The Present That Never Fades

Advent is a wonderful way to start the year.

In the liturgical church calendar, Advent begins the year. While I wasn’t raised following this church calendar, I’ve started to embrace it due to its richness and sublimity. It makes me stop and consider the history of our Christian faith, and feel a depth that’s lacking in general life.

It’s counter-cultural too. Instead of our year starting in January with “resolutions” to be the best we’ve ever been, our year starts with a realization that we can’t ever be better on our own. Our world is corrupt, fallen, sinful. Pain, sickness, and suffering abounds. Something’s not right.

We’re not ok.

But our year begins with the fulfillment of a promise. A promise that a savior would come and deliver us from sin and pain and death. A promise that a king would come to set things right. A promise that a gift would be given that keeps giving, giving, and giving.

Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises and more.

When we start our year off with a baby Jesus, we’re starting the year off with a fulfilled promise. We’re starting our year off with songs of joy. We’re starting our year off with hope and peace. These are wonderful ways to begin the year, I’d say.

We start the year with deep hurt, deep desires unfulfilled. But we start the year with a child who was born to meet our deep hurt and to fulfill our deepest desires for life, joy, peace, and love. Jesus is this child. And the church calendar follows his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It’s a wonderful way to live your ordinary life in an extraordinary way.

It also reminds us that Jesus lived an ordinary life for probably 30 years too. He worked with his hands as likely a carpenter. He didn’t have a lot of money. His family was pretty poor. He didn’t have running water. He didn’t even live in Jerusalem! That’s God’s own city! It’s where God’s presence was (more or less) since King David and King Solomon. But when Jesus, fully God and fully man, walked about on earth, he wasn’t even living in his own city. Why?

Because Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Because Jesus came to those who were far from God. Those who were literally, physically far from God — Gentiles, non-Jews, people like you and me.

Jesus offered a free gift through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. This gift is the beginning of our new life (for those who believe in Jesus). This gift starts our lives. This gift starts our years, year after year. It’s the beginning of something new and great.

Paul, in Romans, puts it this way:

And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. – Romans 5:16

I had to read this about fifty times before I had a glimmer of what he’s saying here. And pardon me for missing something. I’m sure I did.

But what I gathered here is so amazing.

The free gift from Jesus “following many trespasses brought justification.” It’s easy to get lost in all this language, to be honest. But right before this, Paul says, “the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin.” What’s that mean? It means the free gift is not exactly like how Adam’s one sin led to a fallen world. When we sin, even one time, we are condemned. Condemned means we’re guilty. So through one sin, we’re guilty.

One wrong thought or action in this life causes you to be guilty. That’s it.

We need this guilt removed somehow. But we can’t remove it ourselves through good works. John Stott explains why:

“So what can be done? If we are ever to be forgiven we must repay what we owe. Yet we are incapable of doing this, either for ourselves or for other people. Our present obedience and good works cannot make satisfaction for our sin, since these are required of us anyway. So we cannot save ourselves.” (emphasis mine)

We need a gift. Now, recall that one wrong thought or action in this life causes us to be guilty. If you’re anything like me, though, you’ve done a bit more wrong than just one. Let’s just say I sin once a day. Since being born, that’s over 9,000 days. That’s over 9,000 sins. Woh. First of all, that’s more than I expected for some reason. Second of all, that’s only with one sin a day!

Two sins a day makes 18,000. Three makes over 27,000. If one makes me guilty, then how much more am I in the gutter!

But here’s the great part. Even after thousands of sins (or trespasses) the free gift of God brings justification! Just one sin causes condemnation. Yet one free gift overcomes innumerable sins and causes justification.

This is a much better way to start your year.

Instead of ending your year with presents that will fade away with time, start your year with a present that will never fade. Start your year with Jesus. Start your year believing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Start your year with peace, hope, joy, and love.

– Matthew Welborn

 

Behind The Scenes Of Christmas

Aslan is on the move.

There are few phrases that draw out emotions deep in my soul like that one. Whether it was in the book form of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe or the movie adaptation, that phrase brings so much hope. In the case of the aforementioned book, Aslan is a depiction of God in a fantasy world designed by C.S. Lewis. In the book there is much hopelessness as an evil witch presides and reigns over the kingdom. Those loyal to Aslan are captured and condemned. Yet whispers still bounce about in private conversations.

Aslan is on the move.

Sure enough, the titular character ends up defeating the evil witch and bringing joy and hope to the kingdom once ravaged by perpetual winter.

When I sat in the theaters and watched this book come to life on the big screen, my heart was overwhelmed with emotions each time that phrase was proclaimed. Something deep down in my heart was being pricked each time, and I began to realize that the thought of God’s intimate involvement in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations brings so much joy and hope in my heart.

Enter the Christmas story.

Hundreds of years of quiet.

A messiah was promised by the prophets of God, and yet generation after generation passed from life to death and each subsequent generation still had not seen this promised messiah rise up.

Over the last couple weeks my wife and I have been trying to prioritize time in God’s Word together and we’ve been focusing on the Gospel of Luke. As we have been digging in together, I have been struck by the way that the Spirit is moving throughout the first two chapters leading up to the public ministry of Jesus. Just under the surface of the events that are taking place, we see that the Holy Spirit is leading the way.

The Spirit of God was something that only a chosen few received from God the Father in the Old Testament. After the resurrection of Jesus, this Spirit is poured out on all who have put their faith in what Jesus did through his life and sacrificial death. It is not shackled or limited to just a few people. It’s for everyone. It’s the agent of life that works in each of our individual lives as followers of Jesus.

Yet here in the beginning of Luke, it was not for everyone. Not yet.

In the darkness of centuries of silence, the Spirit of God began to move.

First, an angel appears to Zechariah and tells him the following about his soon to be son:

“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. ‘ – Luke 1:14-15

This soon to be child would be filled with the Spirit of God as a fetus. That’s pretty incredible. In his mother’s womb he would have a special outpouring of God’s Spirit upon his life, and he would eventually pave the way for the arrival of the promised Messiah (1:17). This proclamation of the angel comes during an average day, when it seemed like the Lord had forgotten His people.

After Jesus’ birth is proclaimed to Mary, the story continues with Mary going to visit her relative Elizabeth (the woman whom Zechariah was married to). When this happens, we see the Spirit move again.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” – Luke 1:41-42

Elizabeth is given the words to say to proclaim the praises of the Messiah through the presence of the Holy Spirit in her heart and life.

It only gets better though, as the Spirit of God continues to move.

Zechariah was made mute by the angel of the Lord due to his doubting of God’s promises, yet at the arrival of his promised son Zechariah begins to proclaim and sing the greatness of God, something that comes about via, you guessed it, the Spirit of God.

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. – Luke 1:67-68

The phrase Aslan is on the move does something in me, but this verse does even more. God visited and redeemed His people. That is the message of Christmas. Everything else is just noise. Sunday school parties and Christmas lights and gifts are great, truly. But what gets me most excited about this season is that we get to reflect on that promise. God visited and redeemed His people.

The actual birth of Jesus aside, there is one more figure in the proceedings leading up to the ministry of Jesus that is gifted with the presence of the Spirit.

Jesus is now the age where he is required to be purified in the temple (according to Leviticus 12) by his parents. So Mary and Joseph take Him there, and they there encounter a man by the name of Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, and he was waiting for the promised Messiah.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. . . and he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, . . . “for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” – Luke 2:25, 27-28, 30-31

This Spirit-filled man proclaimed the majesty of the infant Jesus. He proclaimed to all who heard him (much like Anna a few verses later) that this infant was the one who would bring salvation to all the nations.

In the bleakness of the perceived silence of God, God shows that He is present and involved in the world.

The story of Christmas is a story of God’s movement in the world.

Aslan is on the move.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

If you enjoyed this blog post, you can follow my blog below or via the menu. Also, feel free to share it on your social media platforms! Blessings.

 

Serving God in Cancer and Infertility

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. – Luke 1:5-7

Elizabeth and Zechariah faithfully served the Lord. The Bible describes them as righteous, walking blamelessly in all of the commands and statutes of the Lord This at first glance doesn’t seem all that extraordinary, until you reflect on two key parts of this story that the text shows us. 

First off, Elizabeth is barren and they are both in their old age. Elizabeth lived in a world where there was tremendous shame associated with barrenness, to the point of people assuming God had something against the woman who was barren. Yet despite being in such a culture and struggling with infertility, Elizabeth’s barrenness didn’t prevent her from wholeheartedly serving the Lord. That alone is astounding. Here in Elizabeth we have an example of a woman who faithfully submitted herself to God even in the midst of what many would perceive to be God’s indignation with her. 

I can’t speak for you my reader but I find it difficult to serve the Lord when I feel like the Lord has slighted me in some way. It’s hard for us to sing out his praises on Sunday morning when in the previous week tragedy has struck, whether major or minor. Yet day after day she faithfully served the Lord alongside her husband Zechariah, putting up with innumerable chide remarks regarding her barrenness from those around her no doubt. We see this because later she will proclaim that her disgrace has been taken away by God (v. 25). 

As I am typing this, memories come to mind of my dad’s former colleague and best friend, Michael O’Brien. Although the Lord has brought him home to glory, his legacy lives on in countless ways. One such way is in my memories, and one such memory stands out in my mind as I reflect on submissive worship in the midst of tragedy. 

You see, Michael had a long bout with cancer, which he eventually succumbed to. Yet in the midst of this fight, he worshiped. Day after day he worshiped while leading his family through the darkness of his own disease and when gathered publicly with other followers of Jesus his praises rang out from battered lungs. I watched him one time in a service sing out “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.” This while his own cancer-battered lungs fought against him. I cannot write these paragraphs about him without fighting tears. Although I did not know him well myself, his worship and devotion to God in the midst of his own pain was worthy of emulating and worthy of admiration. 

These stories are amazing. 

When I look at Elizabeth and Zechariah, I see glimpses of Michael O’Brien. 

Let’s get back into Luke chapter one. 

Zechariah is going about his duties as a priest when it becomes his opportunity to enter the temple of the Lord. When at the altar, an angel of the Lord appears to him. . . 

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, – Luke 1:13-14

Silence. For hundreds of years the voices of the prophets have echoed away into silence. The people of God waited, hoped, and waited some more. God was seemingly far away, distant, unwilling to reside with His people. Little did anyone know that on this day, this mundane and ordinary day of service to the Lord, God would prepare the way for the greatest moment in human history. A Messiah would soon be arriving on earth, and the angel of the Lord was shining upon the darkness of one couple’s barrenness to signal the impending arrival. 

Their child was to do the following. . . 

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. – Luke 1:16-17

This child was to prepare the way for Jesus. 

Zechariah would end up doubting the angel’s message and end up being mute until the birth of his son as a result. 

That aside though, we serve a God who faithfully visits His people in their brokenness and sin. He is not far away. Whether it is the book of Ruth or the book of Exodus, God’s timing is perfect and His purposes are great. 

Although we are not quite at Advent, my wife and I have been studying this chapter and have been in awe of God. As you head towards the holiday season, I know there are struggles you are facing. The holidays can be wonderful and beautiful, but the enemy can make them dark, brooding, and a constant reminder of what you’ve lost. 

Maybe the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah hits incredibly close to home for you, you long for a child. Maybe you are facing cancer like Michael. Maybe you have a wayward child or a tense relationship in your family. Whatever you are facing this season, meditate on the beauty of this passage. Follow the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and ultimately Jesus. Be a man or woman of God who faithfully serves God regardless of personal pain or darkness. Submit to Him.

He comes close. He brings healing and hope. Maybe it’s a child in the midst of infertility. Maybe it’s being taken home to glory. 

I long for the day when I will be in glory with Michael O’Brian. Until then, I pray that his example and the example of the Biblical characters we looked at today will spur me on to good works for God’s glory until the day my race is done. 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach 

 

Winter Snow

It’s hard to get into the Christmas season when it’s over seventy degrees outside, but I’ve still kept trying. Last night after church I cleaned around my home and then put up the small amount of Christmas decorations that I have. I’ve got a four foot tree, some garland, one wreath, and one string of lights. I’m incredibly grateful for these decorations that honestly some anonymous Christmas elf left at my door yesterday afternoon. 24302092_1519994381451567_5764404658296458904_o.jpg

I enjoyed several hours of Christmas music and reading and reflecting on the Christmas story. Later in the evening I went outside, and just down the road from me is a house that is stunning in its decorations. Thousands and thousands of lights pepper their lawn and home and shed. Their lawn is full of incredible life-size decorations and nativity scenes. To make this even more impressive, the lights are set to music you can listen to via car radio. It is an amazing feat of patience and ingenuity considering my twenty minutes of decorating had me ready to be done.

As I reflect on the amazing light show down the street compared to my modest living room decorations, it reminds me of the beauty and enchantment of the Christmas story.

God became a man. The God who is right now being praised on his throne by the angelic hosts and saints of old (including family members and friends who have gone before me) stepped down off his throne and became a man. He left glory and entered the muck and mire of our world. The King of the Cosmos becomes an infant babe born to a poor teenage woman in a manger. He didn’t show up with fanfare, He showed up unnoticed. What in the world.

Earlier today during my lunch break I was reading Revelation 19:1-10 and while I certainly do not fully understand what in the world is going on in this passage, I do understand that what this passage says about God is oh so true.

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, – Revelation 19:1

Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. – Revelation 19:6b

The God from whom comes salvation, glory, and power. The God who reigns. The Almighty God. The Lord God. God became a man.

Now if you’re like me, you’ve heard the Christmas story many, many times. But have you paused to consider the wonder of it? God became a man. And he didn’t show up in great hoopla and power. He didn’t show up in awe-inspiring glory that made the whole world fall to its knees in fear and trembling. He could have showed up in a way that got everyone’s attention like a light show that you can see from blocks away. He could have. He didn’t.

Instead, he came as a little child. He came as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Instead he came like a handful of lights in a living room. He came in such a way that the nations didn’t notice. Shepherds noticed only because the heavenly hosts drew their attention to Him. To the world He created, He was just another baby born to a young couple.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. – Philippians 2:5-7

Jesus is God. But He made Himself nothing by taking on the form of a servant in the likeness of man. Paul David Tripp unpacks this reality much more beautifully than I could:

God would take on human flesh and invade his sin-broken world with his wisdom, power, glory, and grace. But he wouldn’t descend to a palace. Instead, the Lord Almighty, the Creator, the sovereign King over all things would humble himself and take on the form of servant; he would live on our behalf the life we could have never lived, he would willingly die the death that you and I deserve to die, and he would rise from his tomb as the conquerer of sin and death. – Paul David Tripp 

He didn’t come like a hurricane, a fire, a tidal wave, or an earthquake. He came like a winter snow, gently and quietly.

Here’s three quick ways to cherish this reality and apply this to your own life this Christmas season:

  1. Look inI’ve written about this at length last week, but our minds and hearts are being formed by what we feed our eyes and ears. In this Christmas season, put away the media and technology for at least an hour before bed, giving yourself the time to reflect upon and meditate on the wondrous story of the birth of Jesus. Read the Scriptures, listen to music, put on a fire, and let your heart and mind be formed by Jesus and not the hubbub of our consumeristic culture. Acknowledge where you need to grow spiritually. It will pay off big time for you in the end.
  2. Look out. There is a world in need right outside your door, and it is my belief that God is at work in the nations in ways that we are too distracted to see. God is at work here in Vernon, Texas, and I simply don’t notice at times. So look out and see Him at work. We can also look out by remembering Christ came in humility, to serve. He could have come in justice, to reign (one day He will). Because of that, we can look out for people who are in need, and strive to serve them with the love of Christ.
  3. Look up. Gaze up at the stars sometime during this Christmas season. Absolutely go and look at Christmas lights, but also look further up. Nothing humbles me faster than looking way up in the sky and remembering just how teeny tiny I am and how magnificent and mighty God is. Revelation 19:4 tells us that Jesus is seated on the throne. Right now heavenly hosts and saints of old are giving him the praise that he deserves. Look up and join their magnificent chorus.

Make this Christmas about more than just gifts. Make it about Christ.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

I appreciate any and all feedback and you can follow my blog below. Please give this a share if you enjoyed it!