I know. Don’t worry, we are not planning to move out. But, by our God’s amazing grace, we are wanting to “move” into his “everything new.”

Peace,

Allan

Light from Somewhere Else

“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. It’s a famous text that speaks to the coming of the Christ. And it describes the conditions the Christ is coming into as darkness. People walking in darkness. People living in the land of darkness. And we read this a lot at Christmas, but we don’t ever read the verses right before it. The four verses right before it tell 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? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law! And to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, they have no light of dawn! Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 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 know they need help, but they’re looking for it in all the wrong places. They’re looking to the earth, they’re looking to themselves for wisdom and salvation. They’re looking to superstitions, they’re looking to their king, they’re looking to the culture — they’re looking to themselves.

Yes, we’re living in darkness. Yes, things are really messed up. But we can fix it ourselves. Yes, there’s war and violence and injustice and racism. But if we’ll all just love each other, we can fix it. Yes, there’s poverty and hunger and greed and lust. But if we’ll all just give to the right organizations, we can change it. Yes, there’s broken lives and broken hearts and broken relationships; there’s twisted bodies and warped minds and institutional vileness all around us. But if we’ll just vote for the right people, if we’ll just pass the right laws, if we’ll just use the right technology, we can overcome it.

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

Really? Can we?

We can’t save ourselves. Maybe you’ve 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 party politics or hard work or some system or ideology¬† can save us — that’s only led to more darkness!

See, the Christmas message gives us a very realistic way of looking at life. At its 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.”

The heart of Christmas is this: things are really terrible and we cannot heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark. Everywhere. Nevertheless, 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!” It’s not, “The people have finally produced the light!” It’s, “ON the people a light has dawned!” It’s, “ON the world a light has come!” The light has come from outside us. It had to. The hope comes from outside the world. There was never any other way. And that salvation light is Christ Jesus. That light is the promised Messiah, 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 overcome it… The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world.” ~John 1:5-9

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

How? When?

“To us a child is born. To us a Son is given.”

Peace,

Allan

Joy at Advent

The third Sunday of Advent is when God’s people experience and express great joy at the coming of our Lord Jesus. This is the liturgy we’re reading at GCR Church this Sunday. Please use this in any way that would be helpful for you or your church this week.

When God’s people were surrounded by hardship, suffering, and grief, the Lord’s prophet proclaimed in Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives,
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and to provide for those who grieve in Zion.”

We come today as people who are also surrounded by suffering and grief. And yet, the Spirit hovers among us, caring and anointing, inspiring freedom where there is captivity, declaring blessing in places the world has cursed, and in places of mourning and heartache, igniting an unquenchable joy. Our coming Lord Jesus proclaims in John 16:

“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets this anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you. Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy!”

Congregation: We wait as people who experience hardship and pain, yet we are called to witness to the persistent joy that sustains our life as God’s people.

We light this candle as a symbol of our Christian joy. May our lives shine with the joyful Light who lives in our hearts as we wait and work for the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Those Who Expect the Dawn

“To be a Christian is to live every day of our lives in solidarity with those who sit in the darkness and in the shadow of death, but to live in the unshakable hope of those who expect the dawn.”
~ Fleming Rutledge, Advent

The Advent season is the beginning of the Christian calendar; last Sunday was New Year’s Day for followers of Jesus. And the season is intended to remind us that we live between the First and Second Comings.

The Christmas season is unquestionably a time of great joy. We celebrate the coming of our  Messiah, the holy Son of God. He comes to us in a flesh-and-blood human, the ultimate inbreaking of heaven into earth that redeems us and begins the restoration of all things. We celebrate that gracious gift of God by giving gifts to one another, by gathering together with family and friends and other Christians to sing and praise, by giving generously to those in need, by decorating our homes and church buildings, by forgiving and showing mercy.

But this Advent season is also a time for painful yearning. Right now, we only see glimpses of the Kingdom of God on earth. The kingdoms of men and women are much more obvious. We see terror and violence in the Holy Lands, war and oppression in Ukraine and Myanmar. Poverty and racism and division. Suicide rates still going up. Our society seems increasingly lost in chaos and confusion, aimlessness and animosity.

This is where we are, between our Lord’s First and Second Comings. The glory of what our God has done and is doing through Christ Jesus calls to us and fills us with hope. But we also mourn for this broken world and for fractured people. We long for God’s perfect justice and peace. We pray for reconciliation and unity, for healing and grace. We long for his Kingdom to come on this earth fully and for his will to be done here just as it is in heaven.

The light dawned on this world in a manger in Bethlehem almost two thousand years ago. And we celebrate.

The dawn is also still coming. And we pray. Lord, come quickly.

“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…
They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest…
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end…
The Zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
~Isaiah 9:2-7

Peace,
Allan

Peace at Advent

This is the liturgy we are using this Sunday at GCR, the second Sunday of the Advent Season. I’m posting these on each of the four Tuesdays of Advent. Please use this in preparation for this Sunday here in Midland, use this in your own private Word and Prayer time this week, or use this at your own congregation.

In the days when God’s people longed for peace, the prophet declared from Isaiah 2:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised over the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.
Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
~Isaiah 2:3-5

We who gather today also seek comfort and peace. Yet we are not satisfied with ideas of peace that tell us to just keep quiet and go with the flow. We long for real peace, true peace, just peace. The peace promised by our Lord Jesus in John 14:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
~John 14:27

Congregation: We wait as people who yearn for the perfect peace that bears the Kingdom of God fruit of community, equity, and flourishing for all people.

We light this candle as a symbol of God’s perfect peace. May this be a beacon calling us to repent and to live the Good News of Jesus Christ, as we wait and work for the day when all people can gather to worship and glorify God together. Amen.

The Creator is Still Creating

The word “create” is used six times in Genesis 1-2. It’s used seventeen times in Isaiah.

In Isaiah, God’s prophet is speaking to God’s people who are living in a dark and dreadful place. Because of their sin, they have been separated from the place God put them. They’ve been scattered and driven away by the Babylonian Empire. They’re living in exile in a foreign land. But God promises that because he created them and saved them and because he loves them, he’s going to create in them and for them something brand new.

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket
or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?…
…Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?…
…Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry hosts one by one, and calls them each by name…
…Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth!”
~Isaiah 40:12-28

The Spirit of God who hovered over the deep darkness in the beginning continues to move, he continues to create. Genesis 1-2 is not just telling us how the world began. It’s not just an origin story to tell us how the sun was made and how the elephant got its name. It is a testimony to the ongoing creation work of God’s Spirit in our world right now.

“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I, the Lord, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert the cedar and acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know, may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”
~Isaiah 41:17-20

The word “create” is not just what God did one time for one week a long time ago. “Create” is what God does today for his saved and called people. The men and women he has placed on this earth and given life and purpose — God creates in them and for them still!

“This is what God the Lord says —
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:
I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand…
…See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare!
Before they spring into being I announce them to you!”
~Isaiah 42:5-9

God’s people felt so uncreated in captivity. They felt so empty and dark, so unformed and unfit for where they were and what was happening around them and to them. Isaiah brings every detail of the Genesis creation stories right into the present, right into their lives and their place right now. God reminds his people, “Hey, I’m the Creator! I make brand new things out of nothing! I shine light into darkness! I bring life to where there isn’t any!”

“Everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made…
…I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.”
~Isaiah 43:7, 15

This is creation language from Genesis. I made you. I formed you. I created you. You don’t think I can do it again?

“I have made you, you are my servant;
O Israel, I will not forget you.
I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me, for I have redeemed you…
…This is what the Lord says — your Redeemer who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord, who has made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself.”
~Isaiah 44:21-24

Nothing Israel could do was going to make any difference. God’s people were standing around empty-handed and confused. It was dark and they were dead. They were helpless. Hopeless. Nothing made sense anymore. Everything they were experiencing was totally foreign from what they thought they knew. The only hope they had was for God to do in them and for them something only God can do: create.

“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 forever in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more.”
~Isaiah 65:17-19

God, create in us something new. Breathe in us, O God. Form us. Make us. Bring to us your light and life. Create in us your Spirit and your holy image.

God’s Spirit is near. God’s Spirit is hovering over our darkness and emptiness and our sins. God’s Spirit is moving.

Peace,

Allan

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