You Are Loved, Stand Firm

This past summer I was watching a Detroit Tigers game and they were interviewing Nicholas Castellanos, one of the Tigers better hitters. He had just come off a very long slump and the interviewer asked, “How do you handle the ups and downs of baseball?” 

Castellanos didn’t miss a beat. He talked about his dad. He said that while he was growing up his dad would tell him all the time that he was the best. So, whenever he is going through a down time in the season he just remembers his dad’s voice. 

That interview has stuck with me a long time. I wonder if we believe that our heavenly Father loves us the way Castellanos’ dad loves him? 

Life is really hard. The good times and the bad times both come and go. Seemingly with no rhyme or reason. 

When the bad times come, how do we respond? Will we be able to hear our Father’s voice, the one that says, “I love you, you’re the best.” 

King Ahaz, an ancient Jewish King, was having a real bad time. He inherited a kingdom that was in disarray. The people of God had rebelled against God. The nation was about to be exiled. In Isaiah 7 we read that his heart “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind,” because the nations of Aram and Israel were coming to attack Jerusalem. 

Isaiah went to encourage Ahaz in his faith. He told him not to fear, to be quiet, and not to let his heart faint. He even talks a little smack about the two nations coming to destroy Jerusalem. There is a sense that God is saying, “I see you. I got you.”

Then at the end of the conversation Isaiah says, 

If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.

How could he though? Two armies were knocking at his door. I would have been afraid too. Yet, Isaiah calls him to stand in faith. 

I think in the midst of this is the reminder that God loves us. He loves us and will meet us in our bad times. When those times come we need to hear the voice of the Father saying, “I love you, you’re the best.”

When we know we’re loved we can stand firm in the faith. 

During this time of Advent, while we are waiting, we must stand firm in the faith. What will ultimately give us our strength to stand is the knowledge that we are loved. 

Do you believe this? Do you believe that you are loved? 

He Sees…

“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good; so be good for goodness sake. Oh…You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not shout, I’m telling you why…”

So the old song goes. 

Thankfully, God is nothing like Santa Claus. 

I have been reading a lot of psalms this Advent season and one of the things that constantly strikes me is that there is no limit on the crying and shouting. Every human emotion is present in the lines of the poems that make up the book of psalms. 

There is no holding back. 

There are no holds barred. 

There is just pure unadulterated emotion and passion. The psalmists pour out everything that is within them to their God. It is uncomfortable to read some their words.

There are times when I think, “Wow. I can’t believe they wrote that and left it for posterity.” 

At other times I think, “I wish my relationship with God were so honest and real.”

In Psalm 38 David writes, 

I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of  my heart. O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes — it has also gone from me. 

He is in misery. Yet, he turns his heart to God in brutal honesty. 

Later in the psalm he writes, 

But it is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

I am coming to learn that it is this unyielding belief that God sees and knows and will answer that drives David to brutal honesty with God. Because he is confident that God sees, he knows that he can cry out with our reservation. 

Unlike Santa, God does not want us quiet and good. God wants us authentic and real. He wants us passionate and honest. God wants us to know him and be in relationship with him. 

The God who sees is ready for us to cry and ready for us to shout because he knows all too well our pain and our struggles. 

How does he know that?

Because after Advent comes Christmas. 

For Those Who Seek

We wait. 

We wait.

We wait.

WE WAIT.

How long must we wait? How long will the exile to darkness last? How long until the master comes to his temple to make all things right? How long until faith becomes sight? 

WE WAIT.

The longer Advent goes and the longer I try to imagine what it must have been like to live in exile and to long for the coming Messiah, I grow in my sense of anticipation and frustration. I want Christmas to come and I want it to come now. I want the light and voice and presence of God.

Yet the darkness grows and we wait.

I find myself now looking for glimpses of the divine around every corner. I try to see God in the little moments of laughter and joy. God, during this season of Advent, seems to be just out of reach but inviting me to come along further up and further in. 

The psalmist writes, 

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. 

And those who your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 9:9-10

His invitation in the midst of the waiting is to “seek.” It is not a passive, sit on the porch and hope to see God, kind of waiting. 

No, he invites us to seek him and we will not be disappointed. If we seek God he will not forsake us. He will not hide forever. We will eventually find him.

We don’t wait, we SEEK!

Love Well

Advent is all about the waiting. It’s an entering to the void between the time that the Messiah was promised and the time that he finally arrived. On this side of the resurrection, we are waiting again. We are waiting for the ultimate coming of the Christ. 

It’s been a couple thousand years and who knows how much longer we will wait. But, wait we shall. The waiting for many has become a longing. 

We aren’t the only ones who waited and wondered at the coming of Christ. In the first century the expectation was that Jesus’ return was imminent. The expectation was that he was going to return any day.

Spoiler: He didn’t.

This led many to worry about the future. Paul, in one of his longest teachings on the issue in 1 Thessalonians 5 ends with, 

Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. 

In this second week of Advent, the week that we focus on love, I think this is a good reminder that as we wait in the darkness one of the most important things we can do is encourage one another. Do you notice that Paul tells the Thessalonians to do this not because they aren’t but because they already and he commends them in it? 

When I think of my congregation, what amazes me is all the ways that we love well. People genuinely care for each other. It’s absolutely beautiful and I’m beyond grateful to serve them. 

As this second week of Advent gets going, ask yourself this question: How will I love well this week?