A wonderful notion – one worth aspiring to. Hope is not something like, ‘I hope it doesn’t rain today’, or ‘I hope I get a raise’. It is for me (a believer) the certainty of what my God has for me, both in the here and now on this earth plus what is waiting for me on the day I arrive in Heaven. It is something that I am certain of though this world hits me at times with its schedules, pressures, bad behaviors (sometimes mine) and fleeting rewards.
But, with the aforementioned assaults that we may or may not withstand, hope leaks. We lose sight of it. We linger too long over something we have no business even entertaining. Distraction (or some derivative of it) becomes our middle name – ‘Hi! I’m Pam ‘Shiny Thing’ Halvorson. Pleased to meet you!’
What can we linger over (alongside a fine cup of coffee) that can stop up the leaks? Or better yet – what does a hope filled life look like?
For me, in one word – Jesus – but I am not a one word kind of girl. I can hear Stu sighing with a deep and eye rolling ‘So, so true …. ‘.
Now, with many words, and a few eclectic turns, let me explain where I am headed with this.
After speaking with a number of people, and asking, ‘what does a hope filled life look like?’ They answered – a person with a hope filled life (Jesus in their life), is a person who:
– sees possibilities not problems
– lives without fear
– embraces joy in the ups of life dynamically & endures the downs of life dependently
– sees life as a gift
– is calm
– sees beyond the everyday to a greater, bigger picture of theirs & others’ lives
– is teachable
– is quick to forgive an offense
– is not stuck in the past but has optimism for the future
– knows the art of forgiveness
– holds no grudges
Interesting. With the acknowledgement that we are a leaking lot, we hold to these ideals while we hold onto Jesus. Or more accurately, as He holds onto us.
Job 13: 15 & 16 says:
15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face.
16 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
for no godless person would dare come before him!
So Job is saying that even though God may afflict him so much so that die he may, he would not stop placing his hope in the Father. And further, that if indeed Job did pass away, God would work everything out, so that all would be ‘good’. Job expounds on this notion indicating he would feel right at home boldly asking God about this suffering thing – without feeling that things might get edgy, or that he might cross a line. Because he knows God and God knows him, which means He knows Job’s heart. Lines would remain uncrossed. Apple carts would stand upright. Flies would not mar ointment. Question: What makes a hope so powerful that even suffering and death could not unseat it?
The writer of Psalm 130 reflects this in verses 7 & 8:
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
Can you grasp these words? Do you see the hope? Hope in the Lord. With the Lord IS unfailing love. With Him is FULL redemption. He Himself will redeem Isreal (place your name in the place of Isreal & read it again). Question: Who loves so personally, with such stable determination?
Lamentations 3: 19-33
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
Long passage I know, but rich. Breathe …
2 words that really stand out – ‘every morning’. Every morning! That is every single day – not once a week, or when the ‘feeling’ is right, but daily. Does this not edge into the ‘inescapable’ genre?
Another word further in the passage – ‘unfailing’. Kinda parallels the ‘every morning’ thing. Right?
Couple the above sureties with words like:
– the Lord’s great love
– His compassions
– great is Your faithfulness
– the salvation of the Lord
– not willingly bring affliction
and you have an image. A powerful something that speaks of a heart set on yours. A lasting and personal security. An unshakable reality of Someone bent on loving every aspect of you. Through the affliction. The wandering. The bitterness. The downcast soul (very bad). Through the waiting. The yoking to our troubles. And the submitting to the consequences. Through the silence. The disgrace. And the grief. There is faithfulness. There is unfailing. There is salvation. There is hope. We are within reach.
Dan said recently where there is hope there is life. Life to the full. A hope filled life indeed. Question: Do you have it?
This week’s sermon is available online here.
This past Sunday, we finished up our sermon series on listening to God.
We’ve covered a lot the past few weeks as we’ve thought about what it means to listen to God, to hear His voice through Scripture and His gentle whisper, and then to act on what He says.
I appreciated the reminder this week that sin so ruins and affects our relationship with God. Adam and Eve, who had experienced perfect union with God, were afraid of His voice after they sinned. They knew that they were guilty, and the voice of God would hold them accountable to that. How amazing that because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, our relationship with God can be fully reconciled. We no longer need to fear Him, but we get to praise Him and delight in Him and obey Him once again.
Pastor Dan mentioned four voices out there that speak to us: the voice of the enemy, other people, our own thoughts, and God’s voice. We need to be able to distinguish God’s voice from the others. Pastor Dan pointed out that God’s voice has a certain quality of sound — there is authority when God speaks. God’s voice will also always conform to what is in the Bible and His character that is revealed there.
Pastor Dan also mentioned that we need to listen to God for a breakthrough in our lives. We may not always like the instruction God gives us — oftentimes He speaks and asks us to do hard things, like give up certain sins that we’ve clung to. But we have to listen and obey in order to get to the breakthrough that will bring us freedom.
Finally, the three points that Pastor Dan ended with I think are useful for us as we continue to take time to listen to God:
- If God doesn’t seem to be speaking, we should check for sin in our lives, and if we find nothing hindering us, we should just appreciate being in the presence of Jesus. He has spoken through His Word, and we can cling to those truths at all times.
- We need to make sure we deal with our self-importance. If God is speaking, it often has to do with Him and His glory, and has very little to do with us.
- Be careful with devotional books. I appreciated this point, because sometimes we see things labeled as “Christian” and we run with them as full truth. But as Pastor Dan mentioned, we know and prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13:9). The words in a devotional book are not the same level as the words in Scripture. The Bible is our go-to for truth and for hearing from God.
We’ve learned a lot in this series, and have a lot to think about as we listen to God! A few parting questions:
- What has stood out to you the most in this series?
- How do you plan to move forward now that you’ve learned more about hearing God’s voice?
- What might God be speaking to you about today?
This week’s sermon is available here.
We continued in our series on listening to God this week. Pastor Dan pointed out that listening to God begins with recognizing that we live in a world filled with God’s presence and voice. There is more going on than we tend to see or hear. When we stop to listen, we realize that God is speaking. In order to listen to God, we also need to have a longing to hear from Him. We need to care about what He’s saying.
I think this was an important point from the message. I think it might be cool to hear from God — through His Word or His still, small voice. But my desire to hear from God shouldn’t be just to make me feel good or to satisfy my curiosity. God speaks so that we’ll obey Him.
I saw this video yesterday that explains what it means to “listen” in the Bible. The word is inextricably linked with the idea of obedience. Listening to God means doing what He says. Check it out.
It was also neat to be reminded that Jesus listened to God. His judgments, decisions and words come after spending time listening to the Father.
As we listen to Jesus, He will talk to us about Himself, He will speak to us personally, He will remind us that He longs for us, He will convict us of our sin, and He will give us instruction for life. I appreciated the reminder that every part of our lives — family, work, finances, relationships — are informed by God. There is no separation between the secular and the sacred. God has instructions for all of life, and when we listen to Him through His Word and His Holy Spirit, we receive guidance.
Pastor Dan gave us three questions to ask God in our journaling this week:
- Lord, what do you think or feel about me?
- What are Your plans and purposes for me?
- What do You and I have in common?
Think on these things as you listen to God this week!
This week’s sermon is available here.
This week we talked about learning to recognize the voice of God when He speaks. When I was young, I watched a Christian cartoon series called SuperBook. One of the episodes was all about young Samuel trying to sleep, but being constantly awakened by a voice calling to Him. As Pastor Dan spoke on Sunday, I kept picturing this cartoon in my head — Samuel going to Eli, asking why he had called him, and Eli sending Samuel back to bed. Finally, Eli figures out that it is God who is speaking to Samuel, so the next time he hears the voice, Samuel says, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” What a great response to God’s voice! Lord, speak, because I am ready and willing to listen and to act!
As we’ve talked about, the primary way God speaks is through His Word, the Bible. This is the foundational, objective way that we hear from God. The primary subjective way God speaks is through the gentle whisper of his voice — maybe through thoughts He brings to mind, or the way our hearts are moved in a certain direction.
Pastor Dan gave us a few points for figuring out how we know if these thoughts are from ourselves or from God.
- Does it line up with God’s Word? If it contradicts Scripture, it’s not the voice of God speaking to you.
- Does Godly counsel agree? Do those who know the Lord and His Word affirm this?
- Do I have peace about this?
- Are circumstances lining up with what I’m hearing from God?
God gives us direction through His Word and through speaking to us. He reconciles us to Himself when we ask for His forgiveness. And what is so amazing and wonderful is that He calls us friends! God likes us and invites us to be in deep relationship with Him. God speaks to us so that we can know Him more and walk in His way.
This week’s sermon is available here.
We’re digging into our series on listening to God, and this week we focused on hearing God through the main way He speaks — the Bible.
As Pastor Dan put it, the indispensable foundation for hearing God is the Christian Scripture. This is where God has spoken to us. It is His speech written down for us to know Him and His ways. Hebrews tells us that this Scripture is living and active. It’s not a dry, old book that has nothing for us — it’s God’s relevant Word to us right here and now.
I loved the points Pastor Dan gave for hearing God through the Bible.
- The Bible is the normal way God speaks to us. It is where we get to know Him and start to recognize His voice. It is the main way He speaks to us, so we should always start there.
- The Holy Spirit will never speak anything to us that is contrary to God’s Word. If you think you hear something from God, know that it will never contradict something that’s in the Bible.
- The Holy Spirit will always point us back to the Bible to confirm or test it. If you think you’re hearing from God, go to the Scripture and see what it says. Does what you have heard line up with the Bible?
I really appreciated Pastor Dan’s point about how it’s important for us to know the Bible so that we can recognize God’s voice. If we know the Word by reading it, meditating on it, and memorizing it, we’ll better recognize when God speaks and when He’s not speaking. There are so many opinions out there, so it’s important for us to have the Bible as our foundation so that we recognize when we’re hearing something that is contrary to what God says in His Word.
As you spend time in the Bible this week, keep in mind if things stand out to you, if you feel like God is personally addressing you, or if you notice the same theme coming up over and over. This could be God speaking directly to you through His Word.
This week, we’ve been challenged to write down our big questions to God. What are you asking Him? What do you need to hear from Him?
The first sermon in our new sermon series is available here.
This week, Pastor Dan introduced us to a new sermon series he’s doing on listening to God. As Pastor Dan outlined, there are a number of reasons this series is useful to us — we were designed to hear God because He wants a personal relationship with us. There’s also many of us who have never learned to recognize God’s voice. We need to know that we don’t need to go through anyone else to hear from God — He is the best counselor out there and He’s magnificent in wisdom.
I appreciated the reminder that it is God’s nature to speak. From the very first words of the Bible and all throughout the rest of it, God speaks to people. He is a God who calls us by name and who instructs, warns, and comforts.
In John 10, Jesus says that the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd. If we are God’s people, we will hear and respond to His voice through obedience. So, the question then becomes — are we His sheep, His people? Have we made that decision to repent of our sins and recognize our need for a Saviour? If not, it’s time to decide! And if we have, then when we hear God’s voice, we need to obey it.
One of the things that stood out to me the most in this week’s sermon was the idea that if I want to hear from God, I have to create space and time to listen. I loved the idea of all of us journaling over the next few weeks to see how God speaks to us. Although I’m a writer, I’ve always struggled with journaling for some reason. A few weeks ago, I got a special book to journal in — mostly for prayer requests. I’ve still been sporadic with it, but I was challenged on Sunday to get back to it and to provide space to listen to God. I hope you join with us in taking time to intentionally listen to God these next few weeks and beyond!
- What are some ways you’ve heard God’s voice?
- Why do you think God wants to speak to us?
- Are you committed to intentionally setting aside time to listen to God’s voice?
This week’s sermon is available here.
This week, Pastor Jordan led us through Joel 2:12-17 as we looked at what it means to be wanderers who return to God.
I really appreciated this sermon — it convicted me about where I’ve wandered and become apathetic. I appreciated the reminder that my salvation doesn’t mean that I no longer have a need to repent and come back to the Lord. In fact, my salvation means that I’m committed to constant repentance.
Pastor Jordan pointed out that we have a few reasons to repent:
- God’s great name is at stake. What does it mean if we claim to follow Jesus, but our lifestyles are no different from anyone else? This does damage to the name of God and what we claim He does through the cross of Christ.
- We also repent because the day of the Lord is coming. Jesus will return someday, and the Bible makes it clear that our choices about Him have consequences. Those who repent and recognize their need for Jesus are invited to heaven with Him forever. Those who reject their need for Jesus go to hell. These are huge stakes and we must not wait to repent.
- We also return because of God’s character. Joel 2:13 reminds us that the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. He doesn’t want to send punishment — He wants us to return. What an amazing Father — one who only desires that we follow Him in His righteous ways.
I also appreciated the reminder from Pastor Jordan that our wanderings should not be kept to ourselves, but that we should share with others for accountability. This keeps us on track and humble before the Lord.
When I lived in Denver, I attended an evangelical Anglican church. Before we took communion each week, we would pray together the prayer of confession that Pastor Jordan read at the end of His sermon. I loved doing that each week. It was a reminder for me to look back at the week and acknowledge where I had sinned, and to appreciate the forgiveness that God offers me. This is what we prayed:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Consider that prayer this week. Invite God to search your heart and find any offensive way in you. Share your struggles with someone else. The Lord is gracious and compassionate — as we confess, He always forgives!
- What stood out to you most in the sermon?
- Do you regularly confess before God?
- Where are areas you are prone to wander?
- What does it mean to you that the Lord is slow to anger when it comes to our sin?
You can watch Pastor Dan’s sermon right here.
We were so blessed this week to be able to celebrate baptisms together! I love getting to watch people step forward and publicly declare their faith in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. What a great moment to rejoice with our brothers and sisters!
I appreciated Pastor Dan’s clear presentation of the gospel (good news) about Jesus! Those baptizees recognized that Jesus is the one who bore their sin when He died on the cross. Our sin separates us from God and leads us to hell. And there is nothing we can do to fix that sin problem on our own. But Jesus, who lived a life without sin, was able to die in our place. He sacrificed Himself so that we wouldn’t have to face the penalty of our sin, which is death.
During the season of Lent, I have been receiving a devotional in my email each day. Today’s stood out to me as I remembered baptisms and what Jesus did for us on the cross:
“Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great;
Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.”
The literal and symbolic weight of sin that Jesus endured is a thing upon which I often avoid looking. On this day, in these hours, Jesus bore the weight of his own cross, the worldly shame of association with criminals, the indignation of the Jews at his claims to a kingdom, the theft of his garments, the mocking words of the seemingly powerful, and the denial of his power to save even himself. I don’t want to believe that my sin, and the sin of humanity, is why he endured this weight. Deep in our souls we turn away from facing the darkness within, the capacity we have for evil.
Am I willing, at the cross, to acknowledge the ways I deny Jesus as King and Savior?
“Father, forgive them,” Jesus said, “for they know not what they do.” What grace, that in the midst of this scene of human depravity and sin, Jesus forgives. He attends to the limitedness of humanity, even when he could have cried out for righteous justice. He pleads for our forgiveness with the Father, and he pays for our forgiveness with his death.
Jesus paid for our forgiveness with His death, and we are so grateful! As we enter into Easter week, take time to pray for those who were baptized. Ask God to give them strength and courage and encouragement this week.
And please join us on Good Friday at 9 or 11 as we remember the death of Jesus, and on Easter Sunday at 9, 11 or 6 as we celebrate His resurrection!
You can watch this week’s sermon right here.
This week we continued our study of Jesus’ final week by looking at what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane.
What hit me most are some of the powerful images from that difficult night.
For example, in his video about the path to the cross, Ray VanderLaan talks about the meaning of Gethsemane in Hebrew. It’s a combination of the words, “gat” and “shemanim.” Gat means a place for pressing oil and “shemanim” means oils. It is likely that the Garden of Gethsemane was an olive grove that contained an olive press where olive oil was produced. These olive presses used tons of weight from large stones to press the rest of the oil out of already crushed olives. The weight of these presses would drain all the oil from the olives, leaving them dry. (You can watch this video on RightNow Media for free. Just search “The Path to the Cross” and watch the session, “The Fifth Cup: Our Way of Hope.”)
This place of intense pressure is where Jesus goes to grapple with the task that lies ahead of Him. The weight of God’s wrath that is about to be poured out on Him is almost too much to bear.
Pastor Shawn mentioned that Jesus and His disciples passed through the Kidron Valley to get to Gethsemane. As he pointed out, this is where the waste of the city went, along with the blood from the thousands upon thousands of lambs that were sacrificed for the Passover. What a powerful image — the ultimate Passover Lamb wading through the blood of those sacrifices. It reminded me of God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis 15 — when He passes through the blood of the sacrifice, promising that if Abram and his descendants are not blameless, He will die in their place.
I was also struck by the concept of the cup of God’s wrath — the cup that Jesus begged to have taken away from Him. This cup is mentioned throughout Scripture — the wrath of God resulting from sin. This wrath is poured out as a means of justice — a way of punishing what is wrong in the world. As Pastor Shawn pointed out yesterday, we ultimately want justice. When we hear of atrocities around the world, we want those who are guilty to be punished. The thing to remember is that it’s not just those who are “evil” who deserve punishment. The Bible says that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. You and I are just as guilty and deserving of wrath as anyone else. And because of sin — our sin — God’s wrath needs to be poured out for the sake of justice. And we see that God does bring justice — through Jesus. Jesus takes our place. He drinks the cup of God’s wrath so that we don’t have to. This is what Jesus is struggling with in the Garden of Gethsemane — He knows that He’s about to drink from this cup, voluntarily, for our sake. He will be crushed for our iniquities.
I appreciated Pastor Shawn’s point about obedience. That we will be able to obey God in difficult circumstances only if we’ve practiced obeying and surrendering to Him in the ordinary circumstances. It is when we’ve worked to build and strengthen that relationship that it will be strong enough to make it through the hard times. This is what Jesus had with the Father — and it gave Him the strength to continue on with His mission.
As we ponder Gethsemane this week and prepare our hearts for the coming Easter week, let’s think on these questions together:
- What stood out to you most in the sermon this week?
- Where do you need to work at strengthening your relationship with God?
- When is a time you experienced God’s faithfulness in a difficult time?
This week we explored the Last Supper that took place with Jesus and His disciples in the Upper Room. I loved that we explored this together, because Passover is one of my favorite biblical holidays! There is so much to this holiday that helps us remember what God has done in the past and look forward to his continued salvation in the future.
I had never noticed before what Pastor Dan pointed out about the context of this story within Mark. Right before this story takes place, Judas goes to the chief priests and betrays Jesus to them, and right after the last supper, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial and the abandonment of all of His disciples. This story, couched between betrayal and denial, shows us the sin that makes the death of Jesus necessary.
It is very significant that Jesus institutes the tradition of communion during a Passover seder. As Pastor Dan talked about, this meal and its traditions were a way to remember what God did during the Exodus from Egypt.
Passover is the very first holiday God commanded his people to celebrate in Exodus 12. It is the night of the final plague in Egypt and the Israelites are finally going to be set free from the yoke of the Egyptians. Pharaoh has hardened his heart numerous times, but this last plague will leave him devastated and he will finally allow the Israelites to leave. Moses has warned Pharaoh of what is about to happen, and God has given instructions for the meal the Israelites are supposed to eat as they prepare to leave. They are to dress in traveling clothes, eat a lamb, eat bitter herbs, and avoid leaven. Most importantly, they must take hyssop and spread the blood of the lamb over their doors. The Lord is about to pass over Egypt, and he will smite the firstborn of anyone who does not have the blood of the lamb upon their doorposts.
The Lord provided a way for people to be saved from the destroyer—it was a monumental night in the history of Israel, and He wanted them to remember what He had done forever. God gave them tangible ways to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt — lamb, herbs, unleavened bread. This meal would forever remind the Israelites that God passed over them and brought them freedom. It is also important to note that the Israelites had a task to do. In order to be saved, they had to put the blood of the slaughtered lamb over the doorpost.
At Jesus’ final Passover Seder, He took the bread and the cup and gave them new meaning. He would become the atonement that the world needed by shedding His blood in our place. Instead of the blood of the lamb on the doorpost, it would be Jesus’ blood that protects us from eternal death.
I really appreciated our take-home points from this sermon. Pastor Dan pointed out that we have to take what Jesus is doing for us. It’s not just automatic. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, the invitation is open to everyone. But we must repent of our sin, understand our need for Jesus and realize that salvation is found in no one else.
We also acknowledge that our remembering includes participation. When we take communion we are acknowledging our exodus from sin and our freedom that was accomplished on the cross.
We come to the table unworthy. But we know that as long as we come through Him there is enough grace and mercy for all.
This week think about these questions with me:
- How does this explanation of Passover and its meaning affect you?
- What are some ways you can actively remember the things God has done for you?
- Have you recognized your sin that made the cross necessary?