The Promise

A promise represents the sacred bond that we have in our various relationships. Broken promises are tantamount to broken relationships and deteriorate our connection. The Scriptures look at promises in various forms, such as oaths and covenants, made between leaders and their community and between leaders and other leaders. These serve to maintain order in society and build trust between partners. 

Oaths, covenants, and vows connect us. They are used in contracts, and they ensure that we keep our word. However, Jesus promises us, and because of the trust built up with His disciples and, by proxy, us, we are assured that the promise of the Holy Spirit is not just idle talk but a living presence of God that watches over us individually and corporately as the Church. Jesus addresses the disciples about the change that is coming and how they need to prepare in John chapter 14.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 14:15–21.

The open bookend of the promise begins with a connection between love and obedience. Jesus preempts the promise by imploring the followers of God to remain obedient to God’s law. This reminder is that any promise, oath, covenant, or contract is made among multiple participants and that there is a responsibility to carry out the contract by all parties. We might be tempted to skip to the part where Jesus promises us Holy Spirit, but Jesus reminds us that we can’t passively receive, but God requires our participation. Love and obedience don’t come easy for us, but if we look at what we receive, it seems very little in comparison. When we look at any relationships that don’t have a promise or oath connecting them, we can see love and trust; therefore, how much more love, trust, and honor can we give our Heavenly Father? 

While the covenant begins with our trust, the bulk of the promise details God’s part in caring for us. Just as Jesus walked with the disciples, gave them teachings, and cared for them by providing them with a better way to live, even when Jesus no longer walks with them, there is a promise of another helper in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The promise that those who trust in God will receive the Holy Spirit and not be left alone speaks to us poignantly today as a loneliness epidemic has arisen. 

Even in a world that has more opportunities to connect than any previous generation, people spend less time connecting with one another. The trend started with the advent of social media and got increasingly worse as we became people that increasingly moved our lives online. Even the biggest outdoor advocates also ensure that they have a dynamic online presence. However, the online presence ensures we see only in part, not the whole, of a person. Therefore, people are often broken into pieces and oversimplified to the point that they lose humanity and become only a topic or issue. We think we are connecting, but in reality, we ensure that fewer people get access to our true selves. We disconnect from reality and exchange for a false reality.

God calls us back from disconnection through the promise. This promise has nothing to do with introverts or extroverts because we all need connection. The Holy Spirit provides a connection to the Almighty God while at the same time connecting each of Jesus’ followers to each other. This promise provides opportunity and access to the cure for loneliness, a deep connection to one another. Jesus welcomes the whole person, inviting us into a relationship with God and the church. 

The promise also extends to cure us of sin, which causes the disease of loneliness and brokenness. Ultimately, our sin broke our connection to God, which created the need for Jesus to save us. Therefore, Jesus reminds us that through His resurrection, our sin no longer keeps us away from a relationship with God; therefore, we cannot allow our sin to prevent us from connecting with one another. How many relationships have left our lives because of unresolved conflicts where we have not sought reconciliation? Jesus came to die for those irreconcilable differences. Thus, we cannot harbor bitterness and anger for each other because God has called us to do something more. For bitterness leads to suffering and loneliness, but God’s promise leads to connection and joy.

Jesus closes the bookend of the promise by reminding us that God’s love is available to everyone. We are called to obedience and to love God, but that obedience and love are met with an abundance of love that comes to us through a connection with the Almighty God that is embedded with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit dwells with us, we must remain at peace with all people and strive for connection and reconciliation with people, just as Jesus brought us to hope through His death and resurrection.

Becoming Building Blocks

The church can be a mighty fortress, or it can be a crumbling ruin. Too often in the current climate, we think that the church’s physical structure must be paramount and luxurious for the world to come and see the beauty and purpose of God. However, God builds the church with the people of God. All of it depends on the people that make up the structure. Upon the people of the church, a building is built to shine for the people of the community. People will look upon the church community and determine whether this collection of people will give life or take energy from its neighbors. Christ intends for the church to be a lighthouse, and we must allow God to build us into that mighty fortress. However, if we take our direction and power from anything outside of God, we become a ruinous shack that breaks down and pulls our community down with us. 

As we look at Peter’s instructions to the church, we find guidance on how we can be made into the fortress of God as a church and church members.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 2:1–11.

Everything begins with purification. The Kingdom of God has no room for deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander. These items introduce cracks into the bricks that prevent the building from establishing a solid connection with one another and the community. We cannot accept a little bit to promote growth or to achieve a better result. This negotiation introduces impurities, leading to broken trust and hurt within our communities. As Peter states that we must be a church that “longs for the pure spiritual milk.”  Pure scripture reading without all the filler our society brings into the Word of God. Both conservative and liberal readings of Scripture, used to bring an agenda forward, have no place in the community of God. Still, instead, we must get back to the core of becoming pure and focusing on loving God and our neighbor. With our focus on God’s purpose for the church, we allow ourselves to eliminate the impurities and build up the Kingdom of God.

Once purified, the church readies itself to approach Jesus. Jesus is the cornerstone that the church builds upon and grows. For the blocks of the church to become useful, they must first approach the building process as followers of Jesus, making ourselves emulate how Jesus lived and ready ourselves for the same type of refinement that following Jesus brings. This continual refining process ensures that cracks do not form and that the building may guide the community to Jesus.  Occasionally, the blocks may begin to think they are foundational and that the other blocks should look more like themselves. Nobody comes before Jesus, the church must remember that we need to look at everything we do, and if anything is not pointing to the love of Christ, then it must be tossed into the refining fire. Fissures and breaks will form and taint the entire building if we neglect this task. The blocks must constantly guide people to becoming more like Jesus.

As we engage with the work of the Kingdom of God, guiding people to Jesus, we understand that we have been picked to do this work by God. Like any good builder, God looked through the materials and ensured that the proper materials were selected among many. We can make excuses about not participating or sharing the Gospel. Still, Peter reminds us that God selected us to carry out this task and that no one should think of themselves as “not up to the task” because God does not make mistakes when selecting the building materials for the church. God wants us to bring light to the world, and as God’s selected block to build the church, we must ensure that we keep the block sturdy and ready for God’s tasks and purposes. 

Peter concludes this section by reminding us that God calls us to remain focused on the task and glorify God in all circumstances. People may look at the church and its building, but God needs the heart of the people of God to remain focused on doing good and sharing the goodness of God, for God chooses to build the church with the building blocks that were hand selected for the task of building the church of God. This task is for you and me to become holy, share God’s message, and guide the world to the light as God’s chosen people. Let us remind ourselves daily that a disciple’s task is building the church for the glory of God. Let us make ourselves into a robust structure free from defects and bring light into the darkness.

Where Is Our Trust?

Looking at the current discourse environment, a constant vacillating force is guiding us about how we should live in the world. A danger exists that we get swept up in anger and frustration, and our actions and words create havoc and distress. Ultimately, as we look at the teachings from Scripture, we would not be swayed to give into bitterness and violent behavior. Our hearts would remain focused on striving after peace, even if our lives are not peaceful. Our behavior must align with righteousness, goodness, and grace to remain focused on living in peace. In turbulent times we are most prone to slipping off this ideal, but if we place our trust in Christ Jesus and the results of His suffering, we have an anchor leading us to a transformed understanding and living. 

Peter reminds us where our minds should be focused during these times in 1 Peter 2:19-25.

19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 2:19–25.

We are surrounded by injustice. Some of the injustices we encounter have existed as long as there have been humans, while others are brand new; however, all originate with sin, a separation from God’s ideal. It is far too familiar for Christians to claim injustice when it might be confused with inconvenience. Still, we must carefully approach this allegation, understanding that God calls us to be aware of the various areas in our world where justice is denied to the poor and powerless. When we focus only on how injustice affects us personally, we participate further in the chaotic nature of injustice. God seeks to root out the negative ways that injustice affects those genuinely powerless. Trusting in God allows God to transform our thinking to fight against the actual oppression of sin in our world.

As our minds are transformed to seeking justice and peace, God will guide our hearts toward living in righteousness. Many of our misplaced accusations of injustice come from the consequences of ungodly living. This is not injustice, nor is the suffering we experience building character. During these periods, we need to seek repentance. Our hearts must focus on doing good, and anything that pulls us away from God’s goodness must be cast aside. Doing this guides us back to righteousness, which allows our eyes to see God’s holiness and helps lead us. When we find ourselves in an unenviable position because of the sin in our hearts, we might cry out, asking for salvation from our predicament. Jesus Christ did come to save us from our sins and established peace and justice, which had previously been absent.

God is the primary actor in bringing peace and justice through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Our minds and eyes will stray; however, Jesus brings us back after He pursues our hearts endlessly. This pursuit of our salvation comes because Jesus seeks to restore us and restore peace and justice in the world. Therefore, at times, life is going to be difficult and seem unfair, but during these moments, we must focus on the sacrifice of Jesus and trust that God is carrying us through the most challenging junctures. While Jesus calls us to pursue justice and righteousness, we also understand that none of this is possible without the sacrifice of the Holy Son.

If we trust that Jesus came to do what He said, then our hearts will be moved to honor God with all of our heart, mind, strength, and soul. We don’t wallow in our circumstances; instead, we look for opportunities to help others and bring justice to those trapped in chaotic cycles. In all things, we work to maintain or restore the righteousness in our living, which is the best and most wholesome act of worship. This worship is not because we need to act for God, but God acts because the all-powerful Creator of the universe loves us and acts on our behalf. Therefore, we should trust in Jesus because He already showed Himself trustworthy.

When In Doubt, Do Good

With the internet’s emergence and social media’s advent, innumerable voices claim absolute truth. Even among Christian sources, there is a lack of unity of thought and several competing voices. While the internet amplifies the differences, they are not new. Splits in the Christian church date back to Acts 15, where disputes among differing factions caused not a minor issue regarding circumcision. With so many competing voices, it can be hard to know which voices we should listen to and which lead us to the truth. Jesus was repeatedly challenged regarding how to follow the Sabbath properly, and his response should guide us whenever we have doubts about what is right to do when we are uncertain of the truth. Matthew 12 shows us an example of how Jesus handled the opposition.

9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 12:9–14.

As Jesus verbally danced with the Pharisees regarding what was lawful during the Sabbath, Jesus directed us to question the source of their truth. The scriptures direct us to observe the Sabbath and keep it set apart, but the Pharisees added to it, as laid out in the Talmud and other commentary-esque literature. They placed restrictions on some tasks because they might lead to transgression, but not a transgression. However, there was also the ability to allow a Rabbi to state that some actions were necessary, which is what Jesus references about the allowing of saving a sheep. When we look to our source of truth in the scriptures, we must refrain from mixing up interpretation or commentary with the plain language of the text. Many of us come from differing traditions that interpret Scripture differently, but we must hold to the source of truth as Scripture and that our traditions are lesser than the truth found in Scripture.

Traditions lead to disputes because we come from different backgrounds and want to think the best of our interpretations. Too often, we lean into the thoughts originating in our background, but looking at scripture honestly will open our eyes to differing interpretations of the exact text. The Pharisees could only see their traditional observation of the Sabbath as truth; anything outside of that observation was worthy of death. Therefore, they get flustered and angered when Jesus pokes a hole in their understanding through their tradition of exception. If we get frustrated that someone doesn’t view Scripture the way we do, we must look back to the Scriptures as a whole and strive for peace with God and others. Jesus directs us to the purpose of the Sabbath, not the practice. We must understand why God created the Sabbath, and it was certainly not to hold people in suffering but to create space for worship. How better to worship God than to liberate someone from a life of pain and suffering?

The Gospel liberates the world’s people from their separation from God, bringing peace between God and humanity. Therefore, our interactions with people in the name of the Gospel should bring peace and unity, not division and strife. Jesus brought healing to the man at the synagogue, bringing about a wholeness previously withheld because of the day of the week. He gave the afflicted life, which was authorized by the purpose of the Sabbath. Even though this conflicted with the Pharisees, Jesus reminded them that the Sabbath could not be oppressive but liberating to worship. Most of the time, we won’t come to a consensus about how we understand all the Scriptures. Still, as long as what we are doing is giving life and guiding people toward freedom in Christ, then we represent the Gospel, and our differences are inconsequential.

When we strive to find out how to understand what God wants us to hold as truth, there is far too much noise generated by the many opinions and traditions in the world. The Scriptures guide us to God’s purpose for us, which is to bring peace to the chaos all around, and instead of shouting about our differences, God calls us to unity in the Gospel. The Gospel brings life and not disunity and separation. Therefore, the Gospel will always lead us toward doing good and helping alleviate suffering and pain. Even if our actions may cause others to see us as doing something wrong, if we bring good to our community, it will always outweigh the need to follow a legalistic tradition.

Open Doors To Mercy

From time to time, we all find ourselves in places and with people that make us uneasy and feel like we are out of place. As Jesus ministered to the people, He encountered many who felt this way, and those that did have social belonging, Jesus challenged. In John 3, Jesus encounters Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had full standing within the community, and Jesus makes him question his previous understandings and put Nicodemus unease. Therefore, someone that had always belonged suddenly had to question their belonging.

How many of us have walked into a room and questioned whether we belonged in that place? We might feel as if the people all know each other, or they all dress differently than us, or we might not have the qualifications to be present in this group. Churches and other organizations must muster feelings of belonging to help retain people. However, the belonging must be authentic, just as Jesus shows to people throughout the Gospels.

The transition to John 4 shows Jesus traveling into Samaria, where the observant Jews would not want to speak with any locals because history has dictated the separation of these two related peoples. We allow history and propaganda to be a rationale for separating and breaking down the idea that we or others belong. If we hold tight to Jesus, we belong; if we hold tight to Jesus, we will recognize that others also belong, no matter their background. 

Jesus opens belonging to a Samaritan woman and all of us as He speaks to her at Jacob’s well. Jesus opens the door to mercy to this woman and shares freedom from our sin and everlasting life.

So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” 43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. 

John 4:5-42 (ESV)

Many of us come from backgrounds that don’t fit perfectly into the image of an ideal Christian. There are things we have said or done that, in the eyes of God, would preclude us from joining the Kingdom of God. We are sinners and do not deserve any of the blessings of God. Our sin should prevent us from the glory of God, and standing next to Jesus in even our best behavior, we would look as if we do not belong, and thus because of our sin, we deserve death. Due to our sin, we identify with the woman in Samaria. Her sin and her nationality would have kept her away from Jesus. She did not belong, and we do not belong.

In Jesus’ exhausted state, He offers the woman mercy and grace. He approaches the woman and speaks with her in His first act of mercy. She was astonished and shocked because for years, she had been treated as subhuman due to the place she was born and then her sinful lifestyle, but Jesus addressed her humanity. The woman did not know how to respond, but Jesus reveals His divinity to her regardless of societal position. Similarly, Jesus showed us grace and mercy by coming to save us while we were still caught in the trappings of sin. The woman doesn’t immediately understand Jesus’ requests or statements, but Jesus doesn’t retract the benefit due to her misunderstanding. He offers her mercy and invites her into the Kingdom. Mercy opens the door to the Kingdom of God to us.

Just as the door to the Kingdom of God was opened to us through the mercy of Jesus, we need to be merciful with the people that surround us, even those that have harmed us in the past. We are not called to be gatekeepers but rather to help people find their way to the mercy seat of God. Jesus reminds the disciples that they have a task even in their lack of understanding. They are called to bring people before God, sharing with the world the Gospel message. A harvest is waiting, even though they did not plant the crops. God calls His people to answer the message by sharing merciful Grace with everyone, even those that have rejected them. We are both the harvest and the harvesters, and God desires to use us to spread the Gospel to all. Mercy is the invitation, and we must be willing to share mercy indiscriminately.

Jesus providing a merciful offering of grace to the people of Samaria led to a transformation in the community. People that were once shut off from access to God in Jerusalem find freedom and favor in Jesus as they receive life everlasting. We were once shut off from life with God because of sin. However, Jesus’ death and resurrection opened access to the Gospel and transformed life in God’s Kingdom. Those who have received mercy must now share that same mercy with those around us, even if it doesn’t seem like they belong. Through Christ, we now belong and have access to a new life in the Holy Spirit.

Becoming Brand New

Naturally, when we enter any new season, we seek to improve. We put on new routines and habits to improve our health, financial standing, and spiritual walk or faith. Several people will enter our purview and offer us some fad diet, new financial scheme, or even some new spiritual way to engage with God, but through the instruction of Jesus, the only way we truly become new is to give ourselves over to the radical transformation we are offered in following Christ Jesus.

Lent offers many of the same opportunities that the new year promises, but we must be aware that this is not just a time to start something new for the sake of starting something new. Rather we are called to reflect sincerely on what we have in our lives that draw us near to Christ and what things pull us away. Just as God made the Sabbath for humanity, God also gives us Lent to reflect on becoming a new creation and put ourselves in a position to serve God more fully.

We now reflect on the transformation Jesus offers Nicodemus and, in turn, the promise God makes for humanity by sending Jesus to the world. 

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:1-17(ESV)

Nicodemus saw the ministry of Jesus, and based on the face value, he knew that Jesus was more than just a good teacher, but that he had something different than the other teachers. Even today, we see teachers and leaders that show or promise great things, and we have a strange appeal to them. We often find ourselves looking at these teachers like Nicodemus looks at Jesus. However, when Jesus opens His mouth in response to Nicodemus, we see the difference between Jesus and someone just telling us something that sounds good because Nicodemus is befuddled by Jesus and needs further clarification.

Literalism and preconceptions often tie us down to our current understandings, or they cause us to throw everything out and fall into a lie. While Nicodemus certainly did not think Jesus was saying that one needs to come out of a literal womb a second time, he did need help guiding him to the fact that we all need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus explains and does not rebuke. If we have trouble understanding, don’t settle for a literal understanding that doesn’t make sense, but rather we must go before God and ask for guidance.

As we seek guidance from the Lord, we must allow ourselves to be made new: mind, body, and soul. Some preconceptions need to be let go. As we encounter Jesus, we must be willing to let go of everything that we once thought and cherished for the sake of the kingdom of God. When we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us inside and out, we come face-to-face with our need to embrace our need for God in all areas of our life and not just superficially call out to God.

It was here that Nicodemus still struggled to hear what Jesus was proclaiming. He still wanted to hold onto the teachings, but Jesus said you need to be made fully new and let go of everything you held onto. Jesus tells him that he needs to give up everything and follow him and that if he chooses to continue in his old ways, it would be worse for him if he had never encountered Jesus and His teaching. Often the teaching we grew up on is ultimately the hardest thing to give up.

Jesus, throughout His ministry, asks people to give up everything and follow Him. This is the only way we can truly embrace the transformation of the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus struggled to let go of teaching, and the rich young ruler struggled to give up possessions. What do we struggle to give up? During the season of Lent, we often embrace giving up for a season, but Jesus asks us to give up everything to follow Him. However, Jesus gave up everything for our salvation.

God sent Jesus to save us, not condemn us. This requires a change of our mindset and a transformation of our hearts. God’s mission for us is to become new and transformed by the Holy Spirit. We are called to share this good news with the world and invite them to a relationship with the Holy One, the Creator of the Universe, because God loves us and His creation. May we not tarry to partake in this transformation, but may we be a people that are transformed and continually transforming into the new creation God calls us toward.

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Ash Wednesday opens up the season of Lent. This is typically a season where we focus on our relationship with God through reflection, sacrifice, renewal, and prayer. We examine how the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert after fasting for forty days and forty nights, and the devil subjected him to temptation. As we reflect on the devil’s temptations of Jesus, we can find that they are enticing and similar to our daily temptations. This Lenten season should be a season where we not only reflect on how we should respond to temptation but also as a time to prepare our hearts and minds for representing God in the way we act and speak.

Just as Jesus fasted during Lent, we can practice other disciplines to strengthen us to live obedient lives during this season. One of the most common Lenten practices is fasting, where individuals give up certain types of food or drink for self-denial and spiritual discipline. Some people choose to fast from all food for certain periods, while others give up certain types of food, such as meat or sweets. Many people use the season of Lent as a time of increased prayer and spiritual reflection. This may involve attending extra church services, praying the Stations of the Cross, or setting aside dedicated time for personal prayer and meditation. Some people use Lent to read and reflect on the Bible more deeply. This may involve reading through specific books or passages of the Bible, using daily devotionals or other reading plans, or attending Bible study groups. Lent is also a time for confession and repentance, where individuals may examine their lives and seek to turn away from sinful behaviors. Giving to the poor or performing acts of charity is another common Lenten practice. This may involve donating money or goods to a local charity, volunteering at a soup kitchen or food bank, or performing other acts of kindness for those in need.

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 4:1–11.

The narrative of Jesus in the desert follows the baptism by John and the Lord’s proclamation about Jesus as the Son of God. Instead of utilizing this proclamation as a powerful statement and marching through the region, Jesus fasts and prepares Himself for the temptations that will come. This forty days and forty nights parallels Israel’s forty years in the desert. However, Jesus succeeded where Israel failed. Jesus comes to bring victory where before we have only known failure.

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

We want to be safe and secure, but we also often do things or eat things that are appealing more than doing things we need to do. When we are hungry, we will want to eat. Too often, however, we will fulfill that desire with that which is present more than we need. This is where we get the idea of not grocery shopping when hungry. God knows what we need, and it is imperative that we ask God to guide us to fill our needs and then look to where God can use us to fill the needs of others. Our sustenance and fulfillment cannot be found in purely material possessions or food, but we must lean into prayer, read the scriptures, and strengthen our relationship with God.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Jesus knew that he had power, but that God’s Will is what we need to be obedient to for the sake of the Kingdom of God, not for our own sake. This is the magic spell test. We think that if we say the right prayers, read the right scriptures, or do the right disciplines; then God will do what we want. We are tempted to manipulate God to our will. God loves us and wants good for our lives, but in our obedience to God, we are not to attempt to persuade God to give us more because we are good, because our good is like filthy rags when compared to Jesus.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”

Power and wealth will attempt to lead us toward serving something other than God. However, they will lead us into a dangerous, self-serving spiral that pulls us away from God. The temptation that Jesus would have felt was something that was not sacrificial but rather self-serving and would have led to a power that would have been something that some Jews would have expected. The worship of the world’s power is enticing but winds up bowing to something less than God. When the followers of Jesus eschew the power offered by the world and lean into the sacrificial love of Jesus, we do not allow the world to dictate what power looks like and embrace the power found in God’s love.

Obedience to God won’t have the look of triumphant self-assertion, nor by embracing power and authority, but only through humility, service, and suffering. Let us be mindful of the temptations we face and seek to overcome them through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us rely on the Word of God for sustenance and trust in his will for our lives. And let us serve only God, seeking to honor him in all we do. During the march toward Easter, we remember that God is the true source of power in the world and that even though we face temptation, through practicing obedience, the Holy Spirit will empower us to defeat the temptations in our lives and live obediently to the will of God.

Occupied with The Word

There are too many things begging us to pay attention to them, and we want to give equal attention to them all. Work wants us to do one thing, our family requires our attention over here, I need to get that project done on the house, exercise is important for our health, I need to run any number of errands, I want to hang out with friends, etc. The lists and number of things screaming at us for attention are far too numerous for us to fully give our attention to any of them.

Let me draw our attention to one verse in Acts 18. As Paul was in Corinth, where he went after leaving Athens, his partners in ministry had not yet arrived, but Paul went to work. Paul shared the Word, and the ESV interprets the author’s language as “occupied with the word”. The Greek understanding of this phrase shows that Paul was completely absorbed in knowing, understanding, and sharing the scriptures and the Gospel with the people of Corinth.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.  Acts 18:5 (ESV)

This level of absorption is the type of singular focus that he probably did not alter his course just because his partners in ministry had shown up. He most likely welcomed them as they arrived, but his focus and devotion to the scriptures, toward sharing the Gospel, and preaching to the people guided everything else in his life.

As a church and as Christians, we need to be occupied with the Word in such a way that everything in our life is informed by our study of the Gospel and the Word of God. How we treat our family, how we work, how we spend time with friends, how we take care of chores, how we speak with strangers, even how we exercise, all of this and more need to be treated in a way that is informed by the scriptures and the Gospel, such that when our people arrive they will see us occupied with The Word.

Instead of Anger or Fear, We Respond With Prayer

We survived another election. Our newspapers, social media sites, and televisions displayed messages based on our greatest fears in the lead-up to the election. Election advertising relies heavily upon frightening us into voting one way or another. We are familiar with the screen that turns black and white and displays something that we should really be afraid of happening. The sight of boarded-up buildings prepares our minds for violence and invokes fear in our hearts. With division, we turn to fear, and these are divided and frightening times.

With all elections, there are winners and losers. You may be pleased with the results, you may be displeased with the results, or you may be in a wait-and-see position with what might still happen. Still, no matter how you feel about the victors or the victors-to-be, your trust must be firmly planted in the Lord, and not in our worldly leaders, because only God can bring us peace and deliver us from our fears.

The Fear In Jerusalem

Turning to Isaiah and how they responded to their circumstances, they had a rationale for their fright. The enemy was literally at the gates of Jerusalem, and Isaiah is telling us about a threatening letter sent from the Assyrian leader to Hezekiah, Judah’s king. This letter taunted Hezekiah and reminded him of the Assyrians’ great military successes, and resistance was futile. They can either comply or face destruction. Sennacherib, Assyria’s king, even went as far as telling the people of Judah that the gods of the surrounding nations could not put down the assaults of their nation. In the eyes of this Assyrian king, faith was futile and powerless to stand up to their great military might.

Isaiah 37:14-20 (NIV)

14Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 

16“Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. 18“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

Hezekiah’s Response To Sennacherib

Sennacherib sends his message to Hezekiah, that Judah must bend to his will or else Jerusalem will suffer the consequences. Specifically, Sennacherib claims that their God will not save them, but that Jerusalem will fall just like all the other nations that have been conquered around them. This is a direct challenge to God’s power and integrity. Hezekiah spreads this letter out as if before God to read as he bows in prayer. The action symbolizes his need for God’s guidance and his willingness to do God’s will. In contrast with his first prayer of fear, the king now bows in the presence of God with a trust that gives us a model for prayer.

Our Response to Fear

Naturally, we may want to lash out or get angry at the ways of the world, but without first relenting to being the person that God wants us to be in all situations, then we mistake the dangers of the world as being equal to or greater than God. This is how fear encourages us to act. However, when things look menacing or attempting to bring you to a place where you are just going to yield to fear, our first reaction must be to look to God and pray. As Hezekiah’s response guides us, lay everything out before God, and allow God to instruct us on our behavior, let God calm our hearts, and let God bring peace in response to the turmoil. 

1. All news: good, bad, or indifferent; must be presented to God in prayer.

Sennacherib sends his message to Hezekiah, that Judah must bend to his will or else Jerusalem will suffer the consequences. Specifically, Sennacherib claims that their God will not save them, but that Jerusalem will fall just like all the other nations that have been conquered around them. This is a direct challenge to God’s power and integrity. Hezekiah spreads this letter out as if before God to read as he bows in prayer. The action symbolizes his need for God’s guidance and his willingness to do God’s will. In contrast with his first prayer of fear, the king now bows in the presence of God with a trust that gives us a model for prayer.

Hezekiah’s example reminds us that when we encounter any news, instead of being overly jubilant or worried, we must take all news before the Lord in prayer. We are taught by his example that, when pressured, God calls us to cast our burdens upon Him. Any other response will be less than effective and any other methods of relief will be fruitless. God doesn’t require our prayers, nor tears, nor complaints to know what we need; for he “knows our wants and needs before we ask anything from him.” (Matt. 6:8.) By laying out our burdens before God, we acknowledge that God knows what we need and we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and give us what we need at this time.

In our divided state right now, there is a lot of trepidation and fear about what will happen in our country and the world based on our election results. Worry and fear will drive us to react in unpredictable ways; it will trigger fight or flight mechanisms in our brains. God, instead of reacting to the situation with our own response, asks us to lay them down before Him and let go of the fear and allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts. Instead of grumbling at the state of the world, we respond with thanksgiving in our hearts that God has given us this opportunity to serve His Kingdom at this point in history. The world has been filled with good leaders and bad leaders, but none of them has taken control away from the Lord.

2. Recognize that God is greater than anything we encounter.

As Hezekiah begins this prayer, he proclaims God’s greatness and details the character of the one to whom he prays. Instead of starting his prayer with his problems, Hezekiah acknowledges that God is greater than his current circumstance and places his confidence in God instead of merely whining at God. His prayer begins with worship. Hezekiah proclaims the following: God Almighty, Lord over all Israel, the enthroned King over all the Earth, and the Creator of All. With this opening to prayer, Hezekiah acknowledges that God can change this based on God’s character. From that point, Hezekiah can then turn his prayer to acknowledging that this God can hear and see the predicament in which Israel finds itself. That the threats of Assyria threaten and insult Israel, which is a direct affront to God. Hezekiah’s heart and mind become affixed upon worship and not simple pleading for aid, which serves as a guide to how we ought to pray; not with simple pleading, but with worship filled hearts.

When we start our prayers with worship, we set our minds upon the one to whom we pray instead of focusing upon ourselves and our problems. Oftentimes we look to our concerns, and the enormity of God could swallow them up. Christians for ages have been praying The Lord’s Prayer, and it too starts with, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name…” This prayer also starts with the focus upon God. There is nothing that we encounter in this life that is greater than God. Disease, violence, war, pestilence, poverty, and strife all plague our world, but God is greater than all those problems. Even if we look at our current mood, no matter how any election results may lead us to dismay or rejoicing, God is still greater than any leader in any country, including the United States. Therefore, as we pray, we need to remember to whom we pray and that God will hear our prayers, and God will see us; therefore, we must place our trust and hope solely upon the Almighty God.

3. Acknowledge the circumstances and ask God to guide our thoughts and behavior.

Hezekiah did not turn a blind eye to the dangers posed by the Assyrians; instead, he gave them over to God. You look at the path of destruction that Assyria had followed, and there is reason to hear the words of Sennacherib and be afraid. However, as he prays out the path of destruction, the words out of his mouth turn their path of destruction showed that the Assyrians had conquered gods made by man and not the one true God. When looking at the circumstances of attackers at their gates, breathing threats against him, Hezekiah is turning to God that cannot be defeated by this force, no matter the results of any battle. However, Hezekiah asks for God’s aid, not for the people’s sake, but for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

There are people and things in our world that are scary and have damaged lives, and when we encounter them, we cannot ignore them or diminish the dangers. How many people have died from cancer? How many people have succumbed to COVID? How many people have died from the results of any of the world’s wars? The world is a dangerous place, and many things are sending their letters of threats to our lives. Hezekiah’s prayer shows us that instead of ignoring the dangers, we must acknowledge them and put them before God in our prayers. It isn’t because God doesn’t understand that there is danger, but rather God wants us to trust that He will take care of all of these concerns. Acknowledgment of the danger, allows our hearts to let God’s voice speak to the source of our fear, and redirect our minds to the power of God in our world. 

Our response to the election could lead us toward fear or rallying behind the topics we support, but as we read Isaiah, we are shown that Hezekiah gives a great example of how we are to pray about our nation and our world. We must lay out the results before God and pray. God knows more than we know about the result of our elections, but we need to let go of our feelings and allow God to instruct our hearts. As we lay down the results before God, we then acknowledge that God is the true King of the world and that we are called to pray that our leaders acknowledge God’s power to heal the pain in our world. We then acknowledge that no matter the threats our world faces, God is in control and has the power to bring grace into our circumstances. There are good leaders, and there are bad leaders, but God is always in control, and we need to humble ourselves to ask God to guide us no matter what.

Called From The People To The People

For many years, we have been attending church without realizing that our calling goes beyond just attending church, but instead, to be the church. Being the church requires us to recognize who we are, recognize our sin, and recognize that our humanity is an asset as we approach our community with the Gospel.

As we look through the first five chapters of Isaiah, we see that God admonishes Israel for not being any different than the world around them, and, unfortunately, this will lead to consequences. Judah will fall into the hands of its oppressors, and invaders will cast the people into exile. When we speak with people, we mustn’t do so thinking we’re better than the world. We are equals with the world, we are sinful, we are guilty, and it is Jesus Christ that came and took away our guilt; therefore, our salvation does not come from self-righteousness but the righteousness of Christ.

Isaiah, like us, was among the people he sought to reach with God’s message. He brought the message of hope in the face of the disruption, and a promise that God’s message will withstand any challenge in the presence of exile and an earthly conquering force. Turning to Isaiah, chapter six, the prophet describes the experience of God calling him to his prophetic ministry and how God uses this fallible human to share an infallible truth to the world. In this chapter, God calls us to focus our eyes upon whom the King of Kings calls and how that calling establishes us as the perfect instrument to play the message of God’s grace for the world.

Isaiah 6:1-13

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.” 

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 

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!” 

9 He said, “Go and tell this people: 

“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; 

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 

10 Make the heart of this people calloused; 

make their ears dull 

and close their eyes.  

Otherwise they might see with their eyes, 

hear with their ears, 

understand with their hearts, 

and turn and be healed.” 

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” 

And he answered: 

“Until the cities lie ruined 

and without inhabitant, 

until the houses are left deserted 

and the fields ruined and ravaged, 

12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away 

and the land is utterly forsaken. 

13 And though a tenth remains in the land, 

it will again be laid waste. 

But as the terebinth and oak 

leave stumps when they are cut down, 

so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

While it may seem odd that Isaiah puts this personal narrative in the sixth chapter, Isaiah is ensuring that the emphasis is on the prophecy, or message from God, not on the prophet or messenger. The passage opens up by describing when Isaiah received the call from God, at King Uzziah’s death, the earthly King of Judah. Isaiah has to deal with an image of the King of Kings filling the temple. In this place, the heavenly beings are praising the triune God, and their praises shook and filled the temple. When in the presence of the Almighty God, Isaiah recognizes his wanting. Every sin, every slight, every way he is not worthy in God’s presence, becomes abundantly clear. With clarity, Isaiah confesses not only his sin, but the sin of the people, and they all are desperately in need of God’s cleansing. The cleansing begins with Isaiah’s mouth, to prepare him to deliver and speak God’s Word to the people. 

After making Isaiah clean, the Triune God gives the call to speak God’s message to the people, which Isaiah answers in the affirmative. However, this chapter doesn’t end here; instead, it goes on to speak judgment against a people that have heard about what God wanted from them, but instead, they ignored God’s message, and because of this, Judah will be ravaged and left in ruins. However, this is not the final judgment, and Judah can find solace in the fact that after this judgment, God will have a portion that will stand up and be a Holy seed for the Lord. The remnant exemplifies God’s promise that they are not forsaken and left to remain in ruins, but rather He will restore His Kingdom, even out of the stumps.

There is no King except for God!

The death of a king, time for a transition of power, is the perfect setting for this encounter with the Holy Triune God. Isaiah enters the temple and sees God sitting on the throne. This vision immediately points to the King of Kings and a reminder that the Hebrew people rejected God as their King and asked God to give them an earthly king. There is an opportunity for Israel to repent from the rejection of God, because this image of God is unmistakably much greater than any human King, and the heavenly beings recognize that the triune God is Holy Holy Holy, unlike any other being.

The temptation to become a king is dangerous. Satan knew this and offered Jesus kingdoms in exchange for worship. However, Jesus called his followers to submit their worship only to God; by doing this, we do not put anything in front of God, and instead, we allow God alone on the throne.

The danger to us is worshipping our creation, but this worship is incongruent with worshipping God. The power the world offers is intriguing; it provides us comfort, importance, and glory. Nothing we worship could compare to the Almighty God, as they could not cause the heavenly beings to hide their face and feet and bow down, proclaiming the Holiness of God. Therefore, we must actively set everything aside to give our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength to the Almighty, and crown Him the KING over us.

God chooses us because God is Holy, not because we are perfect.

The holiness of God guided Isaiah toward understanding and confessing his sin and confessing that he is a product of Judah’s iniquity. Nothing Isaiah could have done would make him worthy of God’s call, and his recognition of his corruption allowed God to provide holiness and purity to Isaiah. Cleansing of Isaiah’s mouth prepares his mouth for sharing God’s message with the people.

Similarly, when calling his disciples, he recognized that they were not perfect, made abundantly clear as we hear their stories throughout the New Testament. Thus when Christ calls to His disciples, He acknowledges and knows that there is nothing they can do to make themselves holy, but they needed God to intervene, and Christ makes the disciples holy through His death and resurrection. Even at Pentecost, Jesus fulfills His promise through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As Christ’s followers, God calls us to serve, while flawed, broken, and full of sin. God demonstrates His holiness by using imperfect vessels and making them perfect for His mission in the world. However, the first things we need to do are confess that alone we are not worthy and that we need Christ’s salvation to save us. Once we submit to the cleansing of God, then we are ready to echo Isaiah and respond to God with our preparation to serve the Kingdom of God. 

We share the Gospel, but the Gospel is not always easy to share.

The message Isaiah brought to Judah was not going just to be a blessing, but instead, it tells the people that even when they were looking right at God, they were not going to recognize him. It didn’t matter how clear the message was going to be; sin hardened the people’s hearts against the mission of God. The people needed cleansing, and God would clean them up, but the cleansing required the destruction of their norms. Isaiah found this a difficult message to deliver and asked God to clarify. However, the grace is found through God’s remnant, as the ultimate salvation will come from the surviving stumps.

Jesus comes from the remnant and springs forth to guide the church toward a ministry. However, the disciples did not understand that ultimately God’s Gospel required the death of Christ. Christ spoke this Gospel message through parables, and the message had to be broken down into stories to connect to the lives of the people so that they may see the Gospel more clearly. 

It is hard to share the Gospel because the Gospel’s values are often contrary to the values we find around us. The quest for power, self-preservation, and self-aggrandizement is contrary to the message of the Gospel. Therefore, asking our neighbors to change is not easy; asking the world to submit to a power outside the world is challenging; however, Christ calls the world to become obedient and worship the Almighty God. Many will object to this call, but God still calls us to deliver His message.

When we acknowledge that God is greater than all the things we have given a voice in our lives, then we are called to respond with confession and submission to God’s mission in the world. We cannot make ourselves good enough, but God makes us clean, so He can use us to carry out His call in our lives. However, that will is not easy, but we must share even when the world rejects the message.

Through Christ’s death, we are made Holy, but we must frequently submit to the call. We must understand that we come from the world, and there are many things we do that reflect that we are a product of our worlds. We are human; therefore, we are not immune to the problems that the world has to deal with, which makes us the perfect witness to God’s saving grace.

The church must make ourselves aware that we have made idols out of our traditions. It is hard to give up old traditions because these are the things we have done and seen God move through these traditions; therefore, we cling to that experience. However, when the tradition gets worshipped above the Almighty, we shut down the outward ministry and turn the church inward, contrary to God’s mission for the world.

As people from the world, God wants to use us to bring His Word into the world. We must remember that God’s ministry is not ours and that we must humble ourselves to what God desires of us. Ministry begins with worship and giving entirely of ourselves to whatever God desires, because often God’s desires may not always align with what we want. Therefore, when our actions align with Christ, we humbly share the Gospel with the world.