Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

A Look At Micah 7

As I’ve been preparing these Advent devotions in advance, I’ve tried to follow an outline. My original plan was to spend the first full week of my devotions on the idea of Hope. After all, hope is traditionally the theme for the first week of Advent. But as I’ve been studying and researching, it is hard to separate the Biblical concepts of hope and waiting.

In Micah Chapter 7, we see the prophet Micah lamenting the decay of society. It’s not just a decline of the nation he sees, but of the people. Ultimately, God’s judgment on the Jewish people wasn’t because of their nation-state (a relatively modern concept), but because of the moral decline of the people. Micah 7:2 says, “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is none upright among mankind;” and the next 4 verses go on to describe the immorality of the people. What he paints is a sad picture: people have disregard for their God and also each other. Because of this, they will face great difficulties from God as a punishment and a means to correct their course.

Even just a surface-level look at Micah 7 would remind us of our own time. Sadly, we’ve learned little in over 2,500 years. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, Paul describes our days this way: “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

But despite the lament, despite the brokenness Micah feels and sees around him, he has hope. He has hope because he isn’t trusting in society to redeem itself. He isn’t looking for a major reform or political change. He knows that the only solution is God. Listen to his declaration in 7:7- “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

Although the word “hope” is found nowhere in that verse, you can see hope there in Micah’s statement, can’t you? In Hebrew, the words for “hope” and “wait” are closely related to words for “trust”, “believe” and the idea of putting faith in something or someone. The word Micah uses here for wait can also be translated as “hope”. The New Living Translation really does a good job of communicating this because it translates this verse as “I will wait confidently”. Confidently waiting… A pretty good definition of hope, don’t you think?

Micah is saying he is resolving to wait for His God, his Savior to act. After all, God is his salvation. And what is the Hebrew word for “salvation”? It’s transliterated as Yesha. Sound familiar? To many students of the Bible, it should. It’s the root word for the names Joshua and Jesus, which mean “The Lord Saves”. This is why in Matthew 1:21, the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

And today, we sit in the middle of God’s redemptive plan. While Jesus has already provided a way for us to experience the Lord’s salvation, we await the final day, when He will make all things right and all things new. So let us, like Micah, wait in confidence, with expectation. The King who would be born in Bethlehem is still redeeming and saving.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

Is There Any Hope?

In December of 1927, the USS S-4, a navy submarine, was accidentally rammed by a ship and quickly sank. The entire crew was trapped in what was quickly becoming their watery grave off the coast of Massachusetts. Severe weather hampered rescue efforts for several days until a diver reached the hull and could hear a tapping noise. 6 survivors were trapped in the forward torpedo room. They tried desperately to communicate with the outside world, tapping in Morse Code: “Is… there… any… hope?

Although a valiant effort was made, resulting in one diver being awarded the Medal of Honor, none of the crew of the S-4 survived. Without hope, they wouldn’t have made it as long as they did.

In a way, many people today seem to be crying out, “Is there any hope?” Oh sure, people may not be tapping it out in morse code or even sharing it on their social media. But people are asking that. You can tell by their actions and attitudes. It’s as if we are stuck in a sinking vessel, knowing that our oxygen supply is slowly diminishing. Only a rescue operation can save us from a desperate existence, slowly being deprived of hope and breath.

I was having a conversation the other day with a co-worker, and we were discussing why some people, especially young people, given all that we know about the risk factors, begin smoking. Sure, addicts to smoking have a need to continue, but why does anyone even pick it up? When you consider how expensive of a habit it is, it seems even more of an absurd choice. But my wise co-worker said, “Yes, Adam. But consider all the ways we try to medicate or soothe our stress. Some of us eat our emotions and that’s certainly not healthy or cheap.” She is right. We try all sorts of ways to deal with our stresses, all the while wondering “Is There Any Hope?”

It may be cliché to say, but it makes it no less true: There is hope in Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says this in Romans 8:24-24: For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes in what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We don’t see Jesus. We can’t visibly see all that He is doing. If we could, we wouldn’t need faith. Remembering God’s faithfulness in the past, we wait for His Advent, His showing up and working. We wait with patience, knowing that God is faithful and that He is coming to our rescue.

But before we finish for today, I want you to think about something: who in your circle, or maybe just outside your circle, needs to know that there is hope? Who, by the way, they speak and live, are tapping out in Morse Code that they are in desperate need of a rescue?

Oh, I know you and I don’t have all the answers. But we do have hope. We have Jesus. And maybe this year is a good time to invite them to wait on Jesus along with you. Perhaps now is the time to reach out to them and say, “I’m here for you. I’m listening. You’re not alone. And I can’t make this right, but I am going to wait with you until things turn around.”

Is there any hope? Yes. Hope has a name, and He is Jesus. Today, beloved friend, keep going and keep waiting. Jesus is our hope.


Hope Deferred

I asked my daughter Libby what she hoped to get for Christmas this year. She’s banking on a computer, but sadly for her, mom and dad are not. So, unless Santa has a surprise up his sleeve, I’m afraid this is going to be one Christmas hopes that is dashed. Has that ever happened to you? You wanted a certain toy as a child or maybe you were hoping for a certain gift, and it didn’t happen? I’m still waiting for that remote-controlled airplane I wanted at age 10.

We hope for a lot of things, don’t we? Kids hope for a snow day. Parents hope for an easy day at work. Hunters this week in Ohio are hoping for a chance to get that massive buck deer. Others are right now hoping for more time, with a loved one, time to study, time to just slow down. I know a friend right now who is hoping for his wife’s cancer to go into remission. Another friend is hoping to stay sober.

Proverbs 13:12 tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” When something is deferred, it is withheld for a long period of time, postponed, or delayed. The word “heart” in this verse means a person’s whole being. So, we might paraphrase the verse this way: “Waiting too long on something you’ve hoped for leads to despair.”

I think sometimes non-Christians view Christ’s followers as people with their heads stuck in the clouds or the sand, and that we aren’t grounded in reality. That, and false teachers paint a false view of God and living for Him. They portray God as some divine genie, granting wishes if you just say the right words and have enough faith. But a deeply rooted walk with Christ is one where we grapple with reality and the promise of God for a universe of eternal perfection.

As we enter the first week of Advent, our overall theme is of hope. But our hope is not just rainbows and unicorns. Oh no, our hope is more than that. As we consider the story of God and His people in the Bible, we see a people who had received promises from God and trusted Him. Some of them saw God do amazing miracles, and some didn’t witness the fulfillment in their lifetime. But almost all of them had to endure waiting.

For example, God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation took not just a while. It took centuries. It took Abraham and Sarah having a child in old age. It meant Isaac being deceived by Jacob. It meant Jacob and his family dealt with near-constant conflict both from within their family and without. In fact, it took over 400 years of slavery in Egypt before God had formed a great nation, and then they still didn’t have a land to dwell in. But in Joshua 21:43, we see where they finally took possession of “all the land [God] swore to give to their fathers.”

Yet, even once God gave them the fulfillment of their hope, they were not satisfied. They were not faithful to God. Many times, they would turn their back on Him. But even then, there was still hope. In Jeremiah 14:8, the Lord is called the “Hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble”. And we see that time and time again, God would rescue His people. His faithfulness would continually give them hope. As it should us today.

Yet what about the people of God today? Even though Jesus has come, died, and risen, do we not still need hope? As we look out at this world of brokenness, we long for God to put to a final end all distress and heartache. We hope and we wait. This is the message of Advent. And we long for the day when with all the people of God throughout all time, we can recite the words of Isaiah 25:9, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Oh, come, Emmanuel, into our worlds today!

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, writings

What Is Advent?

As we kick off sharing the next 4 weeks together, I think it’s only fitting that we start by asking and answering a simple question: What is Advent?

I grew up in a faith tradition that wasn’t particularly “liturgical”, meaning we didn’t follow a set calendar in Church for readings or ceremonies. We did Communion every 5th Sunday and, well, that was about it. I remember a few years when someone in the Church would do an advent wreath and candles, but that seemed to be the exception. I think that, without being spoken, the idea was that those sorts of traditions would be too stuffy, too formal for us.

But as I got older, and my love for Church History grew, I began to learn that Advent was more than 4 candles and a calendar that my mom would buy. It was more than counting down the shopping days left before Santa showed up.

Advent comes to us from the Latin word Adventus, and it means coming. It refers to the coming of Christ. While the word itself appears nowhere in the Bible, the theme most certainly does. Throughout the Old Testament, we have prophecies concerning a coming Messiah. We also see in the writings of the prophets, a longing for Messiah to make all things right, to restore God’s people, and to see a renewal of the covenant with God. When we look at the history of the Jewish people, especially the last part of the Old Testament period, and in the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments, we see that this waiting moves from just a desire to expectant waiting.

So why should we, who live after Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus, commemorate Advent? I think there at several reasons.

First, it helps us to remember that God has a plan and a timeline that doesn’t often coincide with our own. In Galatians 4:4, Paul writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law,” Christ came at the precise moment the Father knew to be best. God’s time and God’s plan aren’t ours. But we must learn to wait for His perfect timing.

Secondly, Advent helps us to remember the mystery, the wonder, of the Incarnation. Incarnation simply means that Jesus became a man and lived among us. I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message words John 1:14—The Word [Jesus] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son. Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. I think it would behoove us to take time, more than just a few weeks each year, to meditate on the truth that God loved us so much that Jesus didn’t just show up, he came and lived among us, experiencing life with us.

Thirdly, Advent reminds us of our mission to prepare the way for the Messiah. According to Old Testament prophecies, before the Messiah would appear, there would be individuals preparing people for his coming. John the Baptist was one, the “voice crying in the wilderness”. John 1:6-8 says this about him, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light [Jesus], that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” Now, you don’t have to be Baptist to be like John. No, you see, each of us has been tasked with helping to prepare the way for others to come to Jesus. Each of us has a role to play in seeing others place their faith in Jesus. It is during Advent that we remember we have a part in the Christmas Story as well.

And finally, Fourth, during Advent, we are reminded that Jesus is coming again. We call this the Second Advent. This is where we share in the eager expectation of the Old Testament saints of God restoring, no, surpassing, Eden and that we might dwell with our Lord. Sadly, when we think about the Second Coming of Christ today, we’ve often focused on “end times” prophecies and blood moons and hogwash like that. In fact, the “last days” began over 2,000 years ago. There is nothing to prevent Jesus from coming back at any moment. Instead of fixating on days or silly conspiracy theories or secret raptures, we can rejoice that in the end, God wins, and because of Christ, we are victors over death, hell, and separation from our heavenly Father.

So maybe Advent isn’t your thing. Hey, that’s fine. I think I’ve given you four pretty good reasons to check it out. I hope you’ll consider going on this journey with us, as we go into the Christmas season and even beyond it a little bit. Together we remember that Christ has come, Christ has risen, and Christ is coming again.