Why Jesus Came To Earth

 “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 6:19-20.

Imagine waking up on Christmas morning to the most beautiful gift under your tree. Wrapped in stunning Christmas paper and tied with a gorgeous bow. While you marvel at the beauty of the wrapping your eyes dart around looking for a tag that tells the name of the lucky recipient. Somebody taps you on the shoulder and tells you that it is your gift. You spend a few moments admiring the beauty of the wrapping before opening the package. There is something in the package that is intangible and real at the same time. The package contains hope.

The hope of Christmas is the most precious and beautiful gift ever given. The hope of Christmas is Jesus. The moment Jesus was born, the hope that had been lost when Adam betrayed God in the Garden of Eden entered the world once again. It is this powerful hope that caused the wise men to travel hundreds of miles to bring the newborn King gifts on the very first Christmas.

Christmas is a renewal of hope even when hope has grown dim. It was settled long ago, so we don’t have to doubt anymore. Jesus is the fulfillment of our hope, our deepest longings come true. When we as believers speak of hope, we don’t mean a desire that may or may not be fulfilled. No, our hope is certain. Our hope for forgiveness, for reconciliation with God, and a perfect, holy, eternal life, rests on the finished work of Jesus.

Our hope in Him is solid and it is real. God wants us to live with hope and assurance that all His promises will come true for us and that our future is firmly and safely secure in His hands for our good.

We have hope for the future that we will be redeemed. We have hope for the present because we are not alone, but are loved and have a purpose. And we have hope over the past because our failures are not greater than God’s power to transform.

1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV) tells us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. We think hope is only about the future. We can hope in Jesus today, we don’t have to wait until tomorrow. What is one thing you’re hoping for right now?

I Can Trust God With My Grief

“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress, my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing”Psalm 31:9-10 (ESV).

In times of grief, it is hard to keep trusting in God — and in His plan for our life. There are things that happen that completely take the starch out of the present and seemingly our future. A heartbreaking loss seems like it will take years to truly recover and heal.   

You are not alone. Nobody escapes this life without battle scars. No matter how strong your faith or deep your love for Jesus is, you will experience pain. But if you choose to trust God, you’ll also experience deep joy, peace, freedom, and hope. Learning how to trust God’s plan for your life will get you through your loss, no matter how heartbreaking it is.

So, as we search for something to grab hold of in the midst of grief that will bring comfort, or as we search for words to say to someone else who is grieving, we want to make sure that what we’re grabbing hold of, or offering to someone else to hold onto, is profoundly, fully, and eternally true.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. If you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”

It seems counterintuitive, but grief and grace co-mingle pretty well together. When we are grieving God does not throw up His hands and say, “I’m done with him or her. Where is their faith?”  God loves each one of us and His grace will never leave us.  Psalm 94:18-19 reminds us, ‘I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.’”

You can read God’s words for you in Hebrews: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:15-16). God is reminding us that He isn’t far off. He wants to comfort you. He wants you to find His grace.

Trust God in hard times. Even when times are hard and grief seems to be a constant companion, trusting God is possible. In a time of loss, choose to trust that God is still with you and has a glorious plan for your life. As David said in Psalm 31:14, “But I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, “You are my God!”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can you tell your grief is affecting you more than you thought it was? 
  2. Have other people suggested that you need “to get on with it” and move on? Is this good advice? What do you need to say to them when they tell you this? 
  3. What does it mean to lean into God in your grief? How do we effectively do that?  

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  – Matthew 5:4.

In Matthew 5:4, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” This is a line right in the middle of the beatitudes portion of His famous sermon on the mount. Each beatitude starts with a blessing. Jesus is giving us ways to live so that we can live a happy and blessed life. Blessed are those that mourn: In essence, Jesus is saying, “ happy are those who are sad.” That has probably caused some confusion over the millennia.

Given the human condition, Jesus’ promise to comfort those who mourn could not be more counterintuitive or counter-cultural. For the world, grieving sin is regressive and constricting. But for the Christian, it is the pathway to joy.

The world does not reward the kind of living Jesus is talking about, but God does. The world says are you blessed when all your dreams come true. You are blessed when everything goes your way. Jesus said happy are the sad and blessed are the broken-hearted.

Jesus was “…despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) He understood the destructive nature of sin and evil. Yet it was the joy that was set before Him that gave Him the strength to endure the cross. Jesus knew that His suffering would both purchase our salvation.  This gave Him joy and purpose.

If we believe that God’s grace and sovereignty are greater than any loss or disappointment, we too can experience joy in the midst of sorrow. We may not understand why God allows tragedy to strike.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 says: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”

These are powerful verses. Verse 4 tells us that every pain in life can find meaning when we comfort others.  We are called to give out what we have been given. In other words, we should give out of the love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, blessings, finances, and comfort we have already been given. Christ’s comfort: it’s always greater than our trouble. It is more than our suffering.

It sounds difficult, but the unexpected good of brokenness is that it revives the life of Christ in each one of us. We become less and He becomes more. The more we become like Him, the more we become the people God created us to be.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe a time when your life was hit with an unexpected storm. How well did you endure it? What did you do when you felt like giving up? Did you experience God’s comfort during that period?
  2. What does “comfort” mean to you? What comfort do you need? What comfort have you received? What can you do to pass on the comfort of God to others?

Fix Your Eye On The Goal

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.– Hebrews 12:1-2.

There is no way to quantify this fact, but the Hebrews 12 passage of scripture may be preached on more than all others (although there are hundreds of candidates). One reason is the comparison between the Christian journey and a race. The other is because it applies to every believer.  Every believer could testify that there are things in our life that distract, hinders, or tangles us from heeding the call of God.  

But this passage will also help us refocus our attention on Christ. Taking our eyes off Jesus is one of the easiest things we do while keeping our eyes on Jesus is rarely an easy thing. Culture and the enemy are constantly conspiring against our efforts to remain faithful to the Savior. We can allow the cares of this world to push us away from the Lord instead of looking to Him in the midst of our trials and circumstances of life. This was the danger faced by the original audience of Hebrews. Their trials and circumstances were seen as reasons to abandon the race.  

That is why the author of Hebrews reminds us to look to Jesus. As we remember our Savior and His endurance for the sake of the prize, we will be enabled to press on and finish the race. Looking to Jesus, however, does not mean we do nothing ourselves. The remainder of the book of Hebrews focuses on those things that can be done to prepare us for the race ahead. As we follow the commands given by the author, the Holy Spirit will work through us and cause us to cling to Jesus.

When you are running a long distance, it is easy to get discouraged and frustrated that you are nowhere near the finish line. Often you cannot even see the finish line from where you are. But as a runner, you need to keep your eyes on the road ahead. When you start to get discouraged and look elsewhere, you slow down, you begin to doubt you can finish, and you begin to struggle.

But when you keep looking forward to the finish, you remain focused. So whenever you get discouraged or frustrated—feeling like you want to quit—fix your eyes on Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him, and He will keep you right on track to where you need to go.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what area of your life are you successful at looking forward and being faithful? What are some practical ways you can apply your approach to an area of life in which you’re tempted to look backward and be fearful? 
  2. What is one thing you can do to fix your eyes on Jesus instead of safety, security, and comfort? How can this group support you?

 

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

 “A person would be insane to hear his physician diagnose his ailment as a rapidly growing tumor, and then think that just because he had talked with his doctor, the growth would suddenly disappear. No, he’s going to have to be operated on. Likewise, just being exposed to the truth won’t make us mature. Nor will it alone — without application — solve one problem.” –  Chuck Swindoll, Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back.  

Chuck Swindoll wrote a book titled, Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back. In Ezra 4 we see that idea in action. In Chapter 4, God has stirred up the heart of the pagan King Cyrus to issue a decree for the Jews to return to their land and rebuild His temple. One step forward. Thousands of Jews respond by giving up their lives in Babylon and making the long, dangerous trek back to the land. A second step forward. They rebuilt the altar, gathered in Jerusalem, and laid the foundation for the new temple. A third step forward. 

Then the enemy hit and the work on the temple stopped. One step back. The work ceased for approximately 18  years. Two steps back. They were still in the land (one step ahead), but there was no center for worship in Jerusalem. The people, intimidated by their enemies, settled into a routine of life that got along without temple worship until God stirred up the prophets to rebuild the temple.

Have you ever felt that way, that life seems like it’s one step forward and two steps back? We feel like things are really moving forward and then life happens and we find things are moving backward again.  That is both natural and frustrating. The apostle Paul had arrived in Ephesus in Acts 19. Paul starts doing what he always does, preaching in the synagogues, in the streets, and among the gentiles. Things were going so well for Paul that in verses 11-12 it says, “God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.”  Can you imagine that kind of success in your life? Your marriage, work, school, or whatever is going so well that it is spilling over onto other people and the mere touch of something that has touched you is making others better. That is a tremendous step forward.  Paul ultimately had to leave Ephesus. He gathered the church encouraged them and said farewell.

But it doesn’t matter how many times we have fallen or how many steps backward we’ve taken. We need to remember that “…My grace is all you need….” (2 Corinthians 12.9)

What is often needed is a new beginning with God. New beginnings are exciting and filled with hope. By His grace, we can turn back to the Lord and start afresh. But no sooner have we started anew than we experience a setback. The spiritual high that we have enjoyed is followed by a deep spiritual low. Ask God for the grace you need and step forward … one step at a time. And when you fail … and we all do at times … we need to go back to the cross and remember that God’s grace and forgiveness are always available.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What will be your strategy to affirm your identity in Christ when you feel like you’re losing ground after making a decision to move forward?
  2. Why do you think it’s hard to let go of control and trust God for your future?

Hope in the Midst of Worry

Christmas should be a time of hope. Think about this, Christmas is poised at the end of one year and the beginning of the next – at the crossroads of the past and the future. A previous year, with its blessings and its trials, is gone. A new year looms ahead, full of uncertainty. Yet, here is Christmas – the celebration of a birth that took place 2000 years ago – a perennial bright spot on our calendars – because God has give us hope. Christmas is a time of hope.

In Isaiah 9:6-7, we read the following prophecy: “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. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

And one night in Bethlehem, this hope was finally fulfilled as this prophecy came true. In the first chapter of Luke, we read about God speaking as He sent an angel to appear before Mary and give her this important message: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Nine months later, one silent night in Bethlehem, this hope for mankind had a name. God fulfilled the desire of the people in a person, his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is why we celebrate Christmas – we recognize his arrival into the world as a child born to us, a son given by God. Just like He personified hope to the first century Jews who were waiting for a Messiah, a Savior, He is hope to each one of us.

And the best part is, we don’t have to wait for His Kingdom. It is available to all of us to become a part. It offers a better life both now and for eternity. Not a better life in perhaps the way you have tried to script your life, as king of your own kingdom, but a better life in the way God wants you to live as a child in His kingdom. A life filled with hope, joy, love, and peace.

When we celebrate Christmas each year, we remind ourselves afresh of the hope we have in Christ—not a thin, wishful thinking that dissipates every time we try to grasp it, but a firm, substantial confidence that we can wrap our arms around. A hope that reminds us that God is not done with us, nor with the broken world around us.

Discussion Questions:
1. What memories do you have of unwrapping gifts or looking for hidden Christmas gifts? How does the hope of Christmas—the unexpected hope that comes when God steps into our lives—affect your heart this season?
2. What promises or hopes are you currently waiting for God to fulfill?
3. Do we have the right to be frustrated with unanswered promises? Should life be “better” with God?
4. If Christmas is a reminder that the proper response to the frustration of God’s timing and unanswered prayer is faithfulness, how is faithfulness exercised in your life?
5. Spend some time praying in response to God’s Christmas gift: hope.