The Foundations: An Introduction to Intentional Discipleship

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A Daunting Task

I have a deep and abiding passion for discipleship, which is probably why this series is has been hard to write – because I want to get it right. I don’t want to leave out anything important. I want to give you everything you need to be forgiven, know God, and to develop your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I want you to be able to defend your faith, trust the bible, know sound theology, and have access to resources that will broaden your understanding of the church of Jesus Christ, what He has done throughout history, is doing today, and will be doing in the future. And I want to do that in six weeks. A daunting task at which I will inevitably fail miserably.

I previously showed you “Two Sheets of Paper that have Captivated my Life”. The first paper I shared was where the whole process started. One day, and I can’t remember how it came up, I asked myself, “What does a Christian need to know?”, which immediately brought up the next question, “What does a church need to do for people?” So I got out my computer and some books and started making a list… a list that made me feel very overwhelmed.

So, armed with this list I asked myself the even scarier question, “So, as their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to this church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded. The task I set before myself was impossible, and it wasn’t long until God told me as much.

Discipleship Is A Lifestyle

He reminded me that discipleship is not something that you go through once, check the box, and then say you’ve done it. It’s not a class that you need to take, a test you need to pass, or a sermon series that I can preach.

Discipleship is a lifestyle, lived out every day, moment by moment, choice by choice, day by day, relationship by relationship. I can’t make you into a disciple. I can’t make you into anything. My job is to simply set the table and invite you to eat. I can only say with the Psalmist, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). The rest is up to the Spirit of God working in you, and your willingness to obey Him.

My Story

Intentional Discipleship training has been a preoccupation of mine for a long while, and I have seen far too many churches that have little interest in it. There are LOTS of ministries dedicated to it, but a low percentage of churches who are engaged in it. As I said a while back, everyone loves to see the effect of good discipline, but there are not enough that will go through what it takes to become disciplined. Think about your own spiritual journey. How intentional has it been? What steps have you followed? Who has laid out those steps for you?

I know this because I myself have struggled along the path of discipleship, not knowing what to do or where to go for my next spiritual step. I grew up in a Christian family, but like most people, Christianity was about attending church, going to the various holiday and food-related functions, reading the bible and praying. I didn’t know much more than that and it was all I did for the first 15 years of my faith.

It wasn’t until I went to BibleCollege that I was introduced to other forms of discipleship, and the amazing amount there is to know about God, the church and Christianity. I’m a natural born sceptic, so I had lots of questions and was fascinated by how much thought people had put into, what I considered, the basics of the faith and obscure scriptures and concepts I’d never heard of.

As I matured in those years in college I learned a lot about the bible, prayer, spiritual disciplines, theology, history… and so much more. Christianity became more than something I grew up knowing because my parents were Christian, God was far more than just a person that I closed my eyes and talked to now and again, and Jesus became someone important to me… not just someone who died on a cross for the world… but someone who died on the cross for me.

I began to experience worship that touched my heart, spiritual attacks that I needed the community of believers to pray for me to overcome, freedom from burdens I’d been carrying for years, and a love for the gospel and the church.

And, as I entered seminary, I began to learn more about the depth of scripture, how each Word is a fountain of wisdom and knowledge, and about lofty thoughts I could never begin to understand or explain. Through each of these steps I was guided by teachers, professors, curriculum, pastors and mentors, leaders in the church, and fellow brothers and sisters who challenged me further.

As I entered into ministry I discovered that as far as I had come, much of my relationship with God was still in my head. I knew a lot of answers to a lot of questions, but not enough of it had taken the twelve inch journey from my head to my heart.

I learned that because God brought me to a place where my head knowledge and my natural talents would be useless, and where I would feel bitter pain, embarrassment, disappointment and failure. I would learn what a spiritual life that is lived only in the head accomplishes – nothing.

I was fortunate to have good counsellors and mentors who kept giving me books, challenging me to grow, pushing me to pray, and pointing me at resources that would fix my eyes, mind, and heart on Jesus.

And though I still struggle, I have a strong relationship with God today. I hear His voice often. I know His scriptures… maybe not as well as I would like… but enough to know to trust Him and to bring myself – and give – comfort when hurting. I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence when I am tempted, or when I am exercising my spiritual gifts. I am learning what it means to love Jesus, and to have Him love me.

And that’s what I want for you. I want that for each of you. I want you to go beyond what I have experienced and have far more than I. I want you to develop skills and abilities you never thought you could have, and experience life in a way you never thought possible. And the way to do that – and I believe this deep in my heart – is to be on an intentional path of discipleship.

It makes me sad that what I have experienced is the exception and not the rule. There are not many Christians around us that have a close relationship with God and are growing in their faith.

Do-It-Yourself Discipleship

1 Do It Yourself Maze

That said, however, I do believe that discipleship can be guided. Jesus guided His disciples (who we call apostles today) through a discipleship process, taking them from fearful fishermen who didn’t know what was going on to fishers of men who were boldly preaching the gospel even in the face of great persecution. And I believe he wants to do the same for us.

As I was researching this topic, and putting together the series, and the subsequent materials that the church will be using to do intentional discipleship, I did some reading and research online, called some of my pastor friends, and talked to others who were leaders in their churches and did not discover one church that had an intentional plan of discipleship. The conversations almost all went the same way:

“We have no real plan to get people saved, but when they do we have a baptism class or a membership class… and then we leave it up to them to join things that we offer in hopes that they will grow all by themselves. Eventually, we take the good ones that manage to figure out some kind of maturity and we beg them to be leaders because there are so few people who even come close to being spiritually mature enough to be called by God to lead and teach in the church.”

I’ve done a lot of reading on that subject, and the “do-it-yourself” approach simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in school, at work, or any other place I can think of.

My daughter, Eowyn, just turned five a couple days ago and is a very smart little girl, but she needs guidance about what she needs to know and encouragement to practice what she is learning. Imagine if every week we asked her “What would you like to learn this week?” and just let her choose. She doesn’t even know what she’s supposed to be asking for, let alone what order she needs to learn it in. She could say “I don’t want to learn anything this week.” or, “I really like colouring, I want to colour for the next year.”… and never learn how to read, write, or do math.

No job would ever do that. Imagine walking into a new job and having the boss say, “Ok, there’s some equipment, go build me something.” “There’s the computer, get to work.” “There’s the kitchen, feed people.” “Here’s the classroom, go teach them something.” No, they have safety courses, training courses, requirements people have to meet, meetings about expectations, efficiency and product knowledge. They can’t expect their workers to do well and be successful unless they are taught what they need to know to do their job.

Salvation Is An Intentional Process

Why would we think it works in church? You come in to church and listen to some sermons, sing some songs, meet some nice people, and then God does something in your heart and you want to know more. But how can you know what to do if no one tells you.

Listen to the conundrum posed in Romans 10:13-15 says,

“‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”

There is a delineated process of getting someone to the point of salvation, isn’t there? Someone has to be sent to tell them the gospel, then they have to believe it, then they call on the Lord’s name and are saved. It’s an intentional process – with steps to follow, and I believe that our spiritual journey, under God, towards Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, is as well.

We could extend the questions in the passage: How can someone be sent if they are not trained? How can someone be trained if there are no teachers? How can someone teach if they have not learned? How can someone learn if there is no one to help them study? And so on…

It is my desire and I believe strongly in my heart, that it is the deep desire of many Christians, to create a culture of intentional discipleship in the church – they just don’t know how to do it.

An Intentional Discipleship Path

As I said before, armed with the “needs, knows does” list I asked myself, “So, as their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to this church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded.

After picking myself (and my grey matter) off the floor, and praying A LOT, I sat down to make a plan which I’ve been working on and adapting for quite a while now – literally years – which means that it’s going to take a while to go through, but hopefully it’s simple enough to get the basics from without that. Check it out here.

Discipleship Path

Why an Intentional Path?

I’ve already described part of the reason, but there are three more.

First, people like to know what to expect. Whether it’s a menu at a restaurant, a college course syllabus, a job description, or the introduction to a book, people like to know what’s coming. As much as we like to watch mystery shows, it’s the resolution that we are watching for – we want to know who did it, how they did it, and why they did it. So I’ve set up this path to help you know what to expect from the church and from yourself when it comes to your individual plan of discipleship.

Second, because people like to know where they stand. This tool will give you a kind of standard to look at to see where you are on the path of maturity. Is it perfect? No. Can you have some aspects from each of the phases? Sure. But this can help you see where you are at, and hopefully, challenge you to take the next step in maturity. I encourage you to take some time to go through the plan and then let’s discuss it on Wednesday night.

Third, and most importantly, discipleship is a command from God. We are compelled to do this and do it right. Read the great commission from Matthew 19:20 again: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Jesus says, “Go and Make” those are very proactive words. He does not say, “let them do it themselves and hope for the best”, He said, “Go and Make disciples”. He commands us to “baptize them” – in other words, lead them down a practical path of discipleship that isn’t just head knowledge, but practice too. He commands us to “teach them to obey”, which again says, “make a path, be intentional, give them good knowledge, and then teach them what to do with it.”

The Table is Set, Will You Eat?

Table Choices

My deepest desire is that you will evaluate yourself and see where you are at. That you will engage in this discipleship path, and journey towards maturity. That we will, together, make the church into a disciples-of-Jesus-Christ factory. That each of you will “taste and see that the Lord is good”, and then draw others to the table.

Let me close by repeating what I said before: This is an intentional process, but I can’t make you engage in it. It is to your own detriment, and your own loss, if you choose to let these opportunities pass by – but that is your choice.  I have learned over throughout my Christian life, and my life as a pastor, that the church can set the table, and make good food, but it is the choice of the individual believer to come to the table, to choose good food, to chew on it themselves, to swallow it and let it get deep inside, and to let it nourish them. And it is the individual’s choice to use the energy and nourishment which they have been given to serve God and others. I can set the table… we can set the table… but we cannot feed you.

The choice is laid before you, and there are a few responses you can have:

— You can choose not to come to the table at all, but instead eat what the world feeds you and live in sickness.

— You can eat a little at the table, but then go out and eat what the world offers too, which will give me a sour stomach and the life of a hypocrite.

— You can come to the table, complain about what’s on it, and go from table to table (church to church) looking for the perfect, designer, exactly-what-I-want-the-way-I-want-it food. And in doing so you will starve to death.

— You can come to the table, and stay at the table forever, and gorge yourself… never leaving to use the energy that you’ve consumed, and be just that – a Christian consumer.

— Or, you can come to the table, eat well, refuse the food the world offers, but instead tell others of the good food found at the table, and use the nourishment you’ve graciously received to serve God and others. That is a healthy life, and a life that will see blessing.

Two Sheets of Paper that have Captivated my Life

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I have a deep and abiding passion for intentional discipleship and designing a path to take people from “unsaved” to “church elder” has been my preoccupation for a few years now. The intensity of this fixation has increased recently as I have worked through a re-visioning process with the church I’m currently serving, and then doubled over the past month as I’ve planned a sermon series to explain the foundations of the Christian faith. If I sound obsessed, it’s because I kind-of am.

Picture by Jonathan Slomanhttp://www.jonathans.me.uk
Picture by Jonathan Sloman – http://www.jonathans.me.uk

I thought it might be interesting/helpful to release the two sheets of paper that have dominated the greater part of my thought life for a long while and get some feedback on them. Yes, they probably need some explaining (and if you show up on Sunday, I’ll do my best!), but I hope they are simple enough to be understood without much exegesis.

So here’s the first: What a Christian Needs Knows & Does

This is where the obsession started. One day, and I can’t remember how it came up, I asked myself, “What does a Christian need to know?”. This immediately brought up the next question, “What does a church need to do for people?” So I got out my computer and some books and started making a list… a list that made me feel very overwhelmed.

Armed with this list I asked myself, “As their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to my church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded.

After picking myself (and my grey matter) off the floor, I sat down to make a plan which I’ve been working on and adapting for quite a while now.

And here it is: An Intentional Discipleship Path

I invite you to check it out and let me know what you think.

 

How to be a Christian Husband

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Christian Husband PageAs I was cleaning off my desk, I stumbled across a note I wrote during a counseling session a while back where a man asked me, “What does it mean to be a Christian husband?”. He didn’t grow up in a Christian home and didn’t know what scripture said, so he didn’t have much to draw on. I was powerfully impressed by his desire to know what God wants from him, and turned to a passage that I believe summarizes a Christian husband’s responsibilities, Ephesians 5:25-32. I then took it apart in the simplest way I possibly could and asked him to read over that section for a while to listen to what God wants to tell him about it.

Here’s what I gave him to work on, and relate to you for your consideration:

1. A Christian Husband loves his wife the way Jesus loves the church (vs. 25):

Consider what Jesus did and how that can apply to how a husband loves his wife. He chose to love us when we were unlovable. He chose to humble Himself, relinquishing things He deserved so we could be in a better relationship with Him. He opened His heart to us, even risking rejection, embarrassment, pain and being misunderstood, just so we could know His love. He stopped working when people needed Him. He wept when His people were being foolish, but continued to pursue them. He was public in His affection for God and His people.
Ask yourself: What did/does Jesus do for Christians? How can you do the same for your wife?

2. A Christian Husband sets his wife as uniquely special (vs. 26-27):

The main thrust of this passage is about making the wife know she is special, loved and prioritized above all except God. Remember that to make something “holy’ means to treat it as “special, dedicated, blessed”. Whenever you take a piece of sports memorabilia, like a hockey card or a signed jersey, and hang it in a special place of honour, you have made it “holy” to you.

A husband can’t wash away the sins of his wife (only Jesus can), but he can make sure she knows that, to him, she is uniquely special. After God, she gets first dibs on his time, talents and treasure. She is the first number on his speed dial. She has access to everything he does, and there are no secrets from her. Her opinion matters more than all others. She is the only woman he desires sexually, and she is the object of his fantasies — there is no other woman for him.
Ask yourself: Does your wife know she is uniquely special to you? How do you show her?

3. A Christian Husband protects his wife (vs. 28-30):

Your wife’s physical, emotional, and spiritual safety and development are of paramount importance to you. The passage here says, “no one ever hated his own body…”, implying that we have a natural desire to protect ourselves. That protecting instinct, that makes us flinch from pain, rest when we need it, eat when hungry, etc. should be extended to our wife. We hurt when she is hurting, and we do what we can to make the pain stop. When she is tired, we make sure she finds rest. When she is sick, we seek her healing. When she is lonely, we give her company. When she is down and needs encouragement, we are there. When she needs to be motivated to action, we find a way to make that happen.
This also extends to her spiritual life. It is not enough that she is protected and safe, we must also make sure she is growing spiritually. In the same way that we care for our own spiritual life, we also care for our wife’s.
Ask yourself: How is your wife’s prayer life? Is she reading scripture? What does she need to help her grow as a disciple? In what ways is she practicing her faith? Are you holding her accountable to the things that will help her be closer to Jesus? Are you praying for her, defending her from demonic attack? Are you being the spiritual leader of your home, helping each person there to follow and grow in Jesus? These are major priorities to a Christian husband.

4. A Christian Husband prioritizes His wife over all other family (vs. 31):

When the Bible says “leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” it means that once you marry you are unified with that person in a way that no other human relationship can compare to. This includes the sexual union, but it also means that you have left your parents and have established a new family. Before you were married your main priority was your mother and father, now your main priority is to your wife, above anyone else. Yes, you still obey the fourth commandment and “honour your father and mother”, and even provide the needs of your extended family when they need help (1 Timothy 2:8), but not at the expense of your wife and children.
Ask yourself: Have you demonstrated that you have left your parents and are now cleaving to your wife? In what ways have you not “cut the apron strings”?

Review of “Mondays with My Old Pastor” by José Luis Navajo

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“Mondays with My Old Pastor”
by Jose Luis Navajo

Thomas Nelson

Summary

“Mondays with My Old Pastor” is a timely book written to give hope and encouragement to ministers who have burnt-out, or who are burning out. and can be of help to anyone who has ever felt they can’t do anything right, don’t know anything helpful, and are not useful to anyone. It gives refreshment to those who have poured our their lives and find there is nothing left to give. It draws a map for those who have lost their course. Above all, it points us to reigniting our passion for Jesus, the scriptures, the cross and the gospel.

Review

When I got this book I had no idea what I was about to experience, but after reading the prologue my appetite was thoroughly whet and I couldn’t wait to get into it. I have a special perspective on this book because I suffered through a pretty intense burnout a few years ago and was amazed how accurately Pastor José Luis Navajo describes the experience. Though the characters are fictional, the story is firmly grounded in reality and is told deliberately, beautifully, passionately and personally.

Very rarely does a book captivate me in such a way that I don’t want to put it down, but my anticipation only grew as I continued to read because it was like reading my own story – and I have a feeling that anyone who has felt disappointed with themselves, their faith, or their ministry, will experience the same. I don’t know if it is possible for me to be truly objective in my review of this book because it speaks to me close closely (but I’ll try!).

Anyone who has ever longed to sit at the feet of a spiritual master will be captivated by the story of the young pastor and his mentor who is slowly succumbing to life-threatening illness, urgently giving his protégé the hard-learned principles that have governed his life. The helpful and powerful insights come so fast and furiously that they are, at times, overwhelming. This book, full of candid talk and beautiful illustrations, will speak deep into your heart and gently encourage you to lay your pride, idols, doubts and fears at the foot of the cross of Christ. Navajo gave voice to struggles and concerns I have had for many years, but never had the words to articulate, and then comforted me by showing me how to bring them to Jesus. Just when the theology and practical truths are almost too much to process, Navajo tells a story which draws the reader back to reality and grounds the lofty thoughts somewhere we can reach them. The narrative of the interplay between the young and the old pastor is used as a great device for tying the chapters together and generating the desire to keep turning pages.

Criticism

There is not much to criticize in this book other than at times the language seems unnecessarily flowery (overly descriptive of certain things not critical to the story) and on occasion the narrative, which is usually grounded in reality, feels fabricated (the characters are amazing in their ability to remember quotes and who they are attributed to) and mystical (there are magical flowers growing outside the front door – I won’t say more, because it will ruin a surprise). None of these issues take away from the fact that this is an amazing book.

Conclusion

Sometimes we go through something we believe no one else can help us with, and which even we ourselves can’t define. All the sincere questions from our family and friends can’t help because we don’t know how to answer them – we don’t know what is wrong. It is a book like this that, when our world is crumbling, gives us the words to describe how we feel and then provides the gentle push we need to cry out to the only One who can hold us together.

Two Podcasts I NEVER Miss

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I’m currently on a “staycation”. I was starting to feel tired and distracted, and I know what happens when I travel down that road too far, so I scheduled some time off. I’m not going anywhere, but I get to sleep in some, hang out with the family, and do some fun things around the house I didn’t have time for.

I’ve been reading some blogs and occasionally picking up a book, but mostly I’ve just tuned out and hit the “mark all as read” button a lot (so I don’t have a million posts waiting when I get back into it).

But there are two podcasts I make sure I listen to, and didn’t realize how much I appreciate them until this week.

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#1 Good Job, Brain
This weekly trivia show, released every Monday, is far and away my favourite podcast. It is not Christian, there is no theology, no leadership training or church development teaching, but it helps me connect to God, laugh and learn.
I send them this a while back to tell them how I feel: “I know your not a Christian show, but I wanted to thank you for helping me with my relationship with God. Your collective awe at the beauty and marvel of creation is both contagious and inspiring! Thank you so very much for this show. There is no other podcast that I anticipate more than yours. Thanks for blessing me!”

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#2 The Briefing by Albert Mohler Jr.
In this 15 minute, daily podcast Albert Mohler takes current events and helps us process them from a Christian worldview. I owe Dr. Mohler a great deal of thanks for expanding my understanding of the world. Of course I have learned from him, but I have also been given help defending the faith, applying scripture, and growing in wisdom and faith. I can’t recommend this podcast highly enough.

2012 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Waiting & Preparing

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I shared this devotional at a Christmas Eve Service last night:

Over the past month both our churches have been celebrating the season of Christmas by using Advent candles. They are a wonderful tool to remind us that the story of Christmas doesn’t just surround the baby in the manger, but encompasses the whole gospel.
I’ve been preaching a sermon series where each week we’ve gone over a different theme that the candle represents. Today we lit the Christ candle at the centre of the wreath. The outside candles, which represent Hope, Love, Peace and Joy, surround the Christ Candle to remind us that all of those things are ultimately and perfectly found in Christ. Without Him at the centre, none of those things are truly possible.

The Advent Tradition
The church has kept the season of Advent for hundreds of years. The idea is that instead of jumping straight into Christmas, the forefathers of the church put together four weeks where everyone could take some time to practice two important things that we don’t normally do unless we have to: Waiting and Preparing. To hone these disciplines so we can learn more about God, His Son and ourselves.

Waiting
As a culture we aren’t very good at waiting, are we? In fact, we’ve almost turned waiting into a dirty word. Consider how the commercial industry begins the Christmas season. While the church is saying it’s time to reflect, pause and prepare ourselves for celebrating the amazing story of Jesus Christ… to take a month to get ready… to meditate over one aspect of the gospel for an entire week… everywhere else seems to be ramping us up with as much commercialism, noise, and craziness they can. The inaugurating the season is called“ Black Friday” which is an all night shopping spree.
“Don’t wait… get it now. In fact, don’t even wait until the store opens! Go ahead and camp outside and we’ll open extra early so you can stampede over people to be first to get what you want. Then you can stay up all night on Sunday night so you can be there at midnight for the beginning of Cyber Monday, another sale to begin the season.” Most people aren’t even buying presents for others, but are actually buying for themselves!
Not exactly the “true meaning of Christmas”, is it? Jesus teaches us that being first, getting the most, and filling up our homes and credit cards isn’t what life’s all about. Instead Jesus calls us to stop, listen and prioritize what really matters: our relationship with Him and with each other. And that can’t be done at the pace this world wants us to move – it requires time and patience.
So, I hope you’ve had a chance to practice waiting lately–that you’ve embraced not getting what you want when you want it, but having to wait for it. I know my kids are learning this… as they look at the presents under the tree… they know Christmas is coming… counting down the days. We let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve, so we’ve been getting the countdown for a long time now… 30 more days until we get to open a present… 10 more days… 3 more days…
That’s good practice for building our relationship with God because He doesn’t work on our schedule… but instead invites us to step outside of our agendas and live by His timetable instead.
So I hope you’ve been able to slow down, evaluate your priorities, and reawaken the lost art of waiting. And if you haven’t then let me encourage you to do that tonight. Instead of ramping up for tomorrow, just relax tonight and embrace the concept of Christmas EVE… the day before the day. Why did you come here tonight? What is at the heart of your celebration? Consider those around you and how you’ve been caring for them over the past days. Have you been pressuring them to live by your agenda or have you been able to take this “holiday season” and actually have it be just that… a “holiday”. A holy-day, set aside to be different and special. It’s never too late to learn to wait.

Preparation Candles
The other thing Advent asks of us is to Prepare. Each week we have a different candle to light, and a different theme to ponder.

Hope
The first candle was Hope and for 7 days we were invited to ask some big questions. Where does my hope lie? When things around me and inside me are falling apart, what do I look to in order to gain strength, and does it work? What do I think about the life-path I’m on right now? Where is it leading me? Is the path that I’ve chosen going to lead to a better place, or have I settled for that I know in my heart will ultimately reduce me to rubble?
And where is God in all of this? The week of Hope is meant to help us prepare our hearts to realize that if our hope is built on anything other than the foundation of the person and work of Jesus Christ, then it will fail us. To not have our hope in something temporary, but in a living hope that is assured because of a living Christ As 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”

Love
The second candle was the Love candle. We are invited to prepare our hearts by pondering our need for Love, what our desire for love leads us to do, and where our love comes from. Many here today have a love deficit in their hearts. You don’t feel loved. You can’t remember the last time your heart was bursting with the knowledge that you are loved… not because of what you can produce, or a gift you’ve given, or something you’ve done… but just because of who you are.
To those people, let me tell you this: You’re right. You don’t get the love you deserve from the people around you. You are worth more and should be valued for who you are… not just for what you can do for people. But people can never do that for you. Maybe temporarily, but there is no human who can give you the kind of love you need.
That’s why it’s so important to know that God loves you. There’s nothing you can give Him that He doesn’t already have. There’s nothing you can do for Him that He can’t do better. There’s nothing He needs from you because He is perfectly sufficient. And so, His love for you is a matter of choice, not self-interest.
He designed you before you were born, wrote out your future, gave you experiences that shaped you into who you are, and has promised to walk with you throughout your life. He wants to be with you because He loves you. He loves you so much that He couldn’t leave you stuck in your sin, but traded His life for yours, and now invites you into a relationship with Him so that you can know Him even more. In Him is where love is truly and completely found.

Peace
In the third candle was Peace – something we all desperately want, but none of us can find. That’s because peace isn’t found in our circumstances… but in a person. You may think that you can do something today to have peace tomorrow, but it won’t work. You can save and plan for years… enough money to buy your own island, move there, and bring only your favourite people… or go all by yourself… and you still won’t find perfect peace there.
Jesus came into the world during a very difficult time in Jewish history. His life never got easier, but only harder, busier and more complicated. And yet, He had throughout it a supernatural peace because of His relationship with His Father. He now invites you and I to share that peace. So that no matter where we are, or what we’re doing, we can know peace. Isaiah 9:6, a prophecy about the coming of Jesus says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He is the only one qualified to bring us true peace.

Joy
And finally, when we lit the final candle we pondered the theme of Joy. We sing about it in many songs! Joy to the world, the Lord is Come. That’s the whole message of Christmas! We say Merry Christmas because it means “Have a Joyful Christmas”! Because there is no better news than that because of the coming of Jesus Christ, the blind can see, the lame can walk, the captives can be set free, and anyone who believes in Jesus Christ can spend eternity in the presence of God. This is a season of Joy!
Jesus gives to us the greatest joy, and in turn we give that joy to others. I hope that’s what you’re feeling tonight. Joy because of a relationship with God where you know He loves you… because of the Hope that He has given you… all because of His Son, the Prince of Peace.
D

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