Advent Reflections

This year at our church (The Fountain, Phoenix) I took a step into new territory and led our congregation through the celebration of Advent. The Pentecostal expression of Christianity I grew up in never celebrated Advent, and I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps it was viewed as something that only the “nominal” churches did – too restrictive and liturgical for the expressive freedom embraced by Pentecostals. Perhaps it was simply a lack of understanding of the history and depth surrounding the celebration and, hence, it was out of sight/out of mind. Regardless, I found a richness in this celebration that breathed freshness into my spirit about the incarnation of Christ and message of hope that it brings to all humanity. ( For a brief history of Advent, click here )advent-candlesTo listen to or view the Advent messages at The Fountain, click here )

Advent simply means “coming” or “arrival” and the Advent season is designed to build into our heart a sense of expectancy for the coming of the Savior into the world. It’s a season that enables us to identify with the ancient people of God, Israel, who were given the promise of a Messiah and waited expectantly for His Advent. Through Advent we identify with the hope of a people who lived in the space between promise and fulfillment, much as we today live in the space between the promise and fulfillment of His Second Advent, when all of the brokenness of our world will be made right. Through Advent, we understand that while darkness may linger over us and over our journey in this space between promise and fulfillment, a light is coming that will dispel that darkness and illuminate our lives with hope, love, joy and peace. Advent asks us to expectantly reflect and genuinely repent, making preparation in our heart for His arrival.

My prayer moving into 2017 is that the wonder and awe of Advent will continue to fill our lives with expectant hope, love, joy and peace. The space between promise and fulfillment in our lives can be difficult at times and filled with darkness. If that is the case in your life, take a moment and remind yourself of this ancient Advent prophecy from Isaiah.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2, 3a, 6 NIV)

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Our Turn (Soulology Day 11)

When I was in Bible College, one of my Professors taught us that the grand theme of scripture is redemption. While I agree that it is one theme, there is another that should be considered. I submit that one of the grand themes of scripture is the story of human life with God. In fact, the narrative of scripture shapes this idea of life with God from the very beginning. God creates the world, makes the man and the woman, then we’re told he planted a garden so he would have a place to be with the man and the woman. It’s all about being with.

This God who created the universe wanted to be with His creation and He wants to be with you. You were made to walk with God. You were madefor what Dallas Willard calls a “with God” life. Don’t breeze past this sentence:
Your soul was made for life with God.

Yes, there was a fall, but in spite of the fall, God never gave up His desire to be with us. We read along in the narrative and meet a man named Enoch and it’s said that…

Enoch walked faithfully with God….
(Genesis 5:24 NIV)

A little further we read….

“….Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. (Genesis 6:9 NIV)

Then we find that God was with Abraham, and with Isaac and also with Jacob the deceiver. And God was with Jacob’s son Joseph and we’re pretty familiar with Joseph’s story. He had a tough stretch of years in his life where he was sold into slavery and later cast into prison but we’re told that in slavery…

The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered… (Genesis 39:2 NIV)

And….

“…But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. (Genesis 39:20-21 NIV)

Even the most painful places of our life end up being places where life with God is still possible.

As we read further we find that God is with Moses and longs to be with the people of Israel so much, he commands them…

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8 NIV)

Later comes the temple, further accentuating God’s desire to be with us. Finally something amazing happens: A baby is born.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:23 NIV)

The creator of the universe stepped out of eternity and into time – took on human flesh for one purpose: to be “with us”. Jesus Himself tells us what the plan is going forward.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5 NIV)

We are called to remain (abide) in Him. When that happens, fruit follows. He made this abiding life available to 12 disciples and 11 of them change the world. Then soon after there was the Acts 2 community that we’ve spent the last 2000 years trying to get back to. I doubt any of us have ever been a community like this:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NIV)

The fruit followed. They demonstrated for us the perfect model of what can happen when people do life with God in community.

Now it’s our turn. Can we live a “with God” life? How can we be transformed by life with God in our world, especially in light of the fact that whether you realize it or not, this is what your soul truly longs for and was wired to go after. Are you abiding? Tomorrow we’ll give some practical ways that you can do this.

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Made to Go After God (Soulology Day 10)

I took a nostalgic road trip last week. I had driven my two youngest boys to youth camp near Frazier Park in Southern California and decided to take a couple of hours and drive to Bakersfield to see the house we lived in back in 1994-1995. It was only a 7 month period of our life but it was perhaps the most profound because of a deep restorative work that took place in our lives during that time.

We had just endured a painful time in our ministry life and there were some deep personal issues I was dealing with as well. But something happened when we lived in that little two bedroom, 900 square foot house that drove us to God and vividly demonstrated His faithfulness to us. To this day, it’s my favorite house, not because of its outer beauty or elegance, but because of what it represents.

Something in me always wondered “what if we had stayed there in Bakersfield instead of moving back to PHX in 1995?” All of us have those “what if” moments, but here’s what God spoke to me as I drove south on Hwy 99 back to camp. “That was a time in your life when you sought me diligently with all your heart and soul. You had no money, a 16 month old son, a baby on the way and you had to trust me for everything.”

There was something in my soul in those days that was driving me to search for God. Truth is, that’s what the soul was made to do.

It thirsts for Him.

O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You… (Psalms 63:1 NKJV)

It thirsts for him like the Arizona desert cries for water

I spread out my hands to You; My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. (Psalms 143:6 NKJV)

With unparalleled focus, it puts all of its desires on Him.

Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. (Psalms 33:20 NKJV)

It lifts itself up to Him

To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
(Psalms 25:1 NKJV)

It Blesses Him

Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:
(Psalms 103:1-2 NKJV)

It clings to Him

My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. (Psalms 63:8 NASB)

It waits for Him in silence.

My soul waits in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. (Psalms 62:1 NASB)

The soul can only really find its life in God . I love this quote:

“My mind may be obsessed with idols, my will may be enslaved to habits, and my body may be consumed with appetites. But my soul will never find rest until it rests in God” (John Ortberg)

That which inside you longing for fulfillment and satisfaction is your soul crying out for God. What are you going to do with it? Will you continue to try and fill it up with things that weren’t made to fill it, or will go hard after the one who breathed into you and made you a living soul?

For me, I can only pray that I will continue to trust God and pursue Him the way I did on South ‘J’ Street in Bakersfield. I don’t want to lose it.

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Asking the Right Questions (Soulology Day 9)

This morning my wife, Gwen, sent this to me. Thought it was a perfect fit into our Soulology study. Enjoy!

Asking the Right Questions
7-24-2014

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting.” Psalms 139:23-24

One must be prepared when asking God to “Search the Heart” because He will do just that. I have found in my own life recently this to be true. I have been on a journey of taking a personal inventory of things in my life for the purpose that my soul might be healed and whole.

A person can go through their day to day life and never stop to ask themselves the question, “How is it with my soul”.

We are so accustomed to just keep on going in life and getting wrapped up in accomplishing that which we need to do for that day that our stuff gets buried underneath the load of life. We find we react to certain things in a negative way and just excuse it away due to the cares of this world. When that happens our souls continue to grow weaker, become bruised and eventually destroyed.

So I thought I might just ask myself that question…”How is it with my soul?” and God brought me to this scripture.

​“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting.” Psalms 139:23-24

When I leaned into the courage that only Christ can give, then I then could ask Him to try me, to know my anxieties, to see what wicked things I have in myself, because I truly wanted to live life everlasting. You would be amazed at how quickly He went to work. Wow the stuff that came out of my giving Him permission!

At first, I must admit I was scared at what He was revealing in my life but I had to rest in His promise that it was for my good and not my harm. I have found the yucky of my soul has to come out first before my soul can find true forgiveness and rest in Him.

This is a tool that I want to keep in my life, to daily ask Him that question, “How is it with my soul today?” and then to allow Him to lead me to quickly making the changes. Then my soul is kept from being destroyed by the plans of the enemy.

I encourage you today, don’t be afraid! Ask the right questions and allow Jesus Christ to walk you through an awesome process of healing!

Gwen

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