Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ezra has arrived!

Wow! It was so exciting to welcome Ezra Jin Weems into our family yesterday here at Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando. Our previous daughter, Sophia, was born with a heart defect that eventually necessitated a heart transplant, so she was born via C-Section. With Sophia it took Benita quiet some time to recover from that procedure so she was hoping to deliver vaginally with Ezra. The doctors were ok with that, as long as Ezra came on time! Well her due date was last Saturday, February 23rd, and Ezra remained so we scheduled a C-Section which was preformed yesterday morning, Wednesday February 27th (exactly 2 weeks after my birthday on February 13th!) Before the C-Section, Benita was given an epidural which ended up not having the full effect it was supposed to. As a result the doctors decided to do a spinal which led to a more pervasive numbing. Since she had a spinal, Benita needed more time in the recovery room aftewards. We went into the operating room around 9:30 AM and didn't get into our room upstairs until after 5:00 PM. It was a long day!

Ezra was born at 10:16 AM, weighed 7lbs 13oz., and was 20.5 inches long. He is very healthy and is doing really great! He is already breast feeding and as I write now (February 28th, 9:15 AM), he is being circumcised - poor guy! He was born with a heart murmur but this is not abnormal for newborns and there are already signs that the murmur is disappearing. Just to be safe, because of his sisters's heart condition, we will also have an echo-cardiogram today to take a closer look at Ezra's heart just to confirm everything is going great in there. We have no reason to think the report won't be anything but good.

Last night big sister Sophia got to visit! Sophia still has high anxiety about being around hospitals but was excited to see her baby brother. Currently grandma is helping us out by taking turns watching Sophia in a nearby hotel. We're hopeful to leave here by Friday though we were told it usually takes about 3 days to recover enough from a C-Section to go home, so Saturday is also a possibility.

Here's a short little video I was able to capture in the recovery area while we waited for Benita.

Friday, February 15, 2013

No Other Name: A Sermon

You can listen to this in an audio format here

We continue our Tangible Kingdom series and study of the book of Acts this morning, so please open your bibles to our text for today, which can be found in the book Acts 4:7-12. Last week, Pastor Michael shared from Acts 3:1-10 the story of how Peter and John who were on their way to afternoon prayer had space in their lives to stop, to be interrupted, and address a man crippled from birth who was begging in one of the gates. As we read and listened last week Peter said in 3:6 “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” After healing this man and speaking to the crowds that had gathered, Peter and John are arrested. This morning, we find ourselves in Acts 4 with Peter and John being brought before the authorities, the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin council, in the first persecution of Christians in the book of Acts as they ask “by what name did you do this?” Please follow along in your bibles as we read God’s Word for us today:

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?" 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

The question that the authorities ask is “By what power or name did you do this?” And really the meaning behind their question, is not how was this done, but rather under whose authority were Peter and John going out and preforming these actions, these acts of kindness, and then subsequently proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. Under the authority of whose name did they do these things?  In other words, they, this Jewish council, was the religious authority. They were those in complete authority over the Temple and especially religious matters. When they say by what name did you do this, their question is:  who authorized you to do this, what gives these baseborn men, these fishermen, the right to come into Jerusalem, and at one of the very gates to the Temple of God do these actions and proclaim this teaching of resurrection. These country bumpkins, and no offense to any fishermen with us today, are performing a public ministry without any permission or authorization.  Could you imagine, if after this service was over you went back to Oasis, on our campus, to meet with your life group and there was a gathering of people, you can’t even get to the life group room, and they are around two guys from Palm Bay who you’ve never seen and they are doing a healing service and preaching, not only that but preaching a theology you’ve never heard before? If that’s happening after the services, please let us know. You would want to know and I would want to know, by whose authorization are you doing this? Who said you could do this ministry here? By what power or what name did you do this?

Whose authority, whose authorization, whose name, does Peter give? Jesus.  Back in Matthew 28, Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples.” Peter and John claim authority to do and say these things in the name of Jesus. And guess what, as disciples of Jesus, as members of the body of Christ, with Jesus as the Head, as sons and daughters of the King, you have authority. You are authorized to change the world! If Christ is your Lord, your authority, then He has authorized you to go and preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) To bring healing both physically and spiritually into the lives of others. You are authorized! Don’t wait for authorization from anyone else. God’s will  and his work in our communities is too broad, too big, too encompassing, for any church or any programs to encompass. Some of the best ministry done from Trinity Presbyterian Church never began as an official authorized ministry of Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Now, there are two sides to this coin. On the positive side, we are authorized as Christ followers to go and preach the gospel in the fullest sense, both physically and spiritually with our whole lives and lifestyles, in the name of Jesus. On the negative side of the coin there are those who go inappropriately and claim what they do in the name of Jesus. Use your God-given authority lest others use it for you! If we who are Christ followers refuse to go out and serve and minister in the name of Jesus, then we really run the risk of never giving our communities a positive and authentic image of who Jesus really is because there are so many who act in his name inappropriately. Here’s a recent example, one of which you might have heard as it has gone viral online, and I mentioned this last Monday at our Oasis service. Have you seen this receipt? A waitress at Applebees, who makes $3.50 an hour and with tips bumps up to somewhere under $9 an hour, found this receipt at her table. The tip, already included because the group was 10 people, is scratched out and then a personal note is written there that says: “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” and its signed Pastor Alois Bell. It gets better. After this was posted on facebook, the pastor called up that Applebees and demanded that everyone involved – from servers to managers – be fired. Not everyone was fired but they did fire the waitress. By whose authority did this pastor refuse to pay the mandatory 18% tip because her group was greater than 6 people? By what power or what name did you do this? Clearly she claims a pastoral, divine authority here. In the name of God she acted this way. One of the top reasons that many in our community are already inoculated against a relationship with God, against the name of Jesus, is because of experiences like this one. When we refuse to participate in our communities in real and tangible ways, healing physically and spiritually, our act of omission results in scores of people hearing a false message about what it means to be a Christ follower in the name of Jesus.

Now I don’t mean to say that our church is the perfect church so we are the ones that need to get out there. If you’ve been here long at all you know that mistakes, repentance, and forgiveness are all deeply a part of the way of life to which we’ve been called as Christ followers. We know that we are imperfect people, we recognize that it is not by our own power, or in our own names, but in the power and in the name of Jesus that we go. Earlier when Peter healed the man he said in Acts 3:12 "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  and then he proceeds to name the resurrection of Jesus as the power source. Verse 8 in our passage says “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people!”.  The key phrase there, filled with the Holy Spirit, indicates once again that Peter, in this intense moment, is not relying on himself.  And this is an intense moment, much more intense than most of us will ever encounter. This council that Peter and John are standing before are the wealthiest, the most intellectual, and the most powerful people in all the region. Think of the wealthiest, most intellectual, powerful people in our nation, and that you and one of your buddies are called before them for the things you’ve been doing and saying. This is the same council that Jesus was brought before and was condemned to death. This death council of the Jewish elite probably formed a semi-circle as they sat and questioned these two uneducated fishermen. And one of the many promises that Jesus makes to those who are his is kept. Back in Luke 12:11 Jesus had said “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Here we read Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit. Now certainly he already had the Holy Spirit, Pentecost and the Holy Spirit being poured out on the disciples already took place back in chapter 2 of Acts, but here we have the intense presence, an abnormally strong working of the Spirit in this moment as Peter not only answers the question, but really turns the tables on this council. They’ve brought Peter and John in to be judged for what they’ve done and Peter flips the situation around on them and says “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” Jesus, who you judged and put to death, the same way you are trying to judge us now, was resurrected, he lives and through his life this man has been healed and you and your council stand opposed to God’s redemptive work. He blows them out of the water.  Later in verse 13 the text says “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished.”

This is great news for us! If these unschooled, ordinary men can prevail with God’s Spirit under such an intense moment, so also can you and I, broken people who make mistakes, who have no idea what to say, can be used by God. The key is that we have to swallow our fear and step out in faith into conversations and situations that require being filled with His Spirit. Of course, as those in Christ we all have the Holy Spirit, but to experience this intense presence, an abnormally strong working of the Spirit we have to ask what are we attempting in our communities and in our lives which could not be accomplished without the Holy Spirit? What about the way in which we live our lives, the way we demonstrate the gospel, requires God’s power? Are we living our lives in such a way that demands a gospel explanation and requires gospel power? When we take those risks, when we step out in faith, we too in His name, not our own, will be filled with the Holy Spirit and find an amazing power that changes and saves lives.

Now when I say “save” and when Peter speaks about salvation, it’s important to realize that this is not only a physical healing and not only a spiritual salvation but both! There is both spiritual and physical power in the name of Jesus, in the gospel. In fact, in the original language the word for “healed” in verse 9 and “saved” in verse 12 are the same word.

 In verse 9, the saving is referencing the physical healing that took place when Peter healed the beggar at the gate in the name of Jesus. In verse 11, Peter is speaking more spiritually as he is talking about the eternal salvation that comes under the name of Jesus. The end of verse 10 that says “this man stands before you healed” could also be translated “this man stands before you made whole.” The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ is a holistic message of good news. Sometimes we emphasize one of these aspects to the neglect of the other and reduce the wholeness of the gospel. Some of you are reading about this Incredibly Shrinking Gospel in the Tangible Kingdom study. When we focus completely on the spiritual we tend to become moralistic, self-righteous, and disengaged from our communities. The Gospel proclaimed without demonstration is not the whole Gospel. When we focus completely on the physical and social change we tend to become no different than any other secular organization that while they do well to help others, they’ve lost the central hope and anchor we have in the name of Jesus Christ. The Gospel demonstrated without proclamation of the truth is not the whole Gospel. The Gospel isn’t just good news for our afterlife, it isn’t just good news for this life - the Gospel is the beginning, middle, and end of our entire journey as a Christian. The name of Jesus saves, spiritually and physically as we are made whole.

And “Salvation is found in no one else”, there is no other name by which we are saved. The final two verses of our passage say “He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Verse 11 quotes Psalm 118, which is one of the more frequently cited Old Testament texts. This is a neat play on words in the original Hebrew, because stone is “eben” in Hebrew which is built on the root word “ben” which means son. So in this quote Jesus, God’s son, God’s ben, is like a stone, an eben, that was rejected and tossed out. He died a real death at the hands of the builders, the leaders whom Peter is addressing. And yet God chose to raise this stone, his Son, to be the capstone. Jesus was vindicated by God in His resurrection and this is the basis for why salvation is found in no one else. Now we don’t have to demonize, threaten, or hate those who believe differently that we do. When Peter addresses this council that literally killed Jesus, he treats them respectfully and calls them “Rulers and Elders” and when we address others who don’t believe Jesus is the only way, we do so with gentleness and respect. For those of us who know the Gospel well, who have experienced being made whole, physically and spiritually, we understand why Jesus is the only name and there is no other name. For some of you here today who may be spiritually interested in God and yet who might not fully grasp and ask why? Why isn’t Jesus just one of many ways? The answer lies in the resurrection and here’s a short visual portrayal of the gospel message: 

God has raised up this stone, this plate, His Son and in this name no other, the name of Jesus of Nazareth salvation wholly and completely is found.

I Resolve to Listen to God's Voice: A Sermon

Please open your bibles to 2 Peter 1:12-21. Last week as part of our  “I Resolve to…” series we examined the first half of 2 Peter 1 and made new year’s resolutions to be spiritually strong. Today we’ll look at the second half of 2 Peter 1 as we resolve to listen to God’s Voice. Again, our reading today comes from 2 Peter 1:12-21, I encourage you to follow along in your bibles as we listen to God’s voice for us today.

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. 16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

 This is God’s Voice, the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. As we examine our text, we begin with verses 12-15 and if you read closely in this paragraph you’ll notice some repetition and of course whenever an author, a speaker, a pastor, or your spouse repeats themselves – it’s important. What is it that Peter repeats in verses 12-15? Sometimes it’s helpful to highlight the repetitions you come across when you’re reading the bible. I encourage you to do that, highlight in your bible. You can always tell someone who has been deeply listening to God’ voice in Scripture by looking at their personal bible and seeing all the marks, the notes, and the highlights that are in there. If you don’t own a bible, feel free to highlight and mark in one from the pews and take it home with you. So what is it that is repeated in verses 12-15? Peter is emphasizing remembering. We are to Remember and be Reminded of God’s Voice in our lives. By the way do you remember the things that Pastor Michael preached on last week? The things that Peter mentioned in the first part of this chapter? The foundation is faith and to faith we are to add…goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Isn’t it good to be reminded of such things? And remember the metaphor of the gardening – the watering, fertilizing, protecting, pruning and weeding of our spiritual lives. Isn’t it good to be reminded of such things? Do you have a good way to remember and be reminded of God’s voice? As we cultivate our spiritual lives, do we have some reminders set into place so we know it’s time to water, it’s time to prune, it’s time to listen to God’s voice? It may be as simple as setting an alarm on a phone or a task in a calendar once a day, set one right now for this afternoon or this evening, to give a reminder to pause for a moment. In my blog post for his week I’ve written a little about some of the amazing technologies we have on the internet, on our phones, that can be used as aids to help remind us to take moments to listen to God’s voice, to cultivate our spiritual lives, and I really encourage either at the blog or on our facebook page, or on your comment card to share some of the resources that have personally helped you in remembering and being reminded of God’s voice in our lives. Now, in our passage who is doing the reminding? Peter is! Peter didn’t have the spiritual accountability app on his iphone but he was willing to invest in the lives of others. He says “I will always remind you…I think it is right to refresh your memory…I will make every effort…” Probably greatest reminder we can have in our lives is a brother or sister in Christ committed to reminding us and holding us accountable for the goals we have in spiritual maturity. There’s a blank there on your page. Write the name of the person who is your accountability partner. The person who knows that they are responsible for reminding you to listen to God’s voice. If you don’t have a name to write, and the blank remains blank, then you have a blank in your life. We are called into the body of Christ, as brothers and sisters who share God’s Spirit, and as our Triune God exists in a fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we also have a blank, a whole in our being, if we aren’t in a single relationship deep enough to remember and remind one another of God’s voice in our lives.

Now you may have noticed, that in this paragraph, Peter refers to his body as a tent, something that is temporary. A tent isn’t a structure that is meant for a permanent dwelling place and Peter recognizes that the time is coming to fold up his tent and enter into a more permanent, eternal dwelling with God. He says that he knows he’ll soon put it aside and talks about his departure. Peter is convinced because he has listened to God, he says Jesus has made this clear to him. Now Peter isn’t talking about his passing to garner sympathy, but rather to emphasize all the more the importance of what he is saying. Have you ever known someone who is convinced that they are passing soon? I have a relative who’s been convinced for the last 10 years they are they on the way out. As a result every so often this relative will give away things to others that they want them to have, that they consider important or meaningful. Peter is giving the most meaningful and important things he has in what he has said so far and what he says in the next verses about God’s voice in his life.

In the remaining verses we can see that we listen to God’s voice through others, ourselves, through Jesus and through the Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures. First we listen to God’s Voice through others who have experienced God. In verse 16, Peter writes that it’s not through cleverly invented stories but that they and others were eyewitnesses who experienced God. People can write some incredible stories. I ran across an article that said the census figures in England and Wales reported that 176,632 people identified themselves as “Jedi Knights” making it the most popular faith in the ‘Other Religions’ category. For those of you unfamiliar a Jedi Knight is a reference to the popular Star Wars movie franchise and while I assume that many of the people who chose Jedi Knight as their religion thought it was funny, there are those who take this cleverly invented story by George Lucas as a religion, a guide to their life, a metaphor for true worship. says “The Jedi Church recognizes that there is one all powerful force that binds all things in the universe together, and accepts all races and species from all over the universe as potential members of the religion. Join the Jedi Church today!” In contrast, Peter writes that it is not on a cleverly invented story that we hear God’s voice, but through Peter’s first-hand experience of God as an eyewitness. In the very beginning of the New Testament Church, Peter and the apostles weren’t trying to sell a philosophy, or a new way to look at the world, they were sharing their personal experience of God. These weren’t clever stories meant to convince people to do whatever the apostles said or to paint a picture of perfect apostles. In fact when we read the New Testament the apostles aren’t painted in a very good light. Peter of course denies Jesus three times, at one point Jesus calls Peter the devil and says “Get me Satan”. In fact on the whole, the disciples are shown in the stories of the gospels to be flawed people, unclever people, who make mistakes, who don’t understand parables, and are lacking in faith. If you were cleverly inventing a story in order to give yourself power, I would advise you to paint yourself in a better light than Peter and the disciples are painted in the New Testament. The fact that these flaws are included in Scripture makes their eyewitness accounts all the more credible. Peter talks about his experience which is recounted in Matthew 17:1-5:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters-- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

Peter had an experience of God. This, in his final days, is what he considers to be of paramount importance. He conveys to others the literal words of God “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Now God could, of course He’s God, speak these words in a miraculous way to everyone in the world right now. But he chooses not to. God chooses to use His people, to be in fellowship with them, to amazingly inhabit them through the Holy Divine Spirit and speaks through their stories and their experiences to each other. If you want to listen to God’s voice, ask others about their experiences with God and then listen. Ask your brothers and sisters in Christ, but also ask those who are spiritual seekers, who have had mountain top experiences that they can’t necessarily qualify or quantify. Really listen. God loves to surprise us, God loves to speak through people to people if we’re open and willing to listen to others.

Secondly we listen to God’s voice through ourselves in moments of clarity. One way to look at this story is that Peter had an experience and he is telling it to us. Another way, is to put ourselves into Peter’s position. Peter is a person, a God seeker, and he says that “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven.” God speaks to us through others, but also when we make space in our lives to listen to God, He speaks to us. Peter himself hears a voice, God’s voice, from heaven on a mountain top with Jesus. Now there aren’t a lot of mountaintops, here in Florida, but if you get a chance to find a mountaintop those are really good places to talk and listen to God. Jesus himself goes to pray and the places that are mentioned in the bible are a mountain, the wilderness and a deserted place. We listen to God through others who have experienced God, but we can also put ourselves into Peter’s shoes, as flawed as we are because he too was flawed, if we make space in our lives to listen to God. In addition to the space, the separateness, the set apartness of the mountain, it’s also important to note that it matters who Peter is with and namely he is with Jesus. God has chosen to speak through and use Jesus as the way, the truth and the light. God speaks and says This is my Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased…” And then he says what? “Listen to Him!” When I first became a believer, I didn’t really understand why there was all this hubbub, this clamor about Jesus. Couldn’t we just connect and listen to God? As I read the Bible and believed the eye witness accounts, I began to understand how foundational Jesus is to listening to God’s voice. This is Peter’s real message here: Jesus is the Son of God. There is this unique connection between God and Jesus. If you have been trying to listen to God, if you want to hear Him speak to you personally in a moment of clarity, I really encourage you to invite Jesus into conversation and as God said “Listen to Him!” Pastor Benita, who is speaking at tomorrow night’s Oasis service pointed me to an article on CNN’s religion blog. The writer has “for the last 10 years… been doing anthropological and psychological research among …the sort of people who seek a personal relationship with God and who expect that God will talk back. For most of them, most of the time, God talks back in a quiet voice they hear inside their minds, or through images that come to mind during prayer. But many of them also reported sensory experiences of God. They say God touched their shoulder, or that he spoke up from the back seat and said, in a way they heard with their ears, that he loved them. Indeed, in 1999, Gallup reported that 23% of all Americans had heard a voice or seen a vision in response to prayer.” God can and does speak to us when we make space in our lives and come to Him through Jesus.

Lastly, we listen to God’s voice through God’s Son and God’s Spirit in History. In the final verses, Peter says not only do you have the voices of others, eyewitness, not only do I have my own personal moment of clarity, but we also have the Word of the prophets. Prophets, not primarily as people who tell the future, but people who God has spoken through in the past through the Holy Spirit. This is truly the source, the foundation, the primary way in which we hear God’s voice.

Peter writes that prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Scripture, or prophecy, is a mysterious place where the divine voice of God intersects the lives and very human voices of particular people. Scripture is entirely human, written by people, and it is entirely divine as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. The imagery of being carried along is like that of a sailboat which we can all relate to as we see them all time in these parts. The sailboat doesn’t move itself but is carried along by the wind, so also these prophets who wrote scripture are animated and carried along by the Spirit as they were inspired to write the words of God. Just as Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, so also Scripture is fully human and fully divine – both a wonderful mystery, both the Word of God. To be clear, I believe, as Peter does, that these words are inspired, but let me also be clear that you don’t have to believe it’s inspired to read it. If this is your first time in church, or your first time in a long time, and you feel out of place because you think we are all good people and you are not so good, you need to know you are surrounded by people who have out-sinned you ten to one. Don’t let all these pretty faces fool you. If you haven’t ever read the bible before, if you’re not sure you believe that God speaks through these words and these people, that’s ok. You can still read it. I do hope and pray that you will read this book because it contains truth and the voice of God is in it.

Now, practically speaking, how do we begin listening to God’s voice in this book? First, I want to discourage you from using the random flip the bible open method. Maybe you’ve heard this one before, a guy asks God “What do you want me to do?” and opens his bible at random and picks a verse which reads “And Judas went out and hung himself.” Hmmm, I think I’ll try again. He flips to a different portion of Scripture “Go, thou, and do likewise.” Now it’s perfectly possible that God could use the random flip the bible open method, with God all things are possible, but the Bible was written in complete chapters and complete books for a reason and we have an amazing wealth of resources to help us when we go to God’s voice in Scripture other than the random flip open the bible approach. Some of you may be familiar with these resources, I’ve mentioned some of the online resources in my blog, and again I hope those of you who are tech savvy will share what you’ve discovered with the rest of us, but our own library here at Trinity is an amazing resource. First, are commentaries. Commentaries are the comments of pastors, theologians, and scholars on scriptures. These books here are all the ones we have in our library on the book of Acts – that’s the next series we’re tackling. Some of them are more simple like “Plain talk on Acts” and some are more complicated like John Calvin’s Commentary which has been translated into English. Commentaries are a way we connect with the gifts and the abilities of the Church, the body of Christ, in the past and also gives us the opportunity to connect to a wider range of believers. We not only benefit from their insights, but we also avoid becoming too myopic in our own interpretations. This large book here is called a Concordance. It’s used primarily for keeping heavy doors open. No, seriously, you can look up a word in this book and it will show you every single place in scripture that this word occurred. This last one is a bible, but it’s a study bible so it’s got some comments below the scriptures to help fill in the historical contexts and give us a better understanding of what God is really saying in whatever verses we are looking at. As we gather here this morning we are all in different places in our walk, but I encourage you to take steps in your own life to be more mature in the Word, in your own personal study and use these resources both in libraries and online. Scripture calls us to become fully spiritually mature in Christ, not needing the Word pre-digested for us as a mother bird does for her children, not living on milk but on solid food.

The CNN article I mentioned earlier concludes with this and so do I: “When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sat at his kitchen table, in the winter of 1956, terrified by the fear of what might happen to him and his family during the Montgomery bus boycott, he said he heard the voice of Jesus promising, “I will be with you.” Imagine for a moment how God might use us as His people if we listen through others, ourselves, through Scripture, and keep reminding one another of God’s voice in our lives.

The Fullness of Time: A Sermon

You can listen to an audio version of this sermon here.

This is always an exciting time of year, a very busy time of year especially for pastors. I have to admit that I take a lot of delight in this time of year because there are so many ways in which congregation members are involved in the services and secretly, part of me, a childish part of me, kind of hopes that something funny will happen. I don’t watch Nascar, but I imagine it’s kind of like that, you enjoy the race but part of you is kind of hoping for some sort of collision. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone to get hurt but especially when I’m watching these families lighting the candles and coming perilously close to setting their Christmas sweaters on fire, or the children’s choirs as they sing I find myself rooting that some kid will do something crazy. This is just a very very small part of me, but I think this part is a holdover from when I was very young, because I was a very mischievous little boy. Every Christmas Eve I would try to outsmart my family and be the first one to get to look at the Christmas presents before anyone else. When I would get ready for bed, I would set one alarm out in the open as a decoy, but then I had a second alarm clock that was plugged in behind my bed so you couldn’t see the cord and was hidden under one of my pillows, I’m sure this was a fire hazard. It took some figuring out, but basically 4 AM is the perfect time to wake up and see all your presents before anyone else. It’s late enough that you can be sure that your parents are asleep, that all the gifts have arrived, and early enough that your brothers or sisters aren’t just going to wake up naturally out of excitement. 4 AM, at least for me, was the fullness of time. 4 AM is when the time had fully come, as an hour glass fills with so many particles of sand and reaches its fullness, so a confluence of a myriad of circumstances made that 4AM moment just right for me to quietly go through all my presents, my brothers presents, my parents presents, maybe switch a nametag or two, and then return to my bed to sleep in on Christmas morning, confusing my parents greatly.

Please open your bibles to our passage for tonight, Galatians 4:1-7. Jesus was born over 2000 years ago and yet no rational person today would deny that this man who claimed to be God has had an overwhelmingly profound impact, one, in the history of all humanity and two, in countless individual lives. In this passage Paul uses a metaphor of children becoming adults as a way to help us understand what it meant in history and also what it means for us individually when the time had fully come, some translations say, the fullness of time, when a confluence of an unimaginable number of circumstances brought Jesus into the world. For me, as a boy, 4AM was the fullness of time, when the time had fully come for Christmas, the 4AM, the fullness of time, in the history of humanity was the birth of Jesus Christ, and there is also a 4AM, a fullness of time, in our own lives where we come to know fully that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.  Please follow along in your bibles, Galatians 4:1-7:

What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

As Paul is trying to help us understand this mystery of God sending His Son to become human and what that means for us, he uses a metaphor to help us. Paul describes how children, even though technically the entire estate is in their names, are immature as children. They need constant supervision, they need specific rules to follow, they need to be protected, educated, and watched over. Children are physically, emotionally, and spiritually not ready for the full rights and responsibilities of adulthood. I remember one Christmas Eve service when I was growing up that I attended with my family and during a serious prayer for hurting people, the pastor said in a very deep resonating voice,  you’ll have to use your imagination since I’m preaching, but he said “O Lord, we lift up to you our continued prayers for the health and the well-being of Molly Jolly.” Now to be honest I was completely checked out of that service, probably thinking about all my presents at home, but I heard this prayer for Molly Jolly and I was like Molly Jolly? Are you serious? Is this real? Are we praying for someone named Ms. Jolly on Christmas Eve? What were Mr. and Mrs. Jolly thinking when they named their child Molly? I’m really hoping that no one, by the way, in some weird twist of fate, is a Mr. or Mrs. Jolly with us tonight , if you are, I’m a so sorry for my childish behavior. As an immature boy, and this was last year, just kidding I think I was 12 or 13, I couldn’t stop laughing, and of course then my two younger brothers start laughing. To be honest I think some other people thought it was funny, especially when they heard me laughing, but they were adults and they managed to keep their composure for the sake of that poor family, Molly Jolly, and all the other people be prayed for. Children are not mature in the same way that adults are, but eventually, and some of you can grasp on to this as a promise, eventually children do mature into adults. Eventually, in the fullness of time, when the time fully comes, people make a transition from childhood, from needing constant supervision, to adulthood. In our passage it says that the child is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. That’s the way that the culture during Paul’s time worked. The father takes everything into account and in the fullness of time, in that mysterious 4 AM moment, the father recognizes the transition that’s taken place and releases his child from guardians into the full privileges of adulthood.

Paul uses this universal human imagery to describe historically what happened when Jesus was born. Humanity before Jesus, existed in a state of childish immaturity under what Paul describes in our passage as the “basic principles of the world”. For the Jewish people, during this state of immaturity they were under the Law of the Old Testament, like children who needed constant supervision and for the other people of the world, the Gentiles, they were enslaved to a spiritual order in which they worshiped gods who we know now that weren't really gods at all. As a child is no different from a slave in that they are completely under the authority of adults, so also all of humanity was in a state of immaturity, enslaved, completely beholden to whatever was over them, law for the historic Jews, false gods for the other nations. Then, when the time had fully come, in the fullness of time, in a 4AM moment for the world, God our Father in heaven, removed us from slavery by sending his Son, born completely into our condition, under the law,  to transition humanity from a state of immaturity to maturity.

The prophets told about this 4AM moment long before it happened. The same way that children are told ahead of time what lies before them tomorrow morning on Christmas day,  the same way parents are promised that someday their children will be adults, this 4 AM moment for the world was foretold and promised. For those of you joining us tonight, we’ve been journeying together through the prophecies of the Old Testament in our Christmas series. Tonight we read Micah 5:2: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah (F-Ruh-Thuh), though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." The very Spirit of God conceived Jesus in Mary and at the same time his true origins are from of old, from ancient times - Jesus was fully God. This is why Jesus succeeds where we as humanity, in its childishness, had failed. And yet he was also, as our passage says, born of a woman – completely and fully human so that humanity would be redeemed. God entered into our situation and this occurred at the fullness of time in the sense that the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ could only have occurred under the circumstances provided by the Jewish nation and the Roman occupation, by specific historical circumstances. These circumstances provided for the spread of the Gospel, the world was prepared for this moment, and the prophecies were finally being fulfilled. The Roman empire before Jesus looked at values like compassion, humility, and serving others as weaknesses to be expelled from humanity, a childish, immature view of how to treat others. After Jesus those same values became virtues that are celebrated day the world over. All of the past pointed to this 4 AM moment in time that we celebrate tonight, where God would answer His promises through Jesus Christ and a new age would dawn, a new kingdom, not of this world would be planted like a mustard seed that continues to grow to this day.

As if this was not enough, amazingly, God didn't just affect all of humanity on a global scale, he also has a personal 4 AM moment, a fullness of time, in our own lives as individuals. Paul gets very personal in the last two verses of our passage. He says, that because Jesus came into the world and redeems us, not only is there this historical shift, but the same Spirit of God that brought Jesus into the world, that very same divine Spirit that changed the course humanity, the Spirit of God’s Son, is sent into our own hearts.
We, spiritually speaking and on a personal level, are enslaved to various principles of the world. Some of us, like the historic Jews, are enslaved to the law. We believe that if we follow the law, the rules, whatever they are, if we live basically good lives then in the end everything will work out for us. Others of us, like the other historic nations, are enslaved to false gods. We believe that we can fill the hole in our lives through the constant pursuit of something, for some it’s leisure or recreation, others its relationships, for some its material wealth, and we make these things our gods, and find ourselves enslaved to them and never finding the fulfillment we were meant for. We are all slaves in one way or another, and yet in the fullness of time, when the time fully comes, in a mysterious 4 AM moment, when the sounds of the world die down, and everything is just right, when we allow Jesus the Messiah to be born in us then we transition from spiritual childhood, from spiritual slavery, to full rights as sons and daughters of God. For some us that moment was long ago, and we’ve known Christ all our lives, for others, like me, we can remember well that specific 4 AM moment, that fullness of time moment when everything changed. When we no longer had the burden of trying to never break a rule and we realized that our false gods were never going fulfill us. In the fullness of time in our lives, we began an amazing adventure as sons and daughters of God as God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts and every moment in life has a meaning and a purpose beyond what we had ever imagined so that our 4 AM moment becomes not only the fullness of time but the beginning of a fullness of life that God always intended for each and every one of us as his children.

For some us tonight, we have yet to have that moment. You haven’t reached that time where you want to go and see the real Christmas day presents. To see the abundance beneath the tree that awaits you. Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate tomorrow, changed all of history, he blazed a new path to God, and he invites each and every one of us personally in our own fullness of time, to open the gift and receive His Spirit into our hearts so that we are no longer slaves, no longer children, but full mature sons and daughters of God in full fellowship with him and receiving an unimaginable fullness of life. We who have experienced a taste of this can try to describe the mystery in metaphors, like Paul has done for us tonight, but until you open the present yourself, the fullness of time, and the fullness of life will escape you. As the hourglass fills, and fullness of time approaches for each of our Christmases, my prayer is that we open His gift and that the Spirit of God would enter into our hearts. 

Voices of Hope: A Sermon

You can listen to an audio version of this sermon here.

Well are you ready? Are you prepared for Christmas? Have you prepared the way for Christmas?  I know last week Pastor Michael said he was holding out on his Christmas shopping until after December 21st just in case the Mayan’s had it right and the world is going to end, but for most of us the preparations for Christmas have already begun if they are not already fully completed.  Our family had a cold right after Thanksgiving, so we got a late start, but the tree is up, the lights are up, the presents are wrapped – I do think I still have one to wrap, but overall I think we are prepared for Christmas. Well, I should say I thought we were prepared for Christmas, and then I saw a video on TV of the way in which others have prepared their homes for Christmas.  I couldn’t find the exact video, but here’s an example of the way in which some people have really prepared their homes for Christmas.  

The television program I was watching was saying that it took something like 3 hours to program 15 seconds of music to match it up with the lights appropriately. I looked it up online and to create a display like this “depending on the degree of difficulty, give yourself anywhere from 2-6 months of prep time before you can expect your lights show to be fully operational.” 2-6 months of preparing the way! In contrast, here is a picture of the Weems family display, a whole 3 strings of lights, which took a full 6 minutes to put up, and that was partly because I couldn't figure out how to wrap the lights around the tree without them constantly falling down into a pile. Also we had our life group over at our house and I want to thank Jason Caro for so graciously loaning me an outdoor electrical cord, apparently he thought for some reason that stringing together a bunch of those small indoor electrical cords was not prudent. Thank you Jason.

Today we’ll be looking at two bible passages, Isaiah 40:1-5 and Matthew 3:1-3,  to help prepare us for Christmas, Our Christmas series this year is entitled “Your Most Prophetable Christmas!” emphasis on the “Prophet” as we examine the prophets and prophecies of the Old Testament that prepared the way for the Lord, for the coming of the Anointed One, of Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. Our God is definitely one who believes in preparation as the coming of the One who would establish a reign of justice and peace was foretold at different times and in diverse manners through the prophets of the Old Testament like Isaiah. God was definitely prepared for Christmas day and He spoke through the prophets with voices of hope to prepare the world historically and to prepare people spiritually for the coming of Christ into their lives and for they themselves to become, in receiving the Spirit of God, prophets themselves as they became truth tellers, voices of hope, in their own communities to which they were called and not only that but to the ends of the earth.

As we listen to God’s Word for us today, let us ask ourselves, as we prepare our homes, extravagantly or not at all, for Christmas, is the way prepared in us to receive Christ, to welcome His Spirit, are we listening to the voice of hope that comes God, and are we preparing others as we ourselves can be voices of hope in our communities and personal relationships, is the way prepared for the advent, the coming of the One. Follow along in your bibles as I read our passage for today, Isaiah 40:1-5:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 
You can see on your note page that we’re going to examine four different manners in which the way is prepared for the Lord based on our text for today. The first is in the immediate context of Isaiah. Isaiah is a prophet and in this passage is speaking about a future event,  but this prophecy has both a near fulfillment and a far fulfillment as many of the prophecies of the Old Testament. So first of all, and most immediately, this passage is about the way prepared for Israel’s return from exile. Isaiah has had some pretty harsh things to say in the first 39 chapters as he fortells about the fall of the southern Kingdom of Judah into the hands of Babylon, but here in chapter 40 he speaks not as a voice of despair or gloom, but as a voice of hope. The passage starts with the word “comfort” twice indicating an emotional form of speech, a moment of endearment, of course reinforced as God says “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” because “her hard service has been completed.” Her hard service of course is the Babylonian exile that Isaiah prophesied in the first 39 chapters. After that hard service , that difficult time in Babylon, there will come a day when they are able to return to Jerusalem.  Isaiah’s words here, would be looked at later by those in exile and they would read the first 39 chapters and see yes, what Isaiah said was true, we were lost, we had gone down our own path, we abandoned our Lord and our God for our own way, and as result here we sit in Babylon, as exiles with no nation, no settled place, no king of our own. And then they would read our passage that we read today and say, Aha, look here, there is hope! Our God doesn’t leave us in despair but provides us with this hope of return to our nation, to our home, to our true king, to our Lord!

The imagery that Isaiah uses is that of traveling. Now many of us have been traveling over the holidays and I’m sure some of us have perhaps come long distances to the sunny land of Florida, the promised land, and it can be difficult of course to travel with children. My most difficult travel experience was on our honeymoon in Scotland where I went through two different rental cars trying to figure out how to drive a manual, went down a few paths on the wrong side of the road, spent more than our share going in circles in roundabouts not sure where to exit, and fortunately no sheep were killed in the process, though one came close. But no matter your story, we have it so easy compared to travel back in the day of Isaiah. There is an Eastern proverb from that time period that says “There are three states of misery – sickness, fasting, and travel.” Travelers were advised “to pay all debts, provide for dependents, give parting gifts, return all articles under trust, take money and good-temper for the journey;  then bid farewell to all.” Can you imagine? The path was difficult, the way was treacherous, especially for such a long distance as from Babylon to Jerusalem. Isaiah paints this marvelous imagery of a super lane highway be formed from creation as mountains lower themselves and valleys raise themselves up to create a flat, straight through the desert, path to Jerusalem. The imagery is of a king, the Lord himself, leading Israel home and letting nothing stand, not mountains, not valley, not any obstacle stand in the way of the return of the exiles.

Another part of this imagery is that of a voice, an anonymous voice calling out  to prepare the way. This is the image of a herald. When an important king would go places, a messenger would ride out before him and clear the way through proclamation. “Prepare ye the way”. Now this prophecy was filled more immediately when the Babylonian captivity was ended and the people did return to Jerusalem, but this prophecy also has a far, or further out, element that reaches its fulfillment in John the Baptist as the way was prepared by Him for the Lord, for the ministry of Jesus. John the Baptist fills the role of this herald who goes before the king. Please turn in your bibles to Matthew 3:1-3.

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' 
So John the Baptist fulfills this prophecy as he is one in the wilderness preparing people for the coming of the Lord, the One, the Messiah, the Christ. John the Baptist was drawing crowds when he spoke because he was speaking as a prophet, speaking the truth and was doing it in such a way that people even wondered if John the Baptist was the Messiah. You see, there hadn’t been a prophet for a long time. God had been silent for over  400 years, not a prophets voice was heard, silence… and then “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” comes out of the mouth of John the Baptist – a voice of hope calling in the wilderness, preparing the way for Jesus the One.  Now John prepared the way literally in the sense that he said  Mark 1:7-8 "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."” So John, told people, that literally this person, the Anointed One, is coming, but He also prepared people spiritually with this twofold message “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

John the Baptist, as a prophet, and remember prophets are not primarily future tellers though sometimes that’s involved, but primarily they are truth tellers, speaking God’s truth to the people and the truth was and is that the way needed to be prepared in their hearts for the coming of the Lord. This is, by the way, a classic prophet move. All the prophets call the people of their time to repent, to turn from whatever is distracting them and to turn to God and renew their covenant with Yahweh. This wasn’t a call, by the way, to accept an intellectual proposition, the Jewish people knew and believed in God, but it was call that involved a fundamental turnaround of their lifestyle and way of life involving both mind and action. It was a call from this voice in the wilderness, to examine their lives, to look at the path they were on and recognize that without God they were fundamentally off course. The same call, from God’s Word, as a voice of Hope is on you and I today some 2000 years later. God is speaking right now to you and I. And again, it’s not primarily an intellectual call, an information dump, the call isn’t  a voice that says believe x, y, and z and your good. The voice says “What is the path you have laid out for your life?” “What are you trusting in at the end of the day?” Are we prepared for Christmas day when under our tree we can reach a certain number of gifts, or a certain price has been met? Are we prepared for Christmas when we look at our finances, and know that we’ve made it through one more year? Have we prepared the way for Christmas when we finally get those days off and hope that the time with family, or maybe the the time alone, or maybe the time to indulge in entertainment and pleasures, will somehow recharge us enough to get a little further down the path? God’s Word, as a voice of hope, gives us something so much surer, so much fuller than any of these temporary idols. When we repent, when we turn and open our hearts to hear God either for the first time or maybe more fully than we’ve ever allowed ourselves before, we prepare the way for the Lord. There may be obstacles, there may be mountains and valleys in our hearts that prevent us from welcoming God’s Spirit. This may be the time of year that is a valley for you as you remember the past, as you remember the loss of loved ones. There may be intellectual obstacles or lifestyle mountains that you can’t get past. You simply can’t let go and clear out these obstacles that hinder you from being connected to God. I encourage you to go, myself included, and pray to God. Pray in a deep and sincere moment for God to raise your valleys and lower the mountains, and make clear the path for the Lord, Jesus Christ in your heart and Repent, turn around in thought and action from anything that prevents you from preparing the way.

Now, John the Baptist says “Repent”, but he also says “for the kingdom of heaven is near.” We prepare ourselves spiritually in our own hearts, in our own ways, for the Lord, but the way is also prepared for the Tangible kingdom of Heaven. We as the Church sometimes run the risk of only focusing on the spiritual, but when John spoke it wasn’t only in a spiritual manner that he expected the kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of God to come. He expected that when the Messiah came, that his Kingdom would be expressed in real and tangible ways. That the Anointed One would establish justice, crush opposition, and renew the very universe as pastor Michael spoke about last week. We read in Luke 3:10-15, printed in your bulletin the way in which John responded to the crowd:

"What should we do then?" the crowd asked. John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."  Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"  "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely-- be content with your pay." The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 
So we see that the along with the coming of the Lord, the coming of Jesus, so also comes his kingdom. A kingdom of justice, of peace, where the high are brought down and the low are brought up. The way is prepared when we, as the body of Christ here on earth, seek to see His kingdom come and His will be done here on earth as it is heaven. The kingdom is near when those with two tunics share with those who have none, and the one who has food does the same. When those of us who are rich, who have places high in society, those of us who are like mountains, when we bring ourselves low we prepare the way for the Lord. When those who are poor, who are outcasts, who are on the margin of society, those who live lowly in the valley are raised up, then we prepare the way for the King as the paths are made straight. Perhaps at this time of year it is as simple as giving a gift, taking one of those children on the Angel tree, but hopefully we as a people, whether through our partners in mission central or on your own individually or with your life group, will be invested for the long term in personal relationships to see God’s kingdom made tangible, real in our communities.

Now, as we hear the voice of hope in our lives, as we repent and make the path straight for communion with God by the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, something amazing and incredibly humbling happens: we ourselves become voices of hope in the lives of others because we are the body of Christ in the world. The prophets in the Old Testament, were special and spoke the word of God because they received His Spirit. Empowered by that Spirit they spoke into people’s lives as truth tellers. Friends, we live in a unique time in which Jesus has come. His way was prepared by the prophets of the Old Testament like Isaiah and in the New Testament by John the Baptist. He came and when he ascended into heaven he didn’t leave us alone. He poured out His Spirit upon us so that we might be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. So that we might be voices of hope to others as we witness what God has done in our lives. If you look in your bulletin, you’ll see an invitation card. I encourage you now to write a note on that card. Write a brief note of encouragement, of love, that may offer hope to someone you know. You could share it anonymously with a neighbor or maybe you know someone who needs a longer letter, I encourage you to do that immediately when you go home today. Tell them that they are loved, that they are cherished, that they are cared for, that God loves them more than they can possibly imagine, and that there is a hope beyond all the struggles of this life. Don’t underestimate what the value of your voice as a voice of hope can mean.

I personally can think of two instances in my life where I needed voices of hope. The first is about this time last year when I was in Haiti. We took a ride from the place we were staying all the way to the beach to baptize some new believers. It was a long, long ride and I admitted to someone on the trip that I began to despair at one point about whether or not we would ever reach the beach. Another time, a little more serious, was with the birth of our daughter Sophia. We didn’t know if when she was born what would happen because she was born with serious heart defects. In both of these cases, even though the temptation to give up hope and to despair was there, I was able to put my hope in God because of others. In the Haiti trip I had the voices of the Haitians singing beautifully as they praised God the entire drive to the beach. In the birth of our daughter, I had the voices of 3 different churches praying for us and holding us along the way. In one case, because of hope, I was able to see my daughter be born and to live. In another case, because of hope, I was able to see three Haitians be reborn as they were baptized in the ocean.  We prepare for Christmas day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the One, into the World. He changed the history of humanity that day, he changes our lives when we repent and prepare the way to our hearts, and he, incredibly, uses us to see his kingdom come and to be voices of hope ourselves in our families, to our friends, and in our communities as we like John the Baptist, point beyond ourselves to prepare the way for the Lord.