BY JORDAN MAYER
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
Have you ever picked up stones along the beach or riverbed? As you turn one over in your hands, you'll find the surface remarkably smooth and rounded. Though a small child might think it a special kind of rock, it is merely a product of the environment it has been exposed to. Over the course of days, months, and years; the water and tiny sediment slowly wear away the rough surfaces and sharp edges. By a nearly imperceptible process, the stone is shaped and molded until it looks and feels like all the others.
Though we might not realize it, our minds face similar pressures. Like the winding channels that are formed by flowing water, ideas can take root in our minds to form thought patterns, behaviors, and habits. This is what Paul alludes to in his letter to the believers in Rome. There is a danger for followers of Christ to be inwardly changed, yet outwardly indistinguishable from the world around them.
The danger is not so much overt, but convert. We may be wise to a sudden bold attack, but less likely to notice a slow and methodical advance.
Jesus warns of false prophets who would appear as wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15). Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), even quoting Scripture in his efforts to tempt Jesus (Matthew 4:6). And Paul warns the Colossians of false teaching that has the appearance of wisdom (Colossians 2:20-23).
Though the root of the issue was as relevant in Paul's day as it is today, the results of modern technology ensure constant and immediate access to myriads of voices vying for our attention. From the TV screen in our living room, the computer in our lap, or the phone in our pocket, there is a near endless supply of messages eager to broadcast into our lives.
But we need not resign ourselves to a life of conformance and compromise. And yet, our minds cannot operate in a void. To remove one thing requires another to fill its place. In emptying ourselves of worldly wisdom, we must fill up on the wisdom from above, namely God's Word. If we want any hope of combating the corrupting influence of counterfeit truths, we must look to the genuine article.
So what are we filling our minds with on the daily? Do we suppose that a brief exposure to the Word on Sunday’s is enough for the spiritual warfare of the week? Are we sometimes naive in thinking that a small dose of God's Truth is all it takes to withstand the onslaught of lies and mistruths to which we are exposed? Does only a little Scripture a day keep sin and the devil away?
But the issue lies in the framing of the question. It is not a question of how little of God's Word we need, but rather how much. We are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). We must meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). We must store it up in our heart (Psalm 119:11). Like food for our body, Scripture is the sustenance of our soul. We need it daily, consistently, and constantly.
And we must remember that His Word is living and active. It discerns the thought and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) in order that we may discern His. As we take it in and meditate upon it, through the power of the Holy Spirit, it will begin to work in our hearts and in our minds, transforming and renewing them in the knowledge of truth. The more we read, the more we take on the mind of Christ.
Today, this week, this month, and this year; let us all endeavor to plumb the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33).
BY JORDAN MAYER
"And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, 'Let me go, for the day has broken.' But Jacob said, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' And he said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Jacob.' Then he said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.' Then Jacob asked him, 'Please tell me your name.' But he said, 'Why is it that you ask my name?' And there he blessed him."
Two and a half years ago, I moved into a role at work that, frankly, I was ill-equipped for. I had no prior experience or background to draw from as I stepped out into the unknown. What I didn’t realize at the time was how It would reveal my own desire for control, my deep-rooted need to cover all the angles and have a clear path forward. In many ways, that aspect of my life was one I walked mainly by sight and not by faith. Through reading Scripture, I have found there is much to be gleaned from those who have faced similar struggles, but have experienced God showing up in mighty ways.
Following the Great Flood, Scripture zeroes in on a particular man named Abraham. God speaks to Abraham and provides a series of blessings that would not only bless Abraham and his family, but all the nations through him (Genesis 12:1-3). As the story continues, God’s blessing is passed on to the successive generation, beginning with Abraham’s miracle son, Isaac. Later on, we are introduced to Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau.
These two men could not have been more different. Esau was a man’s man, literally coming out of the womb like a hairy cloak. He was a skilled hunter and a man of the field. Jacob was...less impressive. He was a quiet man and preferred to hang around the tents. If Esau was the muscular, high school football star, Jacob was the scrawny kid with his nose in a book. But while Jacob might not beat Esau in a wrestling match, he could certainly beat him in a battle of wits. The name Jacob means "he takes by the heel", but it carries the connotation of "cheater" or “deceiver”. He certainly lives up to this title.
On one fateful day, Jacob finds his chance to elevate his position. Exhausted and hungry from a long day in the field, Esau comes in and begs his brother for a bowl of stew. Jacob, seizing his opportunity, proposes a trade: his stew for Esau’s birthright. I’m not sure which is more shocking, Esau’s flippancy toward his birthright or Jacob’s cunning in trying to take it. But take it he does, after making Esau swear by an oath.
Jacob wouldn’t stop there. Time and again, Jacob would resort to a variety of schemes and deceptions to get what he wanted, even tricking his own father to procure his blessing. In his wake, he leaves a series of broken relationships with his brother, father, and uncle.
Yet, such as life, the check comes due. Upon freeing himself from his uncle’s tricks, Jacob is ready to return to his land. But what awaits him is a brother he wronged some twenty years prior. As Jacob’s entourage approaches, Esau receives word and goes out to meet him…accompanied by 400 men!
Jacob is justifiably fearful of his brother’s intentions. But in typical Jacob fashion, he dreams up another scheme that might deliver him out of another sticky situation. He sends an elaborate train of gifts on ahead in the hopes that it might appease his scorned brother.
But in the midst of his scheming, we begin to see a shift in Jacob. Recognizing the desperate nature of his circumstances, he offers a humble prayer to God for deliverance. Little did he know what God had in store for him.
That night, with his confidence shaken and filled with fear and dread, Jacob has a strange encounter with a man. This man, as he would learn, was none other than God himself. As the hours pass, the two become locked in a wrestling match. But it appears to be a stalemate. With the light of the dawn and Jacob refusing to yield, God makes the first move to end the match. He delivers a painful blow to Jacob’s hip.
But as the pain radiates from his dislocated hip and his muscles ache and strain against his heavenly opponent, Jacob still refuses to let go. He yearns for God’s blessing. He has nothing left to hold onto, so he holds onto God.
Weak, wounded, and now walking with a limp, Jacob comes out a changed man. He is transformed.
Firstly, God gives Jacob a new name. No longer is he “deceiver”, he is now called Israel. He has spent his life struggling with men, but now he has striven with God. For all of Jacob’s faults, he was persistent, yet not always persistent in the right things.
Captured by awe, Jacob calls the place, “Peniel” (face of God). He knows full well that it was not a fair fight. God could have easily struck him dead yet chose not to.
Jacob’s awe over his encounter with God finds similar footing in his encounter with Esau. Jacob had cheated Esau out of everything and yet, here stands his brother with tears in his eyes, running to embrace him. Jacob expects condemnation, but instead finds reconciliation.
In describing all that he has to Esau, Jacob credits it to the God who has dealt graciously with him (Genesis 32:11).
When the two brothers part ways, Jacob (now Israel) erects an altar which he names “El-Elohe-Israel”, or “God, the God of Israel”. No longer was God merely the God of his fathers, He is Israel’s God.
Jacob's faith was by no means perfect, either before or after these divine encounters. But these experiences served to grow his faith in ways it could not have otherwise. Jacob had lived a life full of schemes and deceptions, relying primarily on his own wits to obtain what he wanted. But in the end, his transformation came in recognizing what God had already provided. He didn't have to fight for God's blessing, He was blessed.
Do you feel stuck in the patterns or circumstances of your life? Are you having trouble surrendering control? Remember that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us, one who is never afraid to do what is required for the good of His children (Hebrews 12:6-7). Sometimes that means wrestling us to the ground in order for us to realize that He has always been with us and for us (Deuteronomy 31:8), that He has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).
As the saying goes, it is in coming to the end of ourselves that we find a new beginning with God. This is true when we first step over that line of faith and equally true in our daily surrendering and submitting to His good and perfect will. There is blessing in the wrestling because our wrestling can lead us to God. Jacob may have gotten a bum hip, but he limped with a stronger faith. So too can we.
BY JOYCE PELLETIER
"You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain."
I’ve been journaling since I came to know Jesus. He always knew me! He knew before I was even conceived and that his plan for my life is perfect. He will know me all the rest of my days on earth, then onto Heaven when we will meet face to face.
I love Psalm 139. I don’t reflect on it often enough, but God always calls me back from time to time to some important truths.
David admits in Psalm 139:1-6 “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me, and you know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” David knew that God knew him. He continuously failed, but turned back to God.
Let’s just look at these words for now. If you are like me and journal, then these words give us great starting points for our writing. No matter what we are going through, God is clear, that He knows us completely and is always with us.
A good starting point is to write a reflection on this question. How do I know God knows my every thought, action, and troubling struggles that I face daily? Think about 10 years ago! Where were you then? You hopefully will be able to write a lot. If you don’t keep a journal, then tell God verbally what you have been through.
I recently came across a journal that my mom wrote. It was her very first and only journal she kept. At Christmas of 1988, I had a strong conviction that I should get her started with her journal. I suggested to her that this was for her, no one else. She should just write as if God is the only one interested in reading it. Don’t hold back anything. Let it out.
Mom did an amazing job in her journal. It was in transposing this journal for my children to read, as well as myself, that I saw a different person than the one I knew and loved. I used to pass onto her the devotionals that we were finished with, and she read every one of them.
Mom struggled with a number of insecurities in her life. She was an alcoholic. At the time of this journal, she was still drinking, but I believe she wrote before she had a beer in her hand. She mentioned numerous times that Bible reading was on the top of her daily to-do list. Each time she shared this, she mentions how faithful God was in seeing to her needs. Mom was raised in a church-going family; but when she married, she stopped going to church. In the time of this journal, she returned to the truth of the Word. This journal revealed her positive nature in accepting wherever she was in life.
In her original Bible from the 1930’s, the print was extremely tiny, and one that I could not read without a magnifier. I had purchased a Living Bible as it was much easier a read. In her old Bible, I found quotes that were from her original copy. How important those words hold true to her later years.
I was so encouraged by her writings. She stayed with it (not every day), but I have 5 years’ worth of sporadic writing and she wrote about all her physical problems and her positive nature was to remain to God. In 1993, she began the journey of Alzheimer's Disease and never wrote again. But in all that, God knew her and now has her with Him forever.
This journal healed any old disappointments I had with my relationship with Mom as I finally understand her. With the blessing of finally delving into her writings, God showed me that I finally know my “Mom” and what a healing blessing that was for me this past Christmas. I am forever grateful for this.
BY JORDAN MAYER
"So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience."
A few weeks ago I came down with the flu. Though the symptoms themselves were no picnic, the most debilitating part was the lack of sleep. For about a week, I struggled to get even a few hours of rest each night. Sleep began to feel elusive, and night time became a source of stress and anxiety at the thought of another sleepless night. No matter what I tried or how badly I wanted to sleep, nothing seemed to work.
Isn’t it interesting how desperately we need sleep, and how quickly our bodies break down when we don’t get any? But as much as our physical bodies need rest, it is dwarfed by our soul's need for spiritual rest.
The Bible introduces us to the idea of Sabbath rest, beginning at the beginning when God rests from His work of creation. This sweet melody of rest plays throughout Scripture and finds its crescendo in the work of Christ on the cross. Just as God’s work was complete in creation, Jesus provides a perfect and complete sacrifice, and He ushers in a lasting rest.
Contrasted with Jesus’ work on the cross is the works of our own hands. Even our best deeds are like filthy rags before a perfect and holy God (Isaiah 64:6). Try as we might, we all fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23).
But, there is hope. Hebrews reminds us that this blessed Sabbath rest still remains. God is extending an open invitation to partake of the rest that He secured on our behalf. It begins by recognizing and acknowledging that our works will never be enough. Like the frustration and anxiety of another sleepless night, our tireless works can never commend us to God. But the good news of the Gospel triumphantly declares that they don’t have to! When we accept Christ, we are able to lay our works aside to experience the peaceful rest of the Savior.
The first night I finally slept through the night, I felt immense relief and joy. In a small measure, it reminds me of what it feels like when we surrender our lives to Christ. The endless toil and the constant working to be "good enough" finally ceases. In the midst of the breaking waves and swirling winds of our restless soul, Jesus lifts up His hands and says, "Peace. Be still."
For us who know Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, we can rejoice in and look forward to this eternal rest. But the rest that Jesus offers is not only a future promise but a present day reality. We can experience Sabbath rest here and now.
But to experience and appropriate His rest, we are called to strive. The Christian life is one of action; faith is active, not passive. We must hold fast to the hope set before us (Hebrew 6:18) and with confidence draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We must lay aside every weight and run the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). So too, we must strive to enter the rest that God provides.
This striving is not a return to our own works, but rather a resting in the completed work of Christ. It is the active application of the Gospel in our lives. It comes in the daily decisions we must make to decide where we will find our rest. Sabbath is not about what we can do, but resting in what's been done.
So where are you finding rest today? Is it in Jesus, or something else?
Are you seeking your rest in career fulfillment? In the absence of family drama? Do you look for it in a pain free life, or try to find it in leisure or alone time? Is your rest found in your circumstances or is it present in spite of them?
Wherever or whatever you find yourself seeking rest in, Jesus is calling after you today. Come to the Savior, lay all else aside, and find rest for your soul.
"'Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'” (Matthew 11:28-30)
BY MARY SPENCE
"Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."
(Philippians 4:9 NIV)
You know how all the pieces of a puzzle have various shapes?
Some pieces are edge pieces... some have arms or "knobs" and some are indented or have "holes". It strikes me how like the pieces of a puzzle we are in our community.
I was sitting with a friend recently talking about how God arranges people in our lives for a certain time or place. How God will use the most unexpected people in our lives to help us move forward to the next level. How just the right person comes alongside you and offers support, advice or help. Not unlike a jigsaw puzzle. All our pieces are perfectly designed to fit together. In areas where we have a lacking or a deficit God places just the right "piece" alongside us. Where their "knob" fits exactly as it should in our life. And in those places where we have a gifting He will bring along just the right situation for our gifts to be used. I find such comfort in the knowledge that in His perfect plan each of us has a piece of it; that we will be used in our unique shape and gifting to be a part of the larger plan. As we each intersect with one another we begin to complete the puzzle if we are faithful and obedient and respond to His call.
Each of us has our own role to play, our own place in the divine tapestry...Just as in a puzzle where you can't see the complete picture until each piece is in place. As all those differently shaped pieces fill openings we can begin to see the larger picture unfold.
However, if even one piece is missing the image is not complete. We begin searching high and low for the missing piece. It's just not complete without that one lost piece. For without that one specific individual piece to complete the picture it is incomplete. Just as how Jesus searches for the lost one; He looks high and low, until He finds that one soul who was lost.
So if you are feeling lost or disconnected today, I encourage you to reach out. Get back to church, call a friend or accountability person. Or find a place to serve, to bless someone else, because your piece is important in someone else's puzzle.
We thank you for our various giftings and that you have a specific individual plan for each and every one of us. That we are each a vital part of you wondrous plan for this world. We are grateful for your everlasting love for us and that you have a personal interest in each of our lives. Guide us each day Heavenly Father to submit to your wonderful plan and move when prompted or to hold our tongue until your timing is right. Give us the wisdom to know when it is your will and not our will. We pray for discernment and patience to wait on you and your timing. In your precious son's holy name. Amen.
BY JORDAN MAYER
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
With a new year comes an endless array of new year’s resolutions. Renewed motivation leads many to try something new, make a change, or chart a new path. There is something exhilarating about looking ahead to 365 new days, fresh with potential and ripe with possibility. Though the specific goals may vary, they usually fall into some common themes.
Health and fitness usually take top billing. Most people want to “eat healthier”, “get in better shape”, “slim down”, “lose weight”, or any number of variations therein. There are career goals like getting a promotion or finally moving into a new role. Some set financial goals to save more money or finally pay off a debt. Others commit to stopping a bad habit or starting a good one.
Resolutions, like goals, can be a great tool for giving us direction and something to work towards. But are our resolutions merely about us? Are they only about what we want to do, be, or accomplish?
Resolutions present an opportunity. They can either be just for our personal accomplishment, or they can be to the praise of His glory. They can make much of ourselves, or they can make much of God.
So we come to Psalm 127. Tucked within these opening verses is a truth about not just what we pursue, but how we pursue it. There is a vanity in which we can strive after the things we are trying to accomplish. They may even be extremely worthwhile pursuits like building a house or keeping a city safe! Noble they may be, the issue lies in the manner in which they are done. If our God is a God of peace, then “the bread of anxious toil” does not sound like the kind of bread He would provide. Instead this is the fruit of our own labor. It comes from a heart that’s trying to do it all and control it all. The anxiety comes in realizing that no matter how much we do, it is never enough. It is what makes the Preacher cry in desperation, “…Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3)
Whatever we may pursue, if the Lord is not in it, the pursuit is in vain. If we merely exercise to look or feel a certain way, we exercise in vain. If we strive to climb the corporate ladder for personal accomplishment, we work in vain. If we take on a new hobby for our own gratification, we enjoy in vain. The same is also true for seemingly “spiritual” pursuits. If our study of God’s Word is for our own theological prowess, we study in vain. If we pray to fill some imaginary quota, we pray in vain. If we sing worship for an emotional experience, we sing in vain.
1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us that all of life - whatever we do, think, or say - can be done for God’s glory. So as we set and pursue the resolutions that are before us, let us do so from a heart of faith. Let us seek God in the things that we pursue. And as we seek Him, we receive His beloved sleep. We enter into the rest that God has prepared for His people (Hebrews 4:9-10). Rather than the bread of anxious toil, we partake in the bread of life (John 6:35)
BY JOYCE PELLETIER
Christmas! Year after year we celebrate His birth. Mary and Joseph make a long journey to Bethlehem. Consider who show up to honor Mary’s boy-child. The shepherds are with their flocks. The Magi made their way by following the star. Herod makes it a point to talk to the Magi. He was bold enough to ask them to report back so he could pay homage too. Herod had other thoughts about this child. He wanted to find Him so he could stop Jesus from carrying out the plan of salvation.
Who ever heard of such a thing? In our culture, we don’t do that to a child that comes into our family. We want to love, cuddle and protect them from the world they’ve come into.
Step with me on the side-line to see how Mary responds. She’s weary from this long journey to Bethlehem. It was not an easy trek on a jostling camel, to later give birth to the Son of God. I remember well those hours before giving birth to my two children. Life was hard during that era of living. Mary and Joseph had no place to rest. Remember there was no room for them in the Inn. They ended up in a barn filled with dusty animals.
They persevered! They knew God was with them. They had a sense of what was to happen that night. Joseph attended Mary as best he could. There was no room for them to rest. Yet, in the barn, on the straw, Mary laid down and went through the birth pangs. She laid Him in a manger.
Alas! The Holy Child was born, without harm or issues. Mary held her child for the first time in her arms, just like other new mothers do. She looked in awe of the amazing miracle that just happened. Soon she looks up and sees the shepherds make their way to honor the child. Oh, the joy she felt!
Not long after the Magi approached the child with gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. They present their gifts in respectful reverence. They knew they were in a place of profound wonder. The animals were silent. The presence was something they never knew.
Soon after, the witnesses leave as quietly as they came. Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus settled in for the night.
The shepherds step away quietly in a state of amazement, as they return to the fields, cherishing the miracle they just encountered. The Magi left to return by another route home to avoid Herod and his devious plan.
Matthew 2:13 says that an angel appeared in a dream saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Time to rest for Mary and Joseph! Not really, but then an angel came to warn him to get up and go quickly to Egypt with his new family for safety.
What was about to happen!? All the sons under the age of two were about to be killed. Can you imagine the horror the fathers and mothers went through as their boy babies were whisked away and killed? This fulfilled the prophecy from Jeremiah. In Matthew 2:18 “The voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Joseph and Mary were obedient to make the long journey to Egypt. They didn’t know what the road ahead would be like, but they walked in faith and trusted God. As followers of Christ, we can do the same.
This is why we can believe what Proverb 3:5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path".
BY JORDAN MAYER
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'”
This year I have been doing a Bible reading plan, one that takes you through Scripture in its entirety within the span of a year. If you have never done this before, I cannot recommend it enough. I appreciate the structure of these plans with a set of assigned readings each day, as well as the opportunity they provide to revisit some of the books I frequent less often (Leviticus anyone?) As we near the end of the year, I am ending in the book of Revelation. I think for many of us, the book of Revelation can be a daunting book. Although, I don't think it is half as daunting to read as it must have been to write! Imagine what it must have been like for John to witness these things and then attempt to describe them with words. Yet, we know that all of the Bible authors had some divine help!
Reading through this book during the Advent season helps me remember something: the best is yet to come. As has been mentioned before, advent literally means "coming". While this season celebrates the first coming, the birth of a Savior, it is also a season of eager expectation for Christ's second coming. The things that began when Jesus first came will find their resolution when He comes again.
Resolution. In music, resolution refers to a release of musical tension. Certain notes or chords create suspense and tension in the music, and the listener naturally expects a conclusion that resolves that tension. This is a fitting analogy for the time in redemptive history that we find ourselves in. God created, man fell, Jesus came...and now we wait. For those in Christ, our sins have been paid in full (Colossians 2:13-14), we are made free (Galatians 5:1), we are declared new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). And yet, like Paul, we are often frustrated in our desire to do right by our tendency to sin (Romans 7:19). Like the rest of creation, we groan inwardly in the midst of a broken world, eagerly awaiting what is to come. (Romans 8:23).
I love the language of this passage in Revelation for how beautifully it mirrors these two advents. "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God".
Remember the words of Isaiah, "'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)" (Matthew 1:23).
God came down 2,000 years ago to dwell among us, to be with His people. When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of our life, His Spirit comes to dwell inside of us. And one day, when Christ returns, we will be called up to Heaven to dwell in His presence for all eternity. These things that have taken place are wonderful realities; they are the foundation of our faith. And yet, the best is yet to come!
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
BY JORDAN MAYER
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
When I was younger, I used to play a game with my brothers where we would go downstairs to the family room, close all the doors, shut off the lights, cover the windows, and then try to find each other in the near pitch-black room. Each of us would stumble about with arms outstretched, unable to see what obstacles might be in our way. In the context of our game, it was all part of the fun. But given a different set of circumstances, this darkness would be a source of unease, helplessness, and fear.
The Bible speaks of another kind of darkness. But rather than being physical, this darkness is spiritual. It describes the nature and condition of every single person in the world. As Proverbs 4:19 describes it, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” As a result of our sin, we have become blinded to the things of God. We are both unwilling and incapable of accepting God’s truth (1 Corinthians 2:14). We walk about in spiritual darkness, actively choosing, and even loving, the dark that is our sin (John 3:19).
This state can be likened to the condition of the world described in Genesis 1:2. Darkness covered the deep. The earth was formless and void. In the absence of the light, there was only chaos and disorder. There is a wonderful word in Hebrew, Tohu v’vohu, that we translate as formless and void, or literally wild and waste. The idea is that the world is still in a state of disorder, of emptiness. It is unlivable. But then we read of God’s Spirit hovering over the waters, suggesting that God was about to do something about the present situation.
By the mere words of His mouth, God speaks light into existence. "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." (Genesis 1:3) In an instant, this formless darkness explodes into light and God sees it as good. He then proceeds with His masterful work of creation and finishes by calling it very good! (Genesis 1:31) This emergence of light is the pivotal moment that ushers in God's beautiful order, structure, and life into creation.
All throughout Scripture, we find this pattern of light closely connected to God's working power. Later on in the New Testament, we see this pattern of light show up again. An angel appears to shepherds out in the field, "and the glory of the Lord shone around them" (Luke 2: 9). The angel brings news of the birth of a Savior, Christ the Lord. Wise men from the east follow a star to find the Christ child so that they may worship him (Matthew 2:1-2).
This very Jesus would go on to declare, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) This is the Good News that we celebrate at Christmas. The Light of the World has come! Just as God had a plan for addressing the darkness over the deep, He had a plan to address the darkness of our own sin. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) There is hope for all who walk in the dark and formless void of sin. It is through Jesus that we can be delivered from this domain of darkness and into His kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13).
With this light now in us, God declares us new creations, transforming us from the inside out. And as we walk as children of the Light (Ephesians 5:8), we also become lights in the darkness of this world (Matthew 5:14). Like lighthouses pointing lost ships to shore, we are now called to point others to the light, truth, and hope of the Gospel. We once knew what it was like to stumble around in the dark. But now we have seen a marvelous light, and others must see it too!
BY JORDAN MAYER
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”
In describing the Christmas season, many people will use the word hopeful. Despite all the stress and strife that has build up over the course of the year, most people will experience what is often described as the “Christmas spirit”. Energy, excitement, and anticipation builds as December 25th draws near. In the weeks following Thanksgiving, people try to be kinder, more patient, more understanding; hope is high. But as soon as the day comes, it passes. The parties end. The tree is taken down and the decorations are put away. As the Christmas festivities fade, so does the apparent hope of the season.
January is often attributed as the most depressing month of the year. It may seem puzzling given its close proximity to the holidays, but it reveals the shallowness of the world’s hope. Like a counterfeit toy, the world’s hope crumbles and breaks. Proverbs 13:12 aptly states, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
So how do we cultivate a hope that lasts more than a day, or a month, or a year? Where do we find a hope that is not fleeting, but lasting? We begin by recognizing that hope is not found in a season. It is not a feeling or a vague, abstract sense that everything will just “work out” in the end. It’s not a wish or a crossing of the fingers. You see, our hope is not in something, but rather, someone.
In the book of Hebrews, the author writes to Jewish Christians who were having their own hope crisis. Amidst suffering and persecution, many of them were returning to the Law. It seemed a safe and familiar place to rest their hope upon. But, as the author contends, hope is not found in angels, prophets, priests, or sacrifices. Rather, all these things were meant to point to something greater. They were the copies made to reflect the genuine article. They were the shadows made to reveal the substance. They were all pointing to Jesus, the great prophet, priest, and king. It was Jesus who entered the inner place and tore the curtain gloriously in two, providing access for all to draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
The Christmas story is the continuation of God’s marvelous plan of salvation for His people. This Jesus, who would die on the cross for our sins, came first as a small baby boy. The hope of the world was born in a manger.
Jesus is our hope. It is not only in what He’s done, but what He still plans to do. The Advent Season is not merely a reminder of his first coming, it is the eager expectation of His second! This is where our hope rests, as a sure and steadfast anchor of our soul.
As we draw near to this blessed Christmas Day, let us anchor ourselves in the Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3), the hope that does not put us to shame (Romans 15:13). And as we rejoice in hope, let us remember that the Good News of the Gospel, the greatest gift the world has ever known, is meant to be shared. Right outside our doors is a world desperate for hope. Let’s show them who He is!