Hi, family. How are you? I'm excited. We're starting a new series. I've always loved starting a new series and then like two weeks in I'm bored of it, but the next series is going to be so cool. I'm excited about Advent and we're going to get rolling on this. This will take us through the end of the year. And then in January, we are going to start a series through the Book of Acts and we're going to spend 30 weeks in the Book of Acts, which is a deep dive.
My initial outline of the Book of Acts was 82 sermons. And I was like, "Hey, we probably cut that down," but here's why I think it's so important. America's in trouble. Like we got to be honest with that. I don't have to lose my peace over it. I just think that we have to understand that the answer to this is for the church to become what it was intended to be in our culture. I don't believe that that means that we got to go back and try to restore what the church used to be. I believe that God is taking the church to new places and that's okay. I don't know exactly what those places are, but I think that the answer is in the book about where it all began. So we're going to explore it together.
And I don't know if you guys know this, but our church is part of what's known as the restoration movement. The goal of the restoration movement was to take the church and restore it back to what it was supposed to be in the Book of Acts. And what happens in the church is things get really simple and effective and they're good and lives are being changed and the kingdom is advancing and all that stuff. And then what happens over time is we layer stuff onto it. None of the stuff is bad. It's not evil. It's just stuff that helps us give a voice to what we're experiencing.
You call it religion. And you're like, "Well, religion's horrible." No, religion's not bad. Religion for the sake of religion is not healthy, but religion is simply a voice for our faith. It gives expression to our faith. And so that's all it is. We just have to understand that sometimes we got to strip all that away and get back to the simple thing. And I think that's kind where God is taking His church. And so we're going to explore that over 30 weeks next year in the Book of Acts and see what God does.
Here's the deal. I don't need anything new. I'm quite comfortable with the church system, as it says, I understand it. I like it. I make a living by it, but I don't need any of those things. I need Jesus. We need more and more of Him. And so whatever we need to do to get there is really what we need to do. So we're going to look at that. That's where we're headed, but until then, we're going to go through this story of the Advent.
And the Advent, if you grew up in a liturgical church or in a higher church tradition, you're familiar with Advent. Some of the low church traditions that are non-liturgical didn't have Advent and that's fine. I didn't grow up celebrating Advent even though my dad was a preacher, I didn't start celebrating Advent about 10 years ago. And Advent has become very meaningful for me because Christmas has a tendency to be one big fat distraction. I'm not trying to kill Christmas. So for those of you that are like, "I wait all year for Christmas. I celebrate Christmas from July to July."
Okay, that's fine. But the story of Christmas is the Advent. It's the arrival of the king. It's not silver bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. And I'm not anti-Christian. We will have a Christmas tree. It's not set up yet, but we'll have one. I'm holding out hope against having Christmas lights outside of my house. But my neighborhood has put a lot of pressure on me. I got to be honest with you. To the point where my wife is like, "You're a pastor. We got to put lights on our house. Just looks like we don't love Jesus at all."
I'm not anti-lights on the outside of my house. I just don't want to do it. I don't want to. I got better things to do with my Saturday than take 10 minutes and throw up a ... You know those orange extension cord work lights that have the light with the metal thing on the end of it with one bulb? I'll put that. I'll hang it. Merry Christmas. That's how I will do it.
Christmas is a tendency to be a distraction and so the Advent is an invitation to call back to what is this really all about? What are we really celebrating here so that we don't miss it? Because it's really easy to get sucked into the present trap of you bought me a Bundt cake, so I got to buy you a tint of popcorn, whatever you do, however you one up their gift, but it can't be a big one up. This has to be a little one up because I don't want to spend one more penny on you than I absolutely have to. I just need to spend more than you spent on me.
This is pressure, this dance that we play and not everybody plays it. I'm just saying this we have a tendency to get lost in this. What I know to be true is people in this season of love and kindness can get really, really mean. Like be a barista at a coffee shop during the Christmas season. People aren't nice. I've had a number of waiters and waitresses and those kinds of people that are in the service industry that are like, "Yeah, it's the worst time of year." Because there's just so much stress. People are less patient. They're less kind. The Advent is an invitation to remember that at the end of all of the stuff, the king showed up and He's invited us to meet Him. And that's actually pretty incredible.
Have you ever felt like God wasn't there? Have you ever felt like where are you, God? I think a lot of people are asking that question right now in the world that we're in. I've heard from multiple people this morning that Israel is closing back down to tourists. Like God loves us. Let me say for the record, God loves the group I took. He doesn't love me per se. But the group that we took to Israel, they got literally the best experience in Israel. Weather-wise, nobody was there and it was in a window when they were open like unbelievable that they got to go.
I just want to hang out with people like that. I want to get the blessing ricochet off of them. But the world is in such a crazy place. It's such a crazy place. And they're like, "Oh, there's a new variant of COVID." Yep, it's a virus. That happens with viruses. It's how they operate. It's crazy. Inflation and economy and $4 a gallon for gas. And you know like all this crazy stuff going on around us. Like there's just so much stuff and it's real easy to go, "Oh, the world is falling apart. Where are you, God? We've been praying for you to do something and nothing is changing."
Here's the deal. If you've ever asked, "Where are you, God?" I want you to know you're in good company. If you've never asked, "Where are you, God?" Number one, praise the Lord for that. But number two, buckle up because it's coming. That being said, that's not something to fear. Just know that we all find those places where we wonder where God's at. And at the Advent of Jesus, very much the same thing. I want to read Psalm 42 for us. Here's what it says. This is going to start out with a really famous verse that we're very familiar with, but context matters. Thank you. This is how it should be for us. Context matters exclamation point. And the context of this verse is really fascinating because it starts off with this as the deer pants for flowing stream, so pants my soul for you, O God."
If you were a Christian in '80s, you know this verse (singing) Because the weird thing is when you step through the church doors, you magically start speaking in King James, but it's a famous verse. And we used it as a way to inspire ourselves. Like we want to pursue God and we want to pursue righteousness. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, all of that. Yes but look at the context of the verse. God, I'm longing for you to show up. He says, "My soul thirst for God for the living God. When shall I come and appear before you, God? My tears have been my food day and night while they say to me all day long, where is your God?"
"As the deer pants for the streams, God, I long for your presence and everyone around me is mocking me for it. These things I remember as I pour out my soul, how I would go with the throne and lead them in the procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of praise. A multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God for I shall again praise Him."
Here's what David is saying. I get in these expert places and I remember those times when it was so good to be with God and His people. And everything was right in the world. And it makes me wonder why I get so shook because what I know at least in my head what I know to be true is it's going to be like that again. But right now it isn't.
He says, "My souls cast down within me. Therefore, I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls, all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands His steadfast love and at night His song is with me. A prayer to the God of my life I say to God, my Rock, why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of my enemy?" Like if you're God, why is it like this?
Have you ever felt that? "As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me while they say to me all day long, where is your God?" That is painfully too familiar. Psalm 79. This is not a Psalm of David. This is a Psalm written by a guy by the name of Asaph. A name for those of you with child, I submit to you to consider Asaph. Here's what Asaph writes. "O God, the nations have come into your inheritance and they've defiled your holy temple." But so here's what that means. You gave an inheritance to your people and all the other nations have come in and kicked them out.
"They've laid Jerusalem in ruins have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heaven for food and the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth." By the way, not the flesh of those who weren't faithful. The flesh of the faithful to the beasts. "They've poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem and there was no one to bury them. We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and delighted by those around us. How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?"
Have you ever asked God that question, "God, why are you mad at me? We immediately think that. By the way, bad theology, but it's a good honest question because it's how we feel. When things aren't going well we're like, "God, what did I do wrong?" "Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you and on the kingdom that do not call your name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste to his habitation. Do not remember against us our former iniquities. Let your compassion become speedily to meet us for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation for the glory of your name deliver us."
By the way, not for our own personal happiness or comfort, but for the glory of your name, deliver us. "And atone for our sins and for your name's sake. Why should the nations say, 'Where is their God?" Let the avenging of the outpour blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes. Let the groans of the prisoners come before you according to your great power. Preserve those doomed to die. Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord. Not the taunts with which they've taunted me." They're making fun of you, God. They're treating us poorly and making fun of you while they do it.
"God take care of that for your name, but we your people, the sheep of your pasture will give thanks to you forever from generation to generation, we will recount your praise." How do we stand in a space where we're wondering where is God? How do we endure this? I think at least a place to be again would be to stop trying to make everyone around us wrong and start praising God. That's what he says. He says, "God, while all this stuff is going on they're taunting you and they're saying where's your God. But from generation to generation, we will recount your praise. We will not stop praising you because you're worthy, no matter what happens to me."
Once we can approach that space, we can be begin to understand how to endure well in times where we're wondering where God is. When Jesus shows up on the scene, they're wondering where is God? Where is He? The reality is that for over 700 years the Israelites had been treated horribly from slavery to wars, to being hauled out of their country, to taxes and oppression. And they've been treated horribly for over 700 years. We've been a nation for what? 270-something years? This is a long time of being treated poorly.
And when Jesus shows up, it is exceptionally bad. Some of the stories they aren't appropriate to share from the pulpit what happened to the Jews, but they were controlled by Rome under a puppet king named Herod the Great. And he treated them brutally in the Galilee and in Capernaum, in Bethsaida and Chorazin in these towns of the Galilee, the Roman soldiers under the authority of Herod would walk in and tie the men of the village up with their arms outstretched on their tippy-toes so that their back was really tight. The skin on their back was really tight. They would carve one inch squares on their back and peel the skin one inch at a time.
Why? Why would they do that? Because we can. Because we just want you to who's in charge. Where are you, God? So what happened is in Mount Arbel and Mount Nitai, which we go to when we go to Israel. They're just above Capernaum. They both separate two sides of the Valley of the Doves, Wadi Hamam. There's caves up at the top and so the men of the villages decided to go up and hide in the caves so that they wouldn't be mistreated by the troops. Well, you can imagine what a group of Roman soldiers did to a village of elderly women and children.
And so they switched places. And when the Roman soldiers saw this happen, they were like, "Something is afoot here. We can't figure it out. We don't know where they're at, but we're going to torture every one of these men until they figure it out." Well, somebody spilled the beans. We don't know who it was. But what we know is on Mount Abel, Herod built these big iron platforms. Mount Arbel's a big rock face, big sheer face cliff. He lowered these metal platforms down in front of the caves and they built these big fires and they blew the smoke into the caves. When the people had to come out for air, they took big grappling hooks and snared them out on ropes.
5,000 people died in one afternoon in the name of Rome's power. Where are you, God? By the way, it's a real fair question and this is the world that Jesus steps into. So when Jesus says, "Let me tell you how to bring the kingdom." You forgive them. For sure, no. Like that soldier who raped my mom and murdered my sister? They would take infants and crucify them to the door of your house and make you leave it there until it rotted off so that every time that you come in and out of your house you see exactly who's in charge of your life. Where are you, God?
Not to mention the census that's going to happen under Caesar Augustus at this time in order to get them registered, which is a really nice way of saying we're going to tax you horribly. These are a blood bath and especially in Israel, because if you claim to be a citizen of Rome, then you're claiming allegiance to Rome's king who claims to be a God. But we only serve one God and remember this. When they went to Babylon, which is the last captivity before this. They believed that they went to Babylon because they had sinned. So when they came back, they came back determined to live righteously.
So let me ask you a question. Are you going to pledge allegiance to a king who claims to be God? No way. I'm going to stand for what I believe. Well, let's look at what the people that God used did. By the way, not saying this doesn't raise a billion questions because it does, but I want to show you what they did. Luke 2, "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the world should be registered." This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. "And all went to be registered each to his own town and Joseph also went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem" because he was at the house and lineage of David to be registered.
So what did Joseph and Mary do? They registered. I'll let you wrestle with the implication of that. But that's a ... I wouldn't do that. A lot of people didn't, by the way. And I'm not saying this is the only way to deal with the problem. I'm just saying this is what they did. A lot of people didn't and they were butchered. By the way, not just you. If you refuse to sign, it's not just you who were killed it's your family and your cousins and their families because they didn't want to just kill you. They wanted to eradicate your memory from the earth. No one will even know that you existed. Why? Because we're Rome and you're not.
Where are you, God? Why are you doing this to us? And what I love about this moment is that God shows up, but He does it His own way. Here's the hard thing about God showing up in our world. We beg God to show up and every single one of us is or has or continues to pray for revive, God's sin revival. I don't know if we're ready because we're so convinced that revival's got to fit into our mold. God, you do whatever you want, but do it a way that I would like it.
Let me see say this. The most spiritual people in the scriptures when they get into the presence of God are afraid for their very lives. Like you want more of the presence of God? That ought to scare your socks off. Not literally because that would stink, but the presence of God. If that's what He wants, if that's what He wants. But God, much more than any of that, make me ready. Make me able to see, give me eyes to see, give me ears to hear what you are up to.
And so Jesus is born eight miles away from one of the coolest castles that Herod built, but He wasn't born in the castle. He's born in sheep manure. Why? Why would the king of the universe come that way? If there was ever anyone who deserved to have an entrance, here's why. My opinion, but I think I'm right. I mean, what do I believe that isn't true, right? Here's what I think. I think it's because Jesus is trying to send a message to you and me that He didn't come for the castles of our life, He came for the caves. He came for the sheep manure.
That's where He wants to meet us. And if you want to where are you, God? If you want that question answered it may very well mean that you've got to go to the stables of your own heart to find Him because he keeps inviting us into the broken places of us. That's where He is. Like I don't want that. I want to meet Him in the pretty plastic places of me. The fixed stuff, I want to meet Him there. And God's like, "So? If you want to meet me, here I am waiting for you. I'm not going anywhere." But listen to me, God is under no obligation to honor your definition of what Christianity should be or my definition of what Christianity should be. He only upholds His own definition of what Christianity should be.
I want to read what, in my opinion, is one of the most unsettling passages in the entire Bible, Joshua 5. And this is going to feel like it doesn't have anything to do with what I'm talking about, but it absolutely does. Joshua 5:13-15, what's happening is Joshua is leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land. And they're getting ready to cross the Jordan River and go in, and the first city that they're going to deal with is Jericho. And so their battle strategy is we're going to march around the city one time a day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day. And we're going to blow trumpets and we are going to dominate because that's a battle strategy.
It turns out it works. Like even when God asked you to do something that's crazy, if you just trust Him and do it, it works. So the night before they're about ready to enact this strategy, here's what it says. "When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked and behold a man was standing before him with His drawn sword in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, 'Are you for us or for our adversaries?' And He said, 'No.'" That ought to bother you deeply. That's weird. It's a weird way to answer that question. But if we wrestle with it at any depth that ought to unsettle you.
"I am the commander of the army of the Lord." You want to know what He just said? I'm not for you. I'm not against you. I'm for His glory and that is it, and that is all. See, we want to do with our faith is we want to say I live in a certain moral correctness so that God will give me favors so He'll like me more. God can't be any more in love with you than He already is. He loves you perfectly and completely. He can't love you more than He does right in this moment. And you're like, "But you don't know how bad of a sinner I am." Correct. I don't know, but He does. And He already knew that when He said, "I love you infinitely." But God is not interested in you being great. He's interested in His own glory.
And so what God does, He doesn't do for your benefit or my benefit. And He doesn't do it to hurt you or hurt me. He does it for His own glory. Maybe the place to begin in re-routing the course of our nation isn't where we yell and scream and try to tell everybody that they're wrong, but we make much of God's glory. Because when we do, His presence shows up more and more and more. And I think we would all agree that we could use a little more of the presence of God in this world. Here's what he says. "Now I have come and Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped." Why? Because the presence of God should always inspire worship.
You want to know the difference between a real encounter with God and a counterfeit encounter with God? Were you inspired to worship or did you just feel so good? That's counterfeit. Because when you can say the encounter was about me being amazing, it's not what it's about. The encounter is about His glory. So did it inspire worship? Did it inspire worship? "So what does my Lord say to His servant. And the commander of the Lord's army said to Joshua, 'Take off your sandals from your feet for the place where you are standing is holy and Joshua did so."
I don't know how to say that the problem with Jesus in the 1st century isn't so far off from the problem with Jesus in our day. We don't like what meeting with Jesus really means to us. We don't like it. We don't like that that means laying down our life. What we want to do is to take our life and give it to God with the hopes that He'll make it better. And by the way, we're created to worship God. So when we give glory to Him, life is better. But when we're giving God our, our life, we're giving him this version of the life that we want, that we decided, that we created, and that's not better.
I don't know if you know this, but God knows everything. He's super smart. I know some things. There's a lot more things that I don't know and that actually drives me crazy because I want to know all the things. But Google makes it really hard to keep up with. Did you know that right now in the world of the internet, the amount of information that's made available to you doubles every 30 days? That's ridiculous. I can't keep up with that. I want to know everything about everything. I don't. There's a mountain of things, much more things that I don't know than what I do know. God knows all of it. He knows all of it.
So why in the world would I ever want my agenda over His? Why would I ever want my ideas over His? Well, I like me. I think me is really amazing. His way is better. It's better. Listen, as we get into this Advent season, the hope of God, where are you? Like hope says that tomorrow can be better than today. Hope says that where we're at isn't the best of it. If you want to lose hope, believe that everything's downhill from here. Hope says that when I wake up in the morning it'll be more than it was yesterday. And in as much as I'm able, I will partner with God in helping the more become more and become more.
I have to meet Jesus in His agenda. God showed up for them. They were crying out to God, "God, where are you?" And Jesus said, "Here I am, but I know you're not going to like where here is." And that's going to be a struggle for you and me too. It's going to be a struggle for you and me too. Some implications for us. Number one, the world that Jesus was born into was anything but peaceful. Here's the thing. As we look around our world and we go, "Oh my gosh, this is a mess, God, where are you? You got to show up and fix this because we ...
Listen, don't freak-out. Don't lose your peace. This is not the first time that God's been here and it's not the first time that God's people have been here. We're going to be okay. We're going to be okay. By the way, that doesn't mean that we're going to be unchanged, but we're going to be okay. Especially if we choose to say I'm going to make much of God, I'm going to make much of His glory, His name, His renown. This is going to be about Him.
Number two implication. Everyone has moments when we wonder where God is. Like I said before, if you haven't had that moment, praise the Lord for that, but buckle up because He's coming. And when it happens, take a breath. It's going to be okay. We all visit in that place.
Number three, God's love for us and the world keeps calling us to broken places. The broken places of our heart and the broken places of this world. God's love for us keeps calling us to broken places. I don't know how to say this anymore plainly, but like God's role for the church isn't to arrest us out of the brokenness of the world and protect us from it. God's role for the church is to help us heal our broken places in our hearts and then to go out and be a mission that engages the brokenness of the world to bring Jesus to those spaces, to find healing and freedom in those spaces. That's the role of the church. It's not here to isolate you from brokenness. It's here to help you go back into brokenness with a community so that you don't get consumed by it. So that we can actually transform it with the power of the Holy Spirit working in the world.
That's a fundamental question about the church though because what we want it do is have the church be this place that pulls us out of the world and isolates it from it. Nope, that's not what the Bible teaches. It's not what Jesus did. It's not what the Book of Acts did. It's not what the New Testament is. It's not the Bible. It's not. And if it's not the Bible, it's not God's heart. God's heart for us is to face down the brokenness in ourselves. And I have great news for you. If you're anything like me, I have a lifetime of brokenness to work on. The reason why that matters for you is because I don't have to be focused on your brokenness. I'm calling it out. That doesn't make Christians brokenness police. We heal the brokenness in ourselves so that we can go out and find the darkness in the world and kick at it until it bleeds daylight.
Here's the fourth implication. We meet God in desperation. The hard thing about following God is that God blesses us. You're like, "What's so bad about that?" It's easy to follow God when you're desperate. It's a lot harder to follow God when everything's good. The hardest part about God's blessing is living in it. Well, read the Bible. That's the problem is when things are good when God is blessing and things are good, everything kind of falls apart for them because they get soft.
They don't stand on moral conviction anymore. They don't have a space in their life where what God would want is more important than what I would want. I don't know. I just feel like maybe as we move into this Advent season, like put up your lights and do all that. I'm not trying to shut down Christmas, but what I'm saying is it's too easy for us to get sucked into the surface of Christmas and miss that Christmas is an invitation to meet Jesus in the stables of my heart, and in the stables of this world. It's an invitation to meet the king of the universe there.
And by the way, Jesus' entire ministry is a relentless pull to those broken places in culture. It's a relentless pull to that. We meet God in desperation. I think one of the interesting things about the gospels, if you read the gospel hospitals not every miracle, but almost every miracle the vast majority of them are given to people who are desperate. That's like the key to God showing up and doing things is that people are desperate. Maybe part of the reason why we're not seeing God show up more in our world is that we're not desperate enough for Him.
Maybe it's time for us to get honest with the fact that we've chased shallow dreams and we've lost His glory in His name in His renown in the midst of it. If we leave the legacy of pursuing your own personal empire, then we've missed God entirely. If we leave a legacy of pursuing God and nothing else, then we have more than enough. We've changed generations. What's the saying? I remember it's DL Moody or some missionary or somebody's going to know this, but tell me after service. Give me 100 men who love God and nothing else and hate sin and nothing else, and I'll change the world. Like it really is that simple, but we've got it be willing to meet God on His terms. We've got to be willing to go where He is and Jesus is in His stable.
And so we need to remember that, especially as we move into this season of hustle and bustle and crazy. And maybe being extra kind and extra compassionate and understanding that those people that we're talking to as we're out shopping and all that stuff, like they all need a little bit extra compassion. In the next month, a little bit extra compassion.
I think that's what communion leads us to is this space of considering Jesus does what's in our best interest. He does what's in our best interest. He lays down His own life for our well-being, which is pretty amazing that He would do that. So maybe as we prepare hearts for communion it might be good to just talk with the Lord for a minute about this like, "Where have I gotten distracted? Where have I pursued other things? Where have I allowed things to creep in?"
Let's talk with the Lord about that as we get our hearts ready for communion. On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and He broke it. He said, "This is my body, which is given for you so whenever you eat this bread, do it in remembrance of me." Let's remember him this morning. And then after the dinner He took a cup and He said, "This cup, this is the blood of the covenant, which is shed for you. So whenever you drink this cup, do it in remembrance of me."
Let's pray. Lord, thank you for showing up. Thank you for inviting us to a relationship, but not on our own terms. Thank you that you know more and that your agenda is worth bending our lives too. And so God, in this season that remembers your arrival, Lord, would you give us wisdom to know how to not get lost in the distractions? In Jesus name. Amen.
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