Publish This

20161225-letters-1hbsPublish his glorious deeds among the nations.
Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
(Psalm 96.3, NLT)

If there was a fantastic event happening in your city this weekend, how would you know where and when the event was being held? Let’s say the circus was coming to town. You and your family love the circus and would love to attend, but how would you get the information you needed to do so?

Easy, you say. What with newspaper, radio, television, the Internet and social media, it might be hard NOT to be aware of the upcoming circus.

And while this has not always been the case, you would be right. The movable type printing press has been around since the mid-1400s, but recent technologies have created ways to more easily share a wealth of information:

  • The first radio news broadcast was aired in 1920.
  • The regularly scheduled news you watch nightly has only been around since 1950.
  • The first publicly available use of the Word Wide Web happened August of 1991.
  • Facebook, perhaps the most common way of receiving information today, first went online in 2004. (Twitter followed in 2006, Pinterest and Instagram in 2010, and the latest rage, Snapchat, has been around since 2011. By the time this is published, something else will probably be the “in” thing.)

It is no wonder people talk about information overload. Dissemination of information used to be in the hands of only a few, but now it can be accomplished by anyone. Today there will be over 3 million blog posts published from around 175 million blogs. If you checked Facebook today, you did so along with 1.6 billion other individuals. During the 10 seconds it takes you to read this sentence, over 60,000 tweets will have been published, which equates to roughly 500 million tweets per day.

The issue, therefore, is not finding something to talk about. It is talking about those things that really are important. It is about finding the good stuff in the midst of all of the other noise.

That’s why the psalmist’s words in Psalm 96 are so significant. Publish THIS news: God’s glorious deeds and his presence are among us. “Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!” (96.4)

When you think about the weight of these words on this day, Christmas Day, their significance becomes even more important. Away in a manger, as we sing, a small child was born who to anyone passing by might have seemed just another child or incredibly insignificant in a world full of newborns. Stop the presses, however. This child is important. He is the light that shines into the world (Isaiah 9.2) and the hope that brings salvation to all humankind (Titus 2.11). In a time when (too) many things are said, creating a distracted environment of indistinguishable noise, the birth of child needs to be the center of our conversation.

Indeed, he has done amazing things. Publish them to the entire world … and to the person sitting next to you. Praise his name.

Questions:

•How has the movement from expecting the light to come to the birth of Jesus to the salvation he offers impacted how you live your life today? How can you share this story of faith with others?

•Share with one another the ways you have seen God’s marvelous deeds in your life. How can you share these deeds with someone else today?

•Think of all of the names you can think of that are used to describe Jesus. Which one means the most to you and why?

•Share with one another your salvation has allowed you to say “No” to ungodliness. Why does the appearance of Jesus Christ give you hope?

•What is the most unexpected thing about Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus?

Vacation – June 14

Text: Isaiah 58 (Read it here.)20160614

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

(Isaiah 58.13-14, NIV)

Disappointed with God
Author: Ralph Beistle

Have you thought that things seem to be going from bad to worse?  And wonder why our culture seems to be trying to get rid of religion?  They don’t want religion, and don’t want us to have it either.  Have you wondered why God hasn’t overruled circumstances to right the wrongs that seem to multiply with increasing rapidity?

Isaiah 58 reveals some disturbing questions that God asked people who claimed to be His people, but were disappointed with God.  Isaiah expressed God’s view of their situation, saying:

“For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’”

Those complainers were not trying to eliminate religion, but were people who thought God should be “fixing” things the way they would like them to be.  Notice how they felt so deserving, but God was not impressed.

God made it clear that He had not become distant, but rather they had failed to follow His way:

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

But God’s blessings are still attainable, subject to the willingness of the people to accept the conditions He would require of them:

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if
you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,”

Rather than being disappointed with God, we should remember that God wants to bless.  The question is: are people wanting them enough to change their ways?

Questions:

When we observe the Sabbath or a fast, as is mentioned in Isaiah 58.3-5, we do not do it to gain something or to be rewarded for our diligence to God, but we do it to know God better. How have you found yourself at times fasting, observing Sabbath, or acting on some other discipline is such a way that misses the point? How can you take on such disciplines in a way so as to humble yourself before God?

How do you act to “loose the chains of injustice” or “ set the oppressed free?” How can you do this better? What specific thing can you do to accomplish this today?

How well do you observe Sabbath? Do you find it to be a day of rest and remembrance of God or a day off from work which gives you an opportunity to fill the day with other busy work? How have you found joy in taking Sabbath-rest before God?

 

Vacation – June 12

Text: Isaiah 40.1-11 (Read it here.)20160612

You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”

(Isaiah 40.9, NIV)

“Comfort My People!”
Author: Jesse Long

With words that echo across the centuries, the God of Israel and all creation charges the prophet to “Comfort, comfort my people” and to “speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” to a people in exile who have paid a heavy price for their sins (vv. 1-2, ESV). A voice cries out: “Prepare the way of Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. . . . The glory of Yahweh shall be revealed and all flesh will see [God’s salvation (LXX)]” (vv. 3-5). A voice commands the prophet to “Cry out” that all men are like grass which fades away, but the word of God stands forever (vv. 6-8). The voice then calls Zion/Jerusalem, as a “herald of good news,” to “lift up your voice” from a high mountain and announce to the cities of Judah that the Lord Yahweh comes as king in strength and as a shepherd who will “gather the lambs in his arms” and “carry them in his bosom” (vv. 9-11).

With a powerful, trustworthy voice, Isaiah proclaims the good news of divine comfort from God (cf. Isa 40:1; 49:13; 51:3, 12, 19; 52:9; 54:11; 61:2; 66:13). In so doing, the prophet anticipates the coming messianic deliverance (cf. Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6), when God himself would return as divine warrior and as shepherd to lead His people in a New Exodus from the bondage of sin and death.

Waiting for Isaiah’s promised comfort/consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25), the righteous Simeon saw the infant Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem, took him up in his arms, and proclaimed, “My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” (vv. 30-31). Isaiah’s comfort appeared in the form of a baby and flourished in the ministry and mission of Jesus of Nazareth, the divine shepherd who comforts, who in resurrection defeated evil to bring about God’s salvation.

For the Christian who mourns, Jesus offers comfort from God. As our victorious king who has conquered death, He protects us from the evil one. As our shepherd, he holds us close. In his arms, we take comfort!

Questions:

When you think about the story of the Israelite people, why would a word of comfort from God be such an important part of their story? How do you feel when you are punished for something you have done? How do you feel when that punishment is complete? How has God offered a word a comfort to you for sins you may have committed?

How would you define “sovereignty?” How is power and might related to your definition? When we think about God being the one who created the entire universe, what implications does this make about his ability to take care of us?

How would you answer Isaiah’s question: “To whom can you compare [God]?” (Verse 25) What examples would you give to show there is none comparable to God?

Vacation – June 7

Text: Isaiah 61 (Read it here.)20160607

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
(Isaiah 61.1-2a, NIV)

The Year of the Lord’s Favor
Author: Rob Anderson

How much of our life is spent trying to get ahead? How much energy do we spend trying to “finish strong?” And just what is our reaction when the bottom drops out or the wheels fall off the wagon and instead of a great finish, we feebly cross the line at the end of the race, the crowds already gone, nothing left but the clean up crew putting away banners and picking up trash.

Maybe that seems like a stretch, but look around. How many people are dealing with the loss of a loved one? Know anyone who has a child that has made poor choices and now the entire family is dealing with the consequences? How about someone dealing with the realization that “job security” is nice in theory, but in reality—or more importantly in experience—there is no such thing?

So what do we do? Determine grief is for those who are weak? Sign up for parenting classes, or at the very least, a “How to be a better child” seminar? Search for that better job, more aligned with your skill set and without so many nincompoops for bosses? Because surely, we can fix this problem, right? Maybe we just didn’t try hard enough the last time and after the pain we suffered, you can bet we won’t make the same mistake twice.

In the midst of our struggles, the Lord reminds us of this: His anointed one has proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor. Notice who is the beneficiaries of such a proclamation: the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners. I do not think it is a stretch to add the grieving, the lousy-feeling parents, and the unemployed. You probably can add even more to this list with just a little bit of thought.

It is interesting that when Jesus comes along, he quotes this passage as a sort of mission statement (see Luke 4.14-30). He is the anointed one that fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 61. As he goes about his life, he is giving people good news, freedom, release from darkness, and a proclamation of the year of Gods favor.

Today, no matter how bad your life may seem to the contrary, you live in the reality that the Lord has proclaimed freedom and salvation for you. It is no wonder the prophet goes on to say: “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God” (Is. 61.10). Today is a day for delight!

Questions:

The prophet Isaiah lists several things that the Lord will do for people who are marginalized. What are those things? After reading this list of things, what sort of reaction do you have to the things God is doing among these people?

If you were going to rewrite this list in today’s terms, what sort of things would go on your modernized list? In what ways have you seen God at work in the lives of people who are marginalized today?

How have you specifically or the small group you are a part of or the church in which you are involved addressed some of the needs of those around you who are marginalized? In what ways can you do this more?