April 2008

In Isaiah 3:1-4, God declares that he will take away the leaders from Israel, such that the people will make children their rulers. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that God later gives the sign of a virgin having a child to be named Immanuel as the sign of the destruction of the Aram-Israel alliance (7:1). Even more ironic are Isaiah’s words in 9:6-7, stating that God himself would make a child their leader. Yet, unlike the children chosen in 3:9, this Child would accomplish everything the leaders of Israel and Judah could not. He would be a wonderful counselor to the people, their mighty God, their eternal Father, and a bringer of ultimate peace. Also unlike previous kings, even the greatly revered David, this Child’s rule would never end – this peaceful and perfect kingdom was going to last forever. Surely this promise was a comfort to the faithful remnant as they watched kings rise and fall along with their kingdoms. They had hope that One was coming to finally bring peace, justice, and righteousness forever.

My take-aways:

  1. God is the master of turning apparently horrible and foolish things into good. In the incarnation of Christ, He would take a child born amidst scandal and make Him the ruler all had been waiting for. The world, of course, rejected Him and only mocked Him as a king, but God would use even His death to accomplish salvation for His children. I can trust Him when things are ugly or just confusing, knowing that he makes all things new and good.
  2. Peace, justice, and righteousness will never come through an earthly government. We may get glimpses of such things in current kingdoms, but until Christ returns, we will never know them fully and for all eternity. And when such a kingdom does arise, it will not be through our own working (politics, grassroots campaigns, democracy, etc.); Isaiah says, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.” In other words, the promise of this perfect rule is completely contingent upon God Himself, so when it happens, He alone will receive the glory. Such thoughts should bring comfort, confidence, peace, and joy to my life, as it surely did to the faithful of Isaiah’s day. When those attitudes are part of my life, I am living out kingdom principles until the ultimate establishment of the kingdom. Surely more could be said about how peace, justice, and righteousness have been brought about through Jesus’ first advent, and will be seen worldwide in His second, but I’m getting in over my head now…. I need to think some more. Help is welcomed.

Our local fire department has a changeable sign. Today I saw that it reads, “April showers bring May flowers and severe weather.” Thanks, guys. So maybe you’ll get some nice tulips from the rain, but a tornado is coming to rip them to shreds. I’ll add this example to my file, “Evidence that all changeable signs with pithy sayings should be destroyed.” It’ll end up right next to my personal favorite, courtesy of my friend Dan as he drove by a church to see if he should apply for a ministry position at it: “Dude, where’s my sermon?” By the way, God bless firemen and their families. I can’t imagine having their job and every community is blessed to have them. I just found the sign amusing.

Andrea and I are going to Kentucky. I signed up to attend the Together for the Gospel Conference a while ago, which runs Tuesday through Thursday in Louisville. From there, we are heading to southeastern Kentucky to visit some state parks (Kingdom Come and Cumberland Falls) we were unable to make it to during our four years living in Kentucky. We will be there and in Louisville through Monday while Elaine is in Galesburg with her grandparents.

I’m excited to go, and I know God is going to use the trip, but I’m also apprehensive to leave. There is so much happening at the church, especially with our youth group. We recently attended a Dare 2 Share youth conference, and we are planning an outreach series to start April 27th. The students are excited, and I want to do everything I can to stoke those fires. Yet not being here and being on vacation means a week of absence from this and other ministries. I’m also apprehensive to leave Elaine, not because she is with her grandparents, of course. It’s also not because I don’t want to spend some alone time with Andrea – it’s going to be great for us, especially with baby #2 coming in September. I just know we will miss her, and I feel bad about leaving her for so long.

I think the root of my apprehension is my failure to acknowledge God’s complete sovereignty in both situations. “Believe it or not, Andy, the work of the ministry can go on without you.” Sure, I know this; but leaving puts feet to my knowledge. I am given the privilege of trusting the students of our youth group to promote our outreach event, and to allow others to minister in my place. And regarding Elaine, I am reminded that she really isn’t “my child” in the first place, but a gift from God “on loan.” My absence does nothing to negate the protecting hand of God over her. Lord willing, one day she will not be living at home, nor will Andrea and I be responsible for her care. So I guess it’s good to practice letting go early.

Life and ministry will continue in my absence because God is in complete control. I am praying that my mind leaves Illinois when my car does.

With another baby on the way, I’m on the lookout for names. I came across this one in Isaiah 8:3 – Maher-shalal-hash-baz. It means, “Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey,” and it’s a boys name. Here are the pluses: it is biblical, it has an awesome meaning, and the potential nicknames are countless. He could go by “Hash” or “Baz”… not “Booty” though. I haven’t run this name past Andrea yet, and I don’t think I’ll waste my time.  But, hey – I’ve heard worse!

One of my friends from college and I are reading a book together, despite the hundreds of miles that separate us. Each week we read a chapter, call each other on Friday, and discuss what was read. I often lack the discipline to read the books I’ve always wanted to, but this type of “accountability reading” has helped so far – I make sure I am ready for our discussion.

We are reading The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader; this weeks sermon was “The Pleasantness of Religion.” Based on Proverbs 24:13-14, Edwards draws this doctrine: “It would be worth the while to be religious, if it were only for the pleasantness of it.” He goes on to clearly demonstrate that those who have made the truth of Christ the center of their lives find pleasure and joy far beyond those who do not, even affirming the delight to be found in repentance, self-denial, and the persecutions of unbelievers.

I was challenged by this quote, found within the applications:

We come with double forces against the wicked, to persuade them to a godly life. The most common argument that is used to urge men to godliness is the pleasures of the life to come; but this has not its effect for the sinner [who] is in pursuit of the pleasures of this life. Now, therefore, we urge you to the pleasures of this [life]: therefore you can have nothing to say. The common argument is the profitableness of religion, but alas, the wicked man is not in pursuit of profit; ’tis pleasure he seeks. Now, then, we will fight with them with their own weapons, {for religion does not deny us outward delights and pleasures}.

In an effort to avoid appealing to a person’s felt needs or to make Jesus just another commodity to consume, I think I have forsaken the truth Edwards is teaching in this quote and sermon – an appeal for sinners to come to Christ can and should contain an appeal to their pleasures, both with regard to heaven and this present life. It is not a plea for them to accept Christ and continue finding fulfillment in sin; Edwards affirms the necessity of repentance and complete trust in Christ, even pointing out the pleasures found in them. Rather his call is for people to forsake the cheap pleasure of sin, to come to Christ and to find him to be the ultimate fulfillment of their pleasure seeking. I’m not sure what this looks like or if I’ve fully grasped the truth of it, which is probably obvious, so help is welcomed.

In both the small group I lead and TBD, our church youth group, I have been leading a study through the book of James. In each group, before tackling James’ thoughts regarding the fact that “faith without works is dead” (2:14-26), we did a study of the life of Abraham. We did this because James uses Abraham as an example of faith showing itself in works, and while doing this preliminary study, I realized more fully why.

  • He uprooted his family from Haran to go to, what God described as, “the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12). As one of our group members put it, “Thanks for the details, God.”
  • Though he and Sarah were both old and beyond the age of having children, he trusted that God would provide an heir for him (Gen. 15). Of course, he didn’t trust God perfectly, as the Hagar/Ishmael incident shows, not to mention that fact that both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the idea. Yet their shortcomings give those of us with often weak faith hope. Comfort can be found in that fact that the promises of God to Abraham were not contingent upon Abraham, but solely upon God (Gen. 15:17-21; 22:16).
  • He bound himself to God through the covenant of circumcision at 100 years old, along with his entire household (Gen. 17). No comment necessary.
  • He was more than willing to sacrifice his son because of God’s command, believing that even if he killed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead (Gen. 22; Heb. 11:19).

So much more could be said about this father of our faith, but his entire life was an example of faith shown through works. His actions clearly reveal that he not only said what he believed, but he believed what he said; his works were the visible evidence of his invisible faith. And Abraham’s faith says more about God than it does about Abraham, because Abraham’s faith was not wishful thinking or a blind leap. Rather it was grounded in a God that continually reaffirmed His covenant and held Himself fully responsible for fulfilling it. Our God is worthy of the kind of radical, life-altering faith that Abraham exemplifies, because He is the definition of “trustworthy.” Abraham could do what he did because he believed God was who He said he was. So my faith will increase as I see more of who God is, and thereby see that He is worthy of my complete trust. Knowing God is the key to seeing with eyes of faith.