What Are You Expecting?

Christmas

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons  (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV)

What do you think of when you think of Christmas?  What words and images most readily spring to your mind?  Chances are, our answers to these questions are as numerous and unique as we are.  But if you’re anything like me- and in this instance, at least, I’m guessing you are– for as long as you can remember, the Christmas season has been a season of unparalleled expectation.

Starting as young children, we spend our December days and nights counting down the days until we experience all the season has to offer.

We look forward with expectation to gathering with family and friends (even the crazy ones!).
We look forward with expectation to great food, festive music, and bright lights and decorations.
We look forward with expectation to revisiting holiday traditions and making new memories too.
We look forward with expectation to unwrapping the gifts that tease us from underneath the tree.

If we trace Christmas back to its biblical origins, what we’ll find is that all this expecting isn’t anything new, but is instead incredibly appropriate to the season.  Indeed, the years- the centuries– that preceded that very first Christmas were defined by expectations of cosmic proportions.

The Christmas story, as told by Gospel writers Matthew and Luke, is embedded in the larger story of God’s relationship with His people, and specifically His plan to rescue His beloved creation from the devastating impacts of sin.  This plan, designed in intricate detail before the creation of the world, began in earnest in Genesis 12 when God called an unlikely man named Abram to leave that he knew to set out on a journey of faith with Him.  From this one man, God would create a family, the nation of Israel, through which He would reveal Himself to the whole world and save us from sin.

The remainder of the Bible’s Old Testament tells the story of God’s relationship with Israel- and to say that it is a rocky one would be quite the understatement!  Time and again, God’s people rebel against Him, running headlong into idolatry and injustice.  Time and again, God judges His people’s disobedience.  Time and again, God’s people repent, and are restored to right fellowship with God.

The cycle continues for centuries, but through it all, God remains steadfast in His promise to raise up- from this unlikely people- a triumphant Deliverer who would deal with the world’s sin problem once and for all and establish a Kingdom of righteousness forever.  This Deliverer, of course, is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, God’s Chosen One to save the world.  The degree of detail included in the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah, Micah, and others regarding His arrival is truly stunning.

But approximately 400 years prior to the birth of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 2, a strange thing happens- God goes silent.  No more prophets.  No more promises.  God’s people are left to wonder- Has God forgotten us?  Has He changed His mind?  Has He forsaken His promises?  It became a time of looking, longing, and wondering.  The first verse of one of my favorite Christmas hymns, written by Charles Wesley, describes the situation powerfully…

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

What is amazing about these words is that over 2,000 years later from the time they describe, they are still as relevant as ever.  Consider- Do you need to be “set free…released” from your “fears and sins” today?  Does your heart long for “rest…strength…consolation…and hope” amidst the turmoil of life?  While the details may differ, the answer for all of us is, unequivocally, yes!  Our desperation for God to reach down and rescue is what makes the story of Christmas such incredible good news for all of us.

So beneath the surface of lights, music, gifts, and gatherings, let me ask you today- What are you expecting from God this Christmas?  What do you long for Him to accomplish in your heart, mind, and body, in your family and other relationships, in our church, community, and world?  What marks your cries and prayers not only in this season, but beyond it too?  Consider the poignant words of Charles Wesley’s second verse…

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

“Born to deliver…born to reign…bring thy Kingdom…raise us to thy throne.”  Hear this well today- Jesus of Nazareth is God’s answer to your expectations this Christmas.  He alone not only provides, but actually embodies, the satisfaction of your deepest longings.  He is joy in your sorrows, peace in your chaos, hope in your despair, restoration in your brokenness.  Just as He was for the Jews in the 1st century, He is ultimately what you’re looking and longing for this holiday season.

This Sunday at Fellowship Church, we begin our Christmas series, Heaven Came Down.  For the next four weeks, we will exploring Christmas from the perspective of heaven.  As we do, let me encourage you in two ways- One, consider how God’s gift of Jesus provides the answer to your expectations, whatever those might be this year.  Make the words of this tremendous hymn recorded above a personal expression of petition and worship.

Two, consider how you might, during this season, be a bringer of Jesus to others in your life who are overrun by desperation of all different flavors.  Even a quick survey of the situation surrounding us in our nation and world today serves as a reminder of the depth of sin’s ongoing devastation.  Make the most of this prime season to share hope by speaking Jesus, and as you do, expect that God can use you to impact others in ways far deeper and more profound than a $20 gift under the tree ever can.

What are you expecting this Christmas?  I pray that through Jesus Christ, God’s promised Rescuer, you find it and share it with the world.

BYOB (Bring Your Own Bible)

BYOB-1

The Word…I love the Word of God. When people ask me of my favorite hobbies, I do not spiritually over hype the fact that I absolutely love reading and studying God’s word! I will boast in the Word of God because it changed my life!

As a young preacher but also as a man who has been going to church for a long term, and as just a godly man who loves the Word, one thing has always stood out to me that is quite baffling: People are starting to neglect the beautiful practice of bringing their own bible to Church, a bible study, a conference, or to a simple devotion. We use the technology age as an excuse because why bother if it’s on my phone or on the screen? The more we increase in technology, the more excuses we foster. The less we grow in our faith, the more we are stagnant, and the more we use the way the world is going as a reason to neglect great practices of our faith, the less impact we will see. 

So why am I passionate about this? Growing up in a christian household and going to church most of my life, the bible was the object that I assumed I was supposed to bring. The Bible is the very word of God, it is “Living and active, sharper than any double edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The scriptures is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). So yea, as a  preacher of the Word, I want my flock or audience to be a student of God’s word! Why would we want to make excuses to why we don’t bring it to justify the reality that we may just not want too nor trust it is as powerful as we say it is? This is also something you need to evaluate: Are you growing in your relationship with Jesus because of the Word of God? If the Word of God is absolutely significant to your world, then the world should know it. All Saints are to be students of the Word of God. Let’s stop making excuses to why we don’t bring it or value the written book.

Excuses we make and the Objections to Those Excuses: 
1. It’s on my phone: Yea and the Words are the most important part of the Bible. However, what will not pop up on your physical copy of the Word? A text message. A notification of your social media accounts. A phone call. Are you really turning your phone on Airplane mode to get away from distraction? Be honest, you may just don’t feel like bringing it. This is in no way taking away from the huge impact the You-version app has had in our world. Praise God for Life Church and their goal to reach the world with scripture. But don’t allow the accessibility of the Word on your phone from distracting you from diving into the physical book without the constant speed and distractions of the world. 

2. It’s heavy, and get’s in the way: I get that, there are some heavy bibles out there. But there are also some lighter and ones you can carry.  There are smaller compact bibles that you can use specifically for sermons, bibles studies, and note taking. If you cannot afford a small one, I don’t know of a pastor who wouldn’t be privileged to be asked to buy or give you one! Sometimes a sword needs to be heavy so you don’t forget it’s there!

3.  I can see it on the screen at church: So how do you know if ‘IT’ is correct? Yea your Pastor is legit and you don’t see a lot of fault in his teaching, but while he is preaching, your eyes should be IN the Word. A pastor is not perfect. You may see something the Lord reveals in the text that the pastor didn’t say, just by looking at it. Think about the sports world: I’m sure most would agree, that they would rather see a live game, in action, right in front of their face than on a TV screen. I have seen grown men bring stacks of papers to a live fantasy draft ready to stack their team. But when it comes to the Word of God, “Man it’s on the screen.” I call it laziness. NO screen can replace the divine power of God’s word jumping off the page into your heart!

4. I was gone all day, so I couldn’t bring it and/or I just forgot it: My challenge to students to put it in their backpack. If your backpack is too heavy, carry the bible proudly. If you drive, put it in your car. Set a reminder on your phone, “Don’t forget the Word of God today!” Also, if you have a plan daily to dive into the Word, you will take time to get in the book anyways, so just bring it with you wherever! You know you wouldn’t forget your nice outfit to a wedding. You wouldn’t forget your fan gear to a sports outing. You wouldn’t go to a deer stand without a gun. So why be unprepared to go hear the Word?? You won’t forget what you value. 

5. I didn’t know I was supposed to  bring it: It’s hard for me to believe that in America, where Churches are pretty much on every street corner, and there is a nation wide truth that the Bible is the #1 selling book in America that anyone would say “I didn’t know I was supposed to bring my bible to Church where we are supposed to learn about it.” That’s one of my favorite excuses. I think sometimes we just think we look cooler without it. Some worship leaders do the same thing. They lead worship, come from back stage, sit in the back of the auditorium, listen to the sermon, and don’t even open the Word to be lead by their pastor through it. But, they expect the Pastor to participate in worship. So worship leader, you participate in the sermon! Open the word! That’s not a slam, that’s the truth.

However, there is one last reason that some don’t bring their bibles because maybe…

6. My Pastor doesn’t use the bible in his sermons: Let me keep it real with you: You need to find a new pastor then! There is no message without Scripture and the counsel of God being proclaimed.

One of the things we also need to realize is that bringing a bible is also being a witness. You are shouting “I value you the living, breathing, active word of God!” Sitting in a Church service with your arms folded at some level shouts to people around you, “This book is not that important to have in my hands. I just see it on the screen, and I believe my Pastor’s interpretation.” Yea you might be an auditory or visual learner. Great. But you can still look in the Word and look back at your pastor. I am not saying your Pastor is dangerous, nor am I saying he is not bringing a good message. But it is the Word that does the work, not the Pastor. Your authority is the very Word’s of God, not the authority of the Pastor. 

So I challenge you: When you come to a Worship or Church Service Party, BYOB! Bring your own bible!