By David Wise
As we wrapped up the first week of Advent Conspiracy, I was personally hit with the reality that, for so many adults in church, the story of the advent of Jesus is so familiar that the majesty of the moment has all but evaporated. I’m not sure how many times the story must be heard before we reach this place, but as I looked into the eyes of those in the congregation I was hit with a sadness that we are so inoculated by the cultural presence of the nativity setting that we don’t think about how shocking and scandalous the good news really is.
When did this happen? Is there a certain age that we hit and suddenly we compartmentalize the birth of the Savior of the world into a similar category as Disney fairytales and make-believe? I realize that likely sounds harsh and condemning but I mean it as the opposite. The question that really matters is not when, or even how, but rather it is why. Why does it matter how we view the story of the Advent of Jesus? Why is our response important? Why should we slow down and read the story that so many of us are already numbingly familiar with? One word: hope.
The arrival of Jesus ushered in hope that ancient people had been waiting for since the dawn of creation. Ever since the Garden of Eden when the serpent deceived Eve and Adam, hope has been on the horizon. Throughout the history of the nation of Israel, hope is what the people were clinging to. Even within the nativity story that we read and hear every year, hope is at the forefront.
Although you and I may hope for a variety of things, true hope should be rooted in Scripture and focused on our relationship with God.
When the angel and the heavenly host appeared to the shepherds in the field outside of Bethlehem, they were displaying the glory of God (as we talked about Sunday) but they were also proclaiming hope. The hope was in the Messiah, or savior, who would bring eternal peace. Those in Israel in that day and age may have been desiring a different kind of hope, such as the freedom from Roman oppression, but God was offering something deeper and greater. The same continues to be true today, many of us are hoping for deliverance from addiction, financial despair, illness, brokenness, pain, or heartache, and yet God is offering something deeper and greater.
The hope of the Lord is for eternal peace between God and us, that hope only comes through Jesus and that is what was ushered in at advent 2,000 years ago.
Those of us in the church who have heard the story year, after year, after year, need to resist the tendency for this event to lose its majesty. This is the culmination of hope and it’s centered around God’s glory: who He is and the power He possesses to bring true peace.
Our desire, as a church, this Advent season is to do something bigger than just to read the story again, and again, and again. Our desire is to tune-in to God’s glory. As we tune-in, the hope that we find in Jesus should propel us to do something with this good news; eternal peace is not just for us it is for all people.
This is why we’re raising money to drill a well in Kenya: we want to bring hope to a people who are desperate. They are not merely desperate for clean water for their bodies but even more so they are desperate for living for water for their souls. We have the hope of the world in and through Jesus, that hope is not for us to consume like some expendable commodity, that hope is for us to share with the world around us.
If you want more information on how you can partner in providing hope check out www.adventconspiracty.org .
By David Wise
Last night I had the privilege of sharing a meal and some great conversations with one of our Growth Groups. After dinner, we sat around and reflected on various things and the leader asked the group how this series on The Kingdom has changed our views of current events, most notably politics. Although various answers were given, my mind and heart has kept coming back to the question all night and morning. Regardless of whom you wanted to see win the election, Jesus was, is, and always will be King. Often Christians have put their hope into a country, election, or politician without realizing that our true hope is supposed to be in Christ as King.
It’s not wrong to be patriotic or to desire a certain candidate to win, but ultimately we are called to something higher and that is the concept of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom is where God is ruling and reigning. That’s been our definition during this sermon series where we’ve been studying the Kingdom to grow in our love for the King, and the definition continues to remind us of the hope that we truly have and that is in Jesus Christ as King. Our love is to grow for Him first and foremost.
No one knows what the next 4 years will hold, but we should cling to the knowledge of what eternity holds. President-elect Trump could do great things, he could do terrible things, or things may not be much different. None of that compares in scope or importance compared to the reality that the Kingdom is here and now and that our opportunity as Christ-followers is to reveal the kingdom and to reflect the image of God to the world around us.
As we move into the end of this year and the beginning of a new president, our King has not changed. If our allegiance is truly to Jesus then it will change the way we respond in the midst of all of this. Our responses should be seasoned with love and grace and not rooted in pride, arrogance, hatred, or exclusion. This political season has highlighted division between people and as Christians we are never supposed to see our battle as with the people around us.
Our nation is fractured and hurting, but the pain is so much deeper than politics; our nation is in need of redemption and that only comes through Jesus. Our churches are filled with bitterness, fear, rejection, apathy, anger, hurt, and brokenness. We do not need a politician; we need a Pastor named Jesus. There is a hymn that has been on my mind all morning and it simply says,
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Regardless of your views, thoughts, or opinions, our hope ought to be in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. May we call to mind and focus on King Jesus, may we serve Him above all else, and worship and glorify Him and Him only. As the Apostle John wrote,
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
Regardless of how you feel this morning, Jesus was, is, and always will be King.
By David Wise
The initial concept for this blog was to give an opportunity for a P.S. after a sermon was over; this week is the perfect example of that happening. Within the concept of idle relationships there were so many directions I could have gone and so much content that it felt impossible to do justice to any single area. As I was listening to the communion meditation given by one of our elders, I realized that I spent the vast majority of the sermon focusing on our relationships with people without spending much time emphasizing the needs to prioritize our relationship with God. The truth is, if we’re not prioritizing our relationship with God then none of our other relationships will be what they’re supposed to be.
I realized this morning that my relationship with God has not been what it should be. The past few weeks, or maybe even months, I have been trying to do more work for God rather than relying on Him to work through me. While my intentions may be good, they have been causing tension in every area of my life. I was completely blind to this until I was meeting with a retired pastor last week and he explained his previous behavior and I realized that it was exactly what I had been doing.
As a pastor, part of my work is to pray, read the Bible, study, and preach. The issue arises when my work becomes my only time of reading and devotion. For some time now, I’ve been getting up in the morning and instead of spending time with the Lord, praying, and reading the Word, I’ve been jumping into work. Usually this means reading books, studying, and working on sermons. While there’s nothing wrong with doing those things, they have been placed in a higher position of priority than simply spending time with God.
I realized it recently when it was my day off and I didn’t want to read the Bible because it felt like work. That was a sad realization and a somber moment to realize that I’ve reduced my relationship with God to a mechanized version of work. The idea has slowly drifted to become an attitude of inputs and outputs and simply spending time in prayer or reading the Word has become a chore instead of something to delight in.
I have been idle in my relationship with God.
As I began to be convicted of this over the last few days, I spent some time yesterday simply repenting to God and asking the Holy Spirit to lead and direct me. This morning instead of waking up early to get a head start on work, I simply woke up and spent time in prayer and then reading. I resolved to wait for work to start until I’d left the house, but for that hour before the kids got up I simply spent time being in God’s presence.
It was incredible to prioritize my relationship with God, but also to experience His love and grace. As I was opening to 1 John, I began thinking about the apostle John. We don’t know much about him, but in the gospel account named after him, there are multiple times where a disciple is mentioned as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Most scholars and teachers acknowledge this as being the apostle John and that title, or designation, has always annoyed me. It either comes across as arrogant or needy, but either way it has never left a positive impression on me, until this morning.
As I was simply spending time in relationship with God, I thought about John as not being arrogant or needy, but being firm in his identity. What if John simply clung to the fact that Jesus loved him? What if John wasn’t trying to point out how special he was, but was just resting in God’s personal care for him? Perhaps John was just making a statement, but I believe there is something more to this. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, which means that although John wrote it, the Holy Spirit inspired it. God wanted those words to be written, multiple times, to show that Jesus loved John. What I was reminded of in that moment this morning is that I share the same identity. I am also one whom Jesus loves, personally.
Perhaps that’s not a deep and profound concept for many, but for me it was incredibly refreshing to be reminded that God loves me. Even when there are periods of time where I slowly drift into a works-based mentality of performance-driven spirituality. Even when there are times where I wobble between being arrogant and almost simultaneously needy. To be reminded that the God of the universe loves me was exactly what I needed to see this morning and to cling to that identity.
God desires relationship with us, personally. Yes that relationship should make us desire to live differently, but too often that becomes us working for God rather than abiding in Him. Jesus loves each of us and that should confirm our identity as God’s children. It is only as we engage in relationship with God that we will be able to be purposeful in our relationships with people.
I’ve had multiple people ask me if I’m okay lately, and I guess I haven’t been. I’ve been trading in a purposeful relationship with God for some idle counterfeit that’s based on my work and not His love for me. My relationships with those around me have been under tension because I was trying to do this on my own effort and without entering into God’s presence simply to spend time with Him. Without prioritizing our relationship with God our relationships with people will never be what they’re supposed to be.
By David Wise
As we finished this week’s focus of avoiding idle words, without purpose or effect, there were so many other areas I wanted to focus on but due to time I had to narrow down the ideas to what seemed most pertinent to our congregation. In this first part of the post, I simply want to flesh out a conviction that I have felt, ignored, embraced, neglected, moved toward, and ran away from at multiple times in my life. The area: idle words within music and songs.
This thought started as I was driving my daughters to school a few weeks ago and they were singing along (loudly and proudly) when a lyric came out that made me pause. I’d heard the song countless times before, but hearing it from a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old somehow caused me to reflect differently. The lyric was a part of a love song and without getting legalistic, this made me think about the reality of lyrics and how we repeat them so easily without really reflecting on what they mean.
Essentially what was being said is that some guy is more important than anything else and this girl would do anything to be with him. That’s not a message I want my daughters to embrace. Their relationship with Jesus should be the most important relationship in the world. It’s more important than their relationship with their mother and me, more important than friendships, and more important than any romantic relationships (once they’re 25 and done with college). What was more convicting though, was how many songs I’ve sung along with without thinking about what I was repeating and the heart behind it.
Legalism comes about when we try to place the burden of our personal conviction upon the masses without regard to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and leading. I’m not suggesting that it is wrong to listen to so-called secular music (even though the divide between sacred and secular is a pet peeve, that’s another post completely). I’m not saying you should go throw out all of your CD’s that have any lyrics that aren’t focused solely on God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that as Christ followers, we should constantly be asking if what we’re taking in is beneficial in our relationship with God, or if it is bringing distance between us.
I know from first-hand experience (to quote Eminem) that “music can alter moods and talk to you.” The question we should ask ourselves is whether the music we’re exposing ourselves to is speaking life into us or furthering our usage of idle words. This is not an answer that I can, nor will, provide, but it is a question that I believe each of us must lean into: is what I fill my head with helping me to look more like Jesus or is it causing more of a disconnect?
Obviously only on paper are there such neat categories, in reality there are people who never understand the lyrics of songs and they can listen to just about anything without it affecting them. I’m not one of those people though, once I’ve heard a line or a lyric I can’t stop thinking about what was said. Sometimes that points toward grace, forgiveness, a great story, love, or life in general, but sometimes those lyrics point toward sex, gluttony, anger, violence, or revenge.
For me this is an area where I have to be diligent in what words enter my ears because those words will play on repeat over the loud speaker of my mind. If I listen to music with obscene lyrics, then I know my words will often follow suit and become more coarse. It doesn’t matter what negative thing the lyrics entail, those words are powerful in my mind and often come out of my mouth. Again, I can’t emphasize enough that my point is not to dictate what music people listen to, but only to start a thought process and begin a dialogue that gets others thinking and talking about how lyrics, in this case, can impact other people’s thoughts, hearts, and ultimately words. So let’s open up the dialogue, what are some ways that you’ve experienced the impact (positively and negatively) of words within music?
By David Wise
Sunday’s sermon about idle thoughts was something that’s been ruminating in my mind for years and years. I have struggled with idle thoughts since I can remember being conscious of my own mind. The variety of thoughts I’ve struggled with is widespread and deeply rooted in my past. Like many people, I have made many mistakes throughout my young life, but the issue of my thought life that has had the most negative impact is that of pornography.
I realize that even the usage of that word will be harsh or offensive to a number of people, but there’s no point in dressing it up to make it sound prettier or more acceptable than it was. Pornography is a word that is almost as harsh as the content it encapsulates. Even the mention can make people wince, blush, or grin depending on background and previous experiences. In my opinion, pornography is one of the most debilitating external influences when it comes to idle thoughts and is one of the most pervasive sins Christians struggle with in the 21st century.
Due to the private nature of the sin and struggle, there are many people who try to minimize the impact of pornography on the mind. There is a mult-billion dollar industry capitalizing on the minds of men and women, young, old, and everywhere in between. Time posted an article recently that referenced an independent web-tracking company that said, [one] explicit-video-sharing site, says that it gets 2.4 million visitors per hour and that in 2015 alone, people around the globe watched 4,392,486,580 hours of its content[.] That is a staggering statistic but the damage doesn’t stop there. Pornographic content is not viewed and then discarded. Often those images come back into the minds of participants and continue to wreak havoc on the person’s thought life.
As a man who was exposed to pornography at a young age, there is possibly even more danger in the impact on the developing brain. Scientific data is hard to find because research funding is limited due to the explicit nature of the content. From personal experience though, I can tell you that what you view does not just affect your eyes, but twists your thoughts, distorts your desires, and calluses your heart for years to come. What’s viewed in secret does not stay in the darkness of the room or on the dimly lit computer or phone screen. Those thoughts can begin to distort friendships, damage family relationships, and possibly destroy marriages (present or future).
After Natalye and I were married, we had to work through the reality of the impact of teenage and young adult years spent viewing pornography. The impact doesn’t end when the screen goes black, the images replay (even at times unwillingly) and what is thought of as secret or private becomes a battlefield of the mind. Unfortunately, people are not often open with their struggles with pornography. Many Christians fear being portrayed as a pervert or creep, others simply want people to believe that they have it all together when they’re actually a mess under the surface.
In order to work through issues of idle thoughts, we have to be more than just transparent. Its one thing to share a struggle or sin you’re battling, it’s another thing altogether to ask someone to help you fight against it. Matt Chandler, a pastor in Texas, once said that we have to go beyond transparency and into vulnerability. To be vulnerable means that we’re willing to experience pain because of our failures and that we’re willing to work toward a resolution regardless of personal discomfort. The church needs transparency when it comes to the issue of our thought lives, but we also have to move beyond just being transparent and into the arena of being vulnerable.
For me, this began by finding friends who I could be vulnerable with. This goes beyond sharing about downfalls or struggles, and into accepting challenges and rebukes from those who want to see you grow in Christ. In addition to accountability, there is an incredible amount of free software available to filter and monitor Internet activity. Having Christians for support and accountability, and software for filtering, has been instrumental in my journey to take captive every thought and make them obedient to Christ.
Although it’s been a few years since pornography has been an issue, it is still something I have to guard against and work to be proactive at protecting my thought life. I continue to be thankful for friends that have journeyed through this battle with me, a wife who has been faithful and forgiving, and a Lord and Savior who is constantly gracious and merciful. For those of you struggling with your thought life, let me leave you with the words of Paul to the church in Corinth.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
By David Wise
This post is actually a few weeks overdue. I first had this thought when we were going through the chapter of The Story dealing with the life of Daniel in exile. I had an idea for the sermon introduction and Denise, our office manager, contributed a different (better) idea, which is what I ended up opening the week with. Yesterday there was another element of contribution from an outside source and it reminded me to give credit where credit is due.
I love preaching and although it’s wonderful receiving praise and positive comments, it’s impossible to give credit to all of the people who influence my sermons each week. The truth is that every sermon is influenced by conversations that I have with people throughout the week. Whether it’s conversations with the staff in the hallway at the church building, structured staff meetings, discussions with the elders, LifeGroup answers given by the people in my group, or class lectures from seminary, there are all sorts of contributions that other people have made.
This is important for me to recognize publicly because sometimes I think we assume that only the one speaking “up front” on a Sunday morning has any platform or opportunity. It’s fitting that just having covered the story of Esther, we come across a thought that has to do with task versus timing. I love preaching and speaking on Sunday mornings, but that doesn’t mean my voice is more important, or even the only voice anointed in our church. I may preach the majority of the sermons in our setting, but those sermons are peppered with the thoughts of people within our church.
Every week I have a few people read the sermon to give feedback before it’s preached on a Sunday morning. That feedback is invaluable in recognizing wording, application, interpretation, theological implications, proof-texting, and all sorts of other elements that play out in the final version. The Holy Spirit is ultimately responsible for the inspiration of sermons, but to assume that I have the “corner on the market” is to miss the ways that God has gifted so many people in our church.
You may never stand up front and preach a sermon, but you still have a voice for God to speak through. You may have stage fright and never desire to speak out loud during a church gather, but God can still use you to minister to others through casual conversations and LifeGroup discussions. You may not feel eloquent or like you know the Bible well enough to teach others, but God has always partnered with people because of their hearts and not their head knowledge. Every sermon that I preach is a testimony to the voices of the people in my life. I have never felt confident, qualified, or eloquent enough, and I hope that I never do. This way I will always rely on the Holy Spirit. Use the voice that God has given you to speak into the lives of others, and for the many of you whom have been faithful in sharing what God is doing, thank you for the ways you have contributed to the sermons for all of God’s people.
Every week as we make our way through The Story, I struggle to distill an entire chapter into a 30-minute sermon. Last week it was more difficult because the chapter included history and prophecy and alternated within stories and between the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Given the direction we took, Jeremiah was highlighted while Ezekiel was glossed over almost completely. That was hard because there are some incredible passages that Ezekiel wrote and they continue to resonate 2,500 years after they were written.
Interpreting prophecy has never been my passion as a pastor. I’ve heard enough misinterpretation, individual ideas, bad comparisons, and faulty theology to keep me away for years, but to avoid the prophets completely would be a two-dimensional theology in a three-dimensional world. There wasn’t an opportunity to explore Ezekiel more within the sermon, so hopefully this postscript will suffice to start our minds and soften our hearts toward God’s message:
“Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
One of the concerns I have when modern readers interpret prophecy is that we don’t read it in it’s original context and therefore we distort much of the meaning. Ezekiel was in exile with a portion of Judah, but not the whole nation. In the midst of a foreign land he was tasked with telling his fellow citizens living in exile that God was still moving. Often when we think about God moving, we use it in positive terms (“I really feel the Spirit moving”, “That was some moving worship”, “The Lord is moving me toward a new opportunity”), but Ezekiel was telling the people about God’s moving as it relates to disciplining His people.
Everything God was doing was for good, not necessarily their comfort; ultimately it was for His glory: Then the nations will know that I am the Lord. Even though it’s been said repeatedly in recent sermons, I cannot overstate the importance of this concept. Our lives are more about God’s glory than our enjoyment or comfort. This doesn’t mean that our lives don’t matter to God, but that there’s a priority at work and our physical lives are not the top priority. As the Israelites understood the importance of God being made known, then Ezekiel was able to share encouragement toward the people.
Even though these words were written to those people in that time, they still apply to us in that God’s heart does not change. Although we shouldn’t try to apply every single word, it is important for us to be reminded often of the work of God. He still desires to cleanse us form impurities and from idols. He still wants to give us a new heart and put a new spirit in us. And now that Christ has returned to heaven and the Holy Spirit’s presence was poured out at Pentecost, we are able to receive the Holy Spirit in us and move to follow God’s decrees and keep His laws. To end this beautiful promise full of hope and power, God reminds us of the echoing refrain of His story, “You will be my people, and I will be your God.”
There is so much in those words that we could focus on for days and barely scratch the surface, but I would encourage you to do just that. Reflect on what it means that God wants to cleanse us, especially as we talked about all of the broken cisterns that we dig continually. Remember that God wants to give us a new heart and put a new spirit in us, He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit and we should always be living lives full of the Spirit. Call to mind the fact that God wants to be our God and He wants us to be His people.
The creator of the universe moves continually. Sometimes it’s through close experiences or deep and intimate moments, and sometimes it’s through His discipline. However He moves, God is constantly making His name known throughout the nations, echoing this refrain.. Since God has done so much in us and for us, our response should be to partner in His work and bring him all glory, honor, and praise!