Who Do You Listen To?

Back in December, Jennifer and I were discussing following the example of our new Senior Co-Campus Pastor James Powell and his wife Brittany and coming up with a word for 2020 that we felt best described the year ahead and what we believed God was going to do in us and through us! I felt impressed to use the word “breakthrough” and Jen wanted the word “new normal”! First, I reminded Jen, that “new normal” was two words and that we needed to pick one. Then, I asked her what that meant to her.

As she shared about the significance of the words “new normal” to her, she talked about how 2020 was going to be different year for us as we prepare to launch Zach into the world and became empty-nesters! Yes, we haven’t shared this publicly much, but Zach graduates Rocklin High School this year and has plans to go to Bodenseehof Bible College in Germany this fall! So yes, 2020 was going to be a new normal for us. I understood her, but still argued that “new normal” was two words. We agreed to disagree, and she choose “new normal” and I choose “breakthrough”.

Well, welcome to the year of the “new normal”! In the first three months of 2020, we have had the threat of war, an impeachment trial and now are sheltered in place for the next 30 days! Yes, Jen had it right!

And as we experience this “new normal,” there are so many differing voices out there on how to respond to what is happening in our world right now. On any given day you get a barrage of information from social media, politicians, the medical community, and the media. Not to mention the lies of the enemy, who is throwing things at us to evoke fear and anxiety!

So who do we listen to in times like these? Well as I was considering this, I recalled a moment in my life, over seven years ago, when we first moved to Roseville! We had just bought a new Honda Accord in Orange County before moving to the area, and the dealership had called me to let me know that my car was due for service. I thanked them for calling, mentioned that I had moved and told them I would contact my local Honda dealer for service. However, when I called the local dealer, they told me that my car didn’t need to be brought in for another 3,500 miles, as my car had synthetic oil.

Perplexed, I told Jennifer about the differing view points and asked her who I should listen to. And in all of her wisdom, she reminded me of that little booklet that sits in the glove box of the car, and suggested that I read it, because she thought it might have the answer to my question, directly from the manufacturer of the car! Again, Jen had it right!

Aren’t we just like that in times of uncertainty? We run to Google, we call a friend, we read articles, we research, we listen to podcasts, when instead we need to turn to our owners manual, the Bible! God has given us His Word to be our anchor, to be our guide, to be our blueprint for living! But, like I did with the Honda, we listen to the other voices, instead of the voice of the One who made us and promises to be with us!

This is what God tells us in Hebrews 6:17-20, Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 2where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

In considering this text, I believe that there are three things that God wants to remind us in this season…

First, God’s nature is unchanging! God is still on the throne! Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is the alpha and the omega! He hasn’t changed. And even though our circumstances have changed, His character and nature have not! He is still ALL knowing! ALL powerful! He is the ALWAYS present one!

God loves you! He is near. He is for you! Why is this important to understand? Because as Daniel 11:32 tell us, those who know their God will display strength will display strength and take action. Do you want to display strength and take action? Then spend time learning and getting to know Him! Read your Bible! Invest time hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorizing and meditating on it! It is our source of strength. It is our blueprint for living!

Second, it is impossible for God to lie! This means His promises are true! As Hebrews 6 tells us, He has promised and confirmed it with an oath! Not only is God our way maker, but he is our promise keeper! Throughout the Bible there are so many stories of God’s faithfulness. He’s always keeps His promises in His timing. Remember that the same God in the stories of the Bible, is the same one who is right there with you. He’ll do the same for you every time.

Can I be honest with you for a minute? I have a grid by which a person’s promises go through depending on who promises it! If my teenage son promises to do something for me, I believe he will do it about 85% of the time. However, if my wife promises me something, I trust her about 100% of the time. And then there are others I say, “I am not going to hold my breath on that!” But as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:20, For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. God’s promises are our HOPE! Let’s claim them, because God is not a liar!

Finally, our hope is secure, because Jesus has gone before us! This is what the text says, We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. Jesus is our forerunner, who has gone before us, and made a way to know and be with God for all eternity! And as our forerunner, our future is secure and guaranteed. Jesus has gone ahead to we can anchor in the fact that He is unchanging, His promises are sure, and therefore we can stand firm and secure because he has gone before us!

You see the writer of Hebrews was writing to new Hebrew believers who wanted to go back to some stinking thinking. Back to the old ways of doing things – under the law. There were some other voices they were listening to. And the writer of Hebrews is saying, Jesus is greater than the high priests, the angels, the law! And because Jesus is greater, our hope is firm and secure!

So who do I listen to? I choose to listen to Jesus!

Why? Because, we have a certain God! We know the end of the story!

Let’s hold onto that HOPE!

We Live By Faith, Not By Sight

I’ve been prayerfully thinking through how to respond to the recent outbreak of COVID-19 around the world. I have gotten questions about upcoming missions trips our church is planning, as well as personal questions surrounding my son’s plans to go to Bible College in Germany this fall. And it’s got me thinking, how do people of faith respond in times like this?

I don’t want to minimize the risk, nor do I want to incite fear. And in being wise, I have heeded the warnings and followed the advise of our medical community. But beyond that, what are we to do?

Well here are three things I believe the Scriptures tell us what to do in times like this:

Pause

Romans 10:17 states that, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” If we want to be people who move beyond panic to peace, we need to be in God’s Word! It’s the single most important thing we can do each day…to pause from the cares of this world to be with God. To let God speak to us, and assure us of His promises.

You see, as we are in God’s Word, our faith muscles grow, and we move beyond the fear to the “the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). So before reading the headlines, or scrolling through your Facebook feed, make sure you are taking in God’s Word and seeing the world through the lens of His eternal truths. It will definitely change your perspective.

Pray

Did you know that it takes the same amount of energy to worry as to pray? One leads to peace, the other to panic. So we need to choose wisely. Scripture tells us to pray about everything. In fact, Philippians 4:6, 7 instructs us to, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Worry is common to man. But God has called us to face troubles and threats with courage, leaning our weight on Him. So let’s be people who pray! Let’s pray for God’s healing hand upon our land. Let’s pray for our medical community. Let’s pray for our leaders. Let’s pray for our families, our churches and our community. And let’s pray that we in the midst of everything, we would be people of faith, who love others well.

Proclaim

Right now, we have a world in need of some hope. And it’s in times like these, that I am reminded that the church needs to advance, not retreat. So let’s share the hope that we have found in Christ. Let’s remind our brothers and sisters, of an eternal God, who loves us, assures us of His promises and who has made a way for us to spend all of eternity with Him.

Yes, we need to be cautious, but let’s also remember that in times like these, the world needs people who are strengthened by God’s Word, who are marked by prayer and who offer His message of hope to others.

All In

Do you remember the Hokey Pokey? That catchy little kids tune, that went like this… “you put your right foot in, you put your right foot out, you put your right foot in and you shake it all about?” Then you “do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around, because that’s what it’s all about!” Well through the stanzas of the song, all the various body parts get put in the circle, and then it ends with putting your whole self in, and putting your whole self out!

When I think of the Holey Pokey, I’m reminded of another instruction from the Apostle Paul, when he writes: “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). “To present your bodies” is Paul’s way of saying, put your whole self in and be all in for Jesus.

Present Your Bodies as a Living Sacrifice

To be “all in” for Jesus, means that we present our lives to Jesus as a living sacrifice. In some ways, it’s like Paul is calling out the last stanza of the Hokey Pokey, “You put your whole self in!” Not just an arm, or a leg, or an elbow. In other words, you’re all in. Meaning that you’re committed to do whatever God wants you to do, in every area of your life.

In Galatians 2:20, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live by faith, I live for Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul clearly understood the commitment it took to follow Jesus, and he was willing to risk his very life for the sake of the gospel.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of baptizing a woman who converted from the Muslim faith to Christianity. When I asked Anahita, what her baptism meant to her, she said it meant that she was “all in”! Then she went on to explain, that in her county she could die, for publicly declaring her faith in Jesus. To be a “living sacrifice,” begins with a decision to give God permission to lead and guide our lives according to His purpose and plan, not my own. Even at the risk of losing friendships, or life itself.

See Jesus As Your Lord, not Your Consultant

Ask yourself this. Do you want Jesus as your consultant or as your Lord? What’s the difference you ask? Well when a consultant gives you advice or direction, then you have the opportunity to follow the advice or not. But, when Jesus is your Lord and says jump, you ask, “how far?”

A few years ago, I was addicted to the show The Profit. In the show, Marcus, a successful small business owner, would consult with the owners of struggling businesses, offering them feedback and suggestions for turning around their business. Many of the owners, would agree in theory the  suggestions Marcus would make, but many would refuse to implement his strategies and as a result fail in their business ventures.

Unfortunately, this is how many of us operate with God. We read His Word, we listen to messages, we may even be in a small group, but we fail to integrate His truths into our lives. That’s because we see Jesus more as a consultant, and often think we know better than God when it comes to the decisions in our lives. Unfortunately, most times that is a recipe for disaster, because we are not God nor do we have the perspective God has.

Don’t Conform to the Pattern of this World

To “not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” means that, I don’t take my values, my standards, my priorities from the world around me. It saddens me that we have developed a kind of selective Christianity that allows us to be deeply and sincerely involved in worship and church activities, and yet almost totally pagan in the day to day activities of our lives. And what is even more troubling is that most of us never realize the discrepancy.

In order to not be “confirmed to the pattern of this world” we need to determine what we expose ourselves to. Input always determines output. So, ask yourself, what do you watch? And what do you read? Are they helping or hurting my spiritual life? Who do you hang with? As Proverbs 13:20 says, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Finally, who are you trying to impress? So often we compromise our values, because we are trying to impress someone.

There have been times when I have had to take a break from social media because it just hasn’t been good for my soul. You know how it goes. Trying to impress people through posts or finding yourself jealous of a friend or a relative who always seems to go on extravagant vacations.

Whatever the temptation, we’re exhorted to no longer follow the pattern of this world. As Christians, we live by a different standard.

Renew Your Mind

Finally, in Romans 12, if we’re to be all in, we need to renew our minds. In other words, we’re to align our thoughts, values and priorities with God’s viewpoint. Our part in renewing our minds is to flee what’s harmful, and feed on what’s helpful.

For me, the practice of renewing my mind, means that I memorize a lot of Scripture. That I hang with people who motivate and encourage me. That I watch what kind of movies I see. That I meditate on God’s Word. And as a result, I can test and approve God’s good and perfect will.

So, are you ready to do the Hokey Pokey for God? To put your whole self in. To offer yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him? If so, I pray you will experience the joy and wonder of what Romans 12:2 promises, that “you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

How We Grow

A few months ago, our Celebrate Recovery program celebrated 5 years at Bayside Adventure. Even in the midst of several church transitions, this forever family stayed faithful to the call and commission, God placed in their hearts.

The road to recovery, is not an easy journey. But for those who stay the course, it’s a rewarding one. That’s why they say in recovery, “don’t give up before the miracle.”

As I have observed the miracles of healed marriages, restored joy, victory over substance abuse and families changed, I have noticed a few characteristics that are necessary for working a successful recovery program. Spiritual transformation is not about trying harder, but about training wisely. God calls us to come as we are, but there are some key things that we need in order for us to effectively grow in Christ. Here they are…

Courage

In order for us to grow in Christ, to be transformed, and be successful in life, we must have courage to meet the demands of reality. This ultimately means coming to a point in our life and admitting that “we are powerless” over our sin and compulsive behaviors. It takes courage to express weakness. But admitting that we have problems, doubts, fears, insecurities, and trouble, is the first step to healing.

I remember my first Celebrate Recovery step study. We were 6 months into the journey, when one of our members, finally found the courage to admit that he had been lying to the group the whole time about his sobriety date. Crippled by fear, not wanting to lose his leadership role in our program, nor disappoint his wife, he lived a lie and was gripped by shame and guilt. But finding the courage to be truthful, brought greater healing in his life, as he came to experience the love and grace of God. The acceptance and love of the group ultimately gave him greater freedom months later, when he courageously turned himself into the authorities, who had a warrant out for his arrest. Again, in this situation, God honored his courage by giving him favor with the judge who just assigned him to community service, rather than time in jail.

Courage to stand for truth, to speak up for others, or to share our faith with a not yet follower of Jesus, allow our faith muscles to grow. And as our faith grows, we find greater courage to say or do the right thing, for the right reasons.

Commitment

I believe that many of the problems in our society are due to a lack of commitment. A lack of commitment to our beliefs, a lack of commitment to our families, a lack of commitment to our friends, a lack of commitment to our churches, etc. We live in a world where we fear commitment. We don’t make commitments, or we wait until the last minute to commit, because we fear that we just might miss out on another opportunity. Or we fail to follow through on our commitments because it’s too hard, or too painful.

In observing those who received the miracle, their lives were marked by commitment to being truth tellers, to working hard, to reliving some painful moments and not giving in before they received the miracle. That takes dedication, discipline and determination. It takes commitment. Nothing is ever easy in life. As they say, no pain, no gain.

Community

Life is better together. The success of recovery programs and why God has called us into connection with each other, is because two are better than one. The success of any recovery program is in community. As people come alongside us, guide us, encourage us, speak truth to us and to use their stories to inspire us, we find hope.

I often hear in recovery circles, “I thought I was the only one experiencing this.” That’s a lonely place to be. The reality is, we are all sojourners in need of hope and healing. Remember this, “all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And therefore, none of us are perfect.

So often we come to God in our brokenness and need for God, but once we trust him as our Lord and Savior, it’s like the struggle disappears. Not so, my friend. We live in a broken world, and we need the community of fellow believers to spur us on to love and good deeds. For it’s in community, we find connection, we find acceptance and we find hope.

Christ

For the Christ follower this is obvious, and some may argue that I should have put this down as the first characteristic. But I put it down at the bottom of the list, because I believe Jesus is the foundation for all things. Without Christ, without the forgiveness He offers, without the Church He established, our world would lack meaning and purpose.

You see, we were created by God, to live in community with each other, for the express purpose of knowing Him and making Him known. And without Him, we would not know the grace we need to be courageous, the power He gives us to follow through on our commitments, or the beauty of biblical community to offer us hope.

Jesus is the cornerstone. And as the cornerstone, our lives need to be built on Him. As we build our lives on Him, He promises to grow and mature us into His likeness, until that day in which we will be fully complete in Him.

Celebrating 5 Years of Celebrate Recovery at Bayside Adventure

It all started when a group of people wanted to start a recovery program at Adventure Church. We prayed, met faithfully and began our journey by courageously sharing our stories on a piece of cardboard in our church services one late summer weekend of 2013. Met enthusiastically with the support of the church, this crew officially launched Celebrate Recovery at Bayside Adventure in September of 2013.

Within the first year, our forever family launched a few step studies and truly experienced what it meant to live beyond ourselves. In late December of 2013, we hosted a Recovery Round Up and ended this 24-hour conference with a New Year’s Eve celebration! That would be followed by hosting the regional Celebrate Recovery One Day Seminar, which brought over 1000 leaders to Adventure to be equipped and inspired by the Celebrate Recovery National Team. By the second year, we graduated our second round of step studies and hosted another regional One Day Seminar.

Over the years, we’ve had some amazing guests, including Lisa Daggs and Hosanna Poetry, as well as heard from speakers like Mac and Mary Owen, as well as many of our pastoral team members, whose support has been so encouraging. We have been blessed in many ways, and as we look back over the years, we most importantly remember the stories of those who found hope and healing in the message of Jesus. Stories of healed marriages, stories of sobriety, stories of forgiveness, and stories of redemption. To date, our program has graduated over 80 people from step studies, which is a one-year program of intensively working through the 12 Steps and 8 Recovery Principles.

Over the years, we have come together as a team of amazing dedicated people, all with the same purpose, to exalt Jesus and help others. During these years we have seen tragedy and triumph. We have shed tears and praised God in pure joy.  We have loved people where they are and have made friendships that last a lifetime.  We have touched people silently and their stories have inspired and changed our lives.

Through all the highs and lows of this ministry, we find ourselves relying on God even more and never quitting before the miracle. For it is in the journey, not the destination, that we find willing hearts to help others in the trenches of life. And we faithfully celebrate that every Sunday night!

We are very blessed to have had some amazing leaders and volunteers over the years, and we want to thank you for being a part of the miracle. We could not have done it without an amazing church and supportive staff. We have never felt like “Those People” in our Adventure home. And we’re looking forward to what the next five years holds!

To God be the glory!

A Hall of Fame Moment

This past weekend, my Uncle Bill was inducted into the Hillsdale High School Hall of Fame. It was a great honor, given by a great school, to a great man, for his amazing accomplishments as a professional bowler. As an inductee he joins the ranks of Dick Vermeil, Bill Wilkins and Maureen Brady.

I had the honor of accepting the award on behalf of the family, and shared that I actually found it a bit ironic that I was accepting this recognition, because as a 2nd generation Hardwick, who attended Hillsdale High School, I would often hear from the faculty, especially on the first day of school, “you’re not like the rest of “those” Hardwick’s are you?” And there is the irony of the story, as many years later we were inducting “one of those Hardwick’s” into Hillsdale’s Hall of Fame.

As a child, our family would often gather around the television set on Saturday afternoons to watch my uncle bowl on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. And, if you have ever seen my uncle bowl, you would see a determined, disciplined and dedicated individual who wanted to win.

In fact, there is a story our family tells, where Bill had made the Varsity Basketball Team here at Hillsdale, but when he learned that his coach Homer Zugelder wasn’t going to start him, he quit the team. And upon learning the Billy had quit the team, Homer, a previous inductee into the Hillsdale High School Hall of Fame, drove down to Bel Mateo Bowl and asked my uncle if he wanted to be a “bowling alley bum for the rest of his life”, to which Billy replied, “better than sitting on the bench coach.”

That was my uncle. He wanted to leave his mark in the world, and he really didn’t care what anyone thought. And it was those qualities, that made him the champion and the success that he was.

Lessons from Job (the person)

This year I’ve decided to make it my ambition to read through the Bible, following the Chronological Bible reading plan. I’ve spent much of this month reading through the books of Genesis and Job. The book of Job has always been one of those books in the Bible that has stumped me, as I have sought to make sense of its purpose in the scheme of the other Old Testament literature.

If you don’t know the story of Job, it’s the story of a man who is beset by misfortune and suffering. Yet James 5:11 mentions Job as a man worthy of consideration as an outstanding example of steadfast faith in the midst of suffering, as James writes, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

In setting the scene for the book, it is clear that Job was truly blessed by God. And it’s God’s favor upon Job, that becomes the reason for Satan’s interest in testing Job. As Satan thought that Job’s obedience to God was only in direct proportion to his blessings from God. But in the end, Job passes the test and acknowledges God’s sovereignty; thereby, destroying Satan’s suspicion that he only feared God because of God’s blessing. And along the way, we learn some things about how to respond to trials:

Lesson # 1 – God is in Charge!

While Satan is allowed to test Job, I’m comforted in the fact that Satan’s actions are limited by God’s sovereign control. In Job, we see that each time Satan approaches God for permission to test Job, God limits the extent of Satan’s tests, even mentioning that Satan could not put his hand on Job, nor take his life. The good news here, is that the devil does not “sneak up” on us, while God’s back is turned. God’s back is never turned. His eyes are always upon us. And nothing happens to us that God has not permitted or allowed. Therefore, when we are struck with personal tragedy or persecuted for obedience, we can be sure that God is large and in charge.

Lesson # 2 – Keep Trusting God! 

Job was in despair. His whole life had been turned upside down. He not only loses his wealth, but he also loses his loved ones in a series of tragedies. Then suddenly his health is gone too. As a result, Job is deeply frustrated because he cannot make sense out of his trials. Yet in the depths of perplexity and despair, he makes one of the most profound declarations of faith in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”.

One of the things Satan never understood about Job was his motive. Satan thought Job only served God because it was to his advantage here and now. And Satan was convinced that if God removed blessings and protection, Job would curse and revile Him. But that was not true. Job loved God and served Him out of sincere devotion. He trusted God even when he was feeling abandoned. There is a lesson of steadfast trust, which is one of the most important aspects of character we can gain from any trial.

Though Job could not begin to understand why all of these things were happening to him, he kept trusting God. He did not react, as Satan had predicted, by cursing God. Yea, he certainly went on a rant, but Job like told his wife in Job 2:10, Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”.

Lesson # 3 – God has a purpose!

James 1:2 states it this way, Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Through this trail, Job came to really know God deeply, not simply to know about Him. And Job became a far more humble and compassionate man, even coming to the point of wanting to pray for his friends, instead of cursing them. Whatever the trial or test, there is purpose that God has in mind to make us more conformed to His image and likeness. Our trials can make us bitter or they can make us better! And for Job, he chose the latter.

While Job isn’t one of those warm and fuzzy books in the Bible, I always walk away with a more profound understanding of God’s sovereignty and my responsibility to trust God even when I don’t quite understand. My hope is for all of us, is that whatever we are going through, that we can declare like Job, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).

Christmas Traditions

In the Old Testament, the Israelite’s remembered God’s provision and faithfulness through feasts and celebrations. Several times a year, they’d celebrate how God brought them out of slavery, or how God protected them from their enemies. Additionally, throughout the Old Testament, people of faith would also set up memorial stones to remind themselves of God’s provision and providence.

In Genesis 35:14, Jacob set up a pillar in the place where God had spoken and revealed Himself. In 1 Samuel 7:12, Samuel took a stone and set it up saying, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” Every time the Israelite’s went by them, they would remember what God had done. How God had brought them out of bondage, healed their children, and supernaturally provided for their needs. Having those memorial markers helped the Israelite’s keep God’s grace and provision fresh in their memory.

Over the years, our family has carried out a tradition of giving Christmas ornaments to one another. Our tree is laden with ornaments going back to my childhood. Jennifer and I adopted this family tradition almost 25 years ago, and each year as we decorate the tree, we’re flooded with memories of years gone by. There’s the “Our First Christmas” ornament, with a picture of a much younger Bryan and Jen (and as Zach jokes, with hair). We have ornaments that were given by missionary friends from Russia & China. And there are many that memorialize the SF Giants 2010, 2012 & 2014 World Series victories!

It’s fun to see our son, Zach, really appreciate the tradition as he proudly hangs most of his ornaments on the front of the tree. We talk about each one, as we remember our dogs Mickey and Maggie or remember the fun we had together in Hawaii during our sabbatical. We cherish the ornaments Zach made in elementary school and recall friends and family who we’ve enjoyed these fun seasons with and miss dearly. And each year as we take down the tree, we separate out Zach’s ornaments, so one day he can carry the tradition on. And NO we’re NOT rushing this, as we feel the days with our son quickly slipping through our hands.

Yes, celebrations and memorial markers help us to recall and remember God’s goodness in the land of the living. I’m grateful for the traditions that my mom started and that we continue these, for they truly remind me of how full and blessed my life really is!

As you celebrate this Christmas, may your time with family and friends truly embrace the message of Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us! Merry Christmas!

Soar

This past fall my Men’s Bible Study did a study entitled, Be Strong. It was a great study, unpacking the resources God has put at our disposal in order for us as Christ followers to Be Strong.

In preparing for this series, I wanted to hit on some of the verses where God encourages his people to be strong in the Lord. But specifically, I wanted to unpack Isaiah 40:28-31, as I know that there are times where we are completely exhausted, or in need of hope and we need to remember the promise of Isaiah 40:31,  so we don’t lose heart and give up.

Isaiah 40 marks the beginning of a new section in the book of Isaiah. It is the first chapter which looks beyond the captivity of Israel to the brightness of the future God has in store for the nation of Israel. The Israelite’s are waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promise of deliverance. They longed for, and looked forward with hope the completion of His covenant. And in the midst of this anticipated hope, God instructs them to wait upon Him. To believe His Word; to stand upon His promise; to hope in His faithfulness. and to expect good things from His hand.

We all get tired. We all get weary at times. But I am especially comforted by the fact that Isaiah says that even even young men, athletes and soldiers, grow weary and become fatigued. There is a limit to all human endurance. That even the strength, stamina and agility normally associated with youth even proves insufficient. Exhaustion causes them to stumble and in weariness they fall. Even the strongest can only go so far.

But in our weariness, the promise is that we can  soar on wings like eagles. In other words, we can rise effortlessly. If you have watched any film footage of eagles, you know they soar with the greatest of ease. Those who study them, tell us they are masters of wind currents. Eagles do not rise to dizzying heights by constantly flapping their wings. It is not an feat of endurance. Instead they perform this act by depending on a source other than themselves. They ride the wind. They catch the currents. They use thermals.

For eagles, distance or duration is not a problem. Like the Energizer Bunny they go on and on and on and on and on. And this the difference between relying on our own efforts and trusting in the Lord’s strength. The point of this chapter is to encourage us to trust in and count on the strength of God, the power of the Creator, the joy of the Lord.

In the text we are asked, “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?” (40:21, 28). These are rhetorical questions aimed at reminding us of the things we have always known about God. He is the all-powerful Creator; He raises and dethrones world rulers; He knows all about every one of us. He knows everything we face. And He cares! As it says in the text, God will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Is. 40:28-29).

The choice is ours. We can flap or we can soar.

Maybe you need these promising words today. You have run the gamut. Your strength is gone or nearly gone. You are stumbling, or maybe you have even fallen. If that’s the case, here’s the instruction. Wait on the Lord. Trust Him. Reach out to Him. Believe. He will renew your strength.

Life is Too Short to Go It Alone

According to a Time magazine report, every 60 seconds on Facebook is packed with a lifetime’s worth of social interactions! For example, in the next 60 seconds, 500,000 comments will be posted on Facebook and 350,000 posts will be liked. In addition, 250,000 messages will be sent, 135,000 photos will be added, and 100,000 statuses will be updated! That’s a lot of information! While I am not convinced that things like Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets have helped our sense of connection, it’s not surprising to me that Facebook is now the #1 most visited site on the internet.

You see, as human beings we have an innate desire to connect with one another in meaningful ways, and the reason we have this innate desire to connect with one another is because God created us with this innate need for community! In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our image and our likeness.” I don’t know if you ever noticed the plurality of that verse, but in those 10 words, there are three references to God’s very unique nature. The words “us” and the word “our” proclaim the core doctrine of the Trinity, referring to the fact that God himself exists in community. Yes, the creation account provides us with an amazing window into the very nature of God, in whose nature we are created. And since we are created in God’s image, we are therefore created for community!

The need for relationship was part of God’s created order. It wasn’t the result of the fall, as some might believe. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone, so I will make a helper suitable for him.” From the very beginning, the creator of the universe realized we could not live on our own, so he made a way for us to connect to others in order to survive.

If you remember the movie, Cast Away with Tom Hanks, his character, Chuck Noland, is stranded on a tropical island, and he had to give up everything he once knew to learn how to survive both physically and emotionally. In order to keep his sanity, he made a make-believe person named Wilson out of a volleyball. During his four years of being stranded on the island, Wilson and Hanks character weather many storms together, but when a big tropical storm comes upon the island and Wilson is blown off to sea, Chuck breaks down emotionally.

Cast Away is a fascinating movie which so accurately displays our need for connection, which has been hard wired into our DNA. But unfortunately, as humans and even as Christ followers, we try to do life alone and we isolate, because of shame, guilt, discouragement, and fear of rejection. Yet God calls us out of the isolation and invites us into community. He gives us an example of what this community looks like in Acts 2:42-47. It’s an amazing ideal of what the church can and needs to look like.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Looking at these verses, it’s clear that if you want to experience life as God intended it, and experience the ideals of our faith in Christ, we need to commit to be with others. There are a lot of things we can do alone in life. We can drive a car, play solitaire, or read a book. But we cannot experience the joy of knowing and being known outside of community, because it’s in community that we will experience all that God has for us. That’s why there is so much instruction in the Bible about how we are to live out our faith with one another. In fact, there are 59 “one another” verses in the New Testament! These Bible passages help us to understand how much emphasis the Scriptures place on our obligation as Christians to love and care for one another in relationship in order to experience the fullness of all God has planned for us.

Life is all about relationships! So, I invite you to get off your electronic devices and connect. Start taking some risks to be vulnerable, and experience the reality that life is better together.

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