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Christmas is over… Happy New Year!

It’s easy to be caught up in the end of Christmas, as sad as that sounds. Christmastime goes even quicker than it comes with the start of the new year: new years resolutions to accomplish, a new semester to dread, new teachers to impress, new chores to leave until the last minute, etc, etc. With this time of newness and fresh starts, it’s easy to move on too quickly from the story of Jesus’ birth, especially since his birth is celebrated year after year like just another holiday on the list. But what if we didn’t treat it like any other holiday and move on so quickly from it this year? What if we took a second look and responded to Jesus’ birth appropriately?

Take a look at Luke 2 (Jesus’ birth narrative). We see that different people all responded differently to the birth of Jesus, all appropriate and all acceptable.

The shepherds – “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child… glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:17, 20, NIV). The shepherds became instantly evangelistic. They met Jesus, saw the King, and wanted the world to know.

Mary – “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, NIV). Mary took a more contemplative approach, treasuring Jesus’ birth in her heart.

Simeon – “praised God” (Luke 2:28, NIV). Simeon, after years of waiting for the Messiah, praised God through song and prayer.

Anna – “gave thanks to God” (Luke 2:38, NIV). Anna, a prophet waiting for the Messiah almost her entire life, thanked God and spread the news of redemption to all who would hear.

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How are you going to respond to Jesus’ birth this year? Spread the good news of redemption like Anna and the shepherds. Spend time with God through prayer and meditating on God’s truth like Mary. Praise God through song and prayer like Simeon.

This event is too important to gloss over like any other holiday.

Jesus is here.

A God Who Sees

Flashback to a post from last October…

Her dad died three days ago.  She stands there, talking about her family’s response to the death, how she can’t do anything to make her dad come back.  She is lost, at a loss for words and thoughts.

His dad died.  There is a feeling of despair in his family, as now his brother has just been diagnosed with cancer.  Standing there, in the middle of the grass during lunch, he communicates a feeling of hopelessness.

Her parents got a divorce three weeks ago.  There was a lot of fighting and hurt, but it seems to be getting better.  Her dad moved out of state.  She’s now living with just her mom.  Things are getting back to resembling a normal family, but there are still feelings of loss and confusion.  She goes back to her table with her friends to wait for the bell to ring.

“What are you concerned about?” I ask as I lead another 7th grade student during this activity at school.  She hesitates.  There is something there, but she is not sure if she can trust me.  Her parents are fighting.  She wants things to be better, but it doesn’t look good.  She worries about her family.

7th graders.  While on a middle school campus this last week, I had these conversations with 7th grade students during the lunch period.  Upon leaving the school that day, my heart cried out for them.  Do they go to a church?  Do they know God, the kind of hope that comes from Jesus?  I don’t know if these students are in relationship with God, the One that turns his face toward us and makes his face to shine upon us.

There is a lot of confusion in the world about God, especially when in circumstances like these four students are in.  When we are in times of pain and loss, we often think that God is a being who doesn’t see us in our situations, who doesn’t understand.  We believe that he is either ignoring us and doesn’t care or that he likes to see us in pain.  It feels as though his face is turned away from us…

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

What if we worship a God who sees?  In the Old Testament, Hagar, who was lost and confused about what had happened in her life, was trying to run away from her situations.  She was in the desert, with no one to help her, and God saw her in her situation.  She then named God “the One who sees me.”  God turns his face toward us.  God sees us in all of our crap.  God knows us and what we’ve done or what’s been done to us.  And God is proud to shine his face upon us, calling us his children.

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” (Psalm 22:24)
 

Give

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4 NIV). 

Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “if you give to the poor.”  Jesus clearly states, “when you give.”  Jesus is asserting that being a disciple, a follower of him, means that you are supposed to give to those who are in need.  We are called to financial responsibility, to give to those who are in need.  That is why we give to the mission of the church.  Our money (which actually comes from God to begin with) is to be used by God through the bride of Christ, the Church, for God’s mission in our world.

Next, Jesus says that we’re not to announce our giving to others.  This is what the hypocrites do.  In those days, people would make it known that they were giving to the poor.  They would look for recognition that they were following the law.  Do we flaunt our giving today?  If not giving, what other acts of righteousness do we do that we like to tell others about?

We need to let our light shine for others to see our good deeds and worship our God in heaven, but what is our intention behind letting these good deeds be seen?  Do we do it so that others will see Christ in us and worship God with us?  Or do we have other intentions in mind?

Jesus calls the people who give and make it known to others that they are giving for the purpose of self-righteousness hypocrites.  This word came from actors in a play who would wear a mask, changing their outward appearances to look like someone else.  Jesus points out that those who give in such a way to impress others look like great Christ followers, but have the wrong intentions in their heart.  God can’t be fooled by outward appearances because He knows the intention in our hearts.  For this reason, it would be better for you to give in secret than to give to look like a good Christian, to look like you have it all together.

What are your motives behind acts of righteousness?

Can I Trust God When it Seems Like He’s Absent?

In Israel’s history, the sign that God was present and active in the Israelites’ lives was their place in the Promised Land.  During the story of Esther, however, the Israelites were in exile, away from the Promised Land.  For them, being away from the Promised Land would make the Israelites feel like God was not present or active in their lives.

Did you know that God is not mentioned in the book of Esther… not anywhere.  Knowing that the Israelites were in exile (away from the Promised Land and the assumed presence of God) and seeing that God was not talked about throughout the book of Esther, you would think that God’s presence was absent from the Israelites’ lives during this time.

Where does it seem like God is or has been absent in your life?

Back to the story of Esther… throughout the book, even though God is not mentioned specifically, you can’t help but see God at work throughout the entire story.

STORY TIME: the story of Esther…

Mordecai (Esther’s cousin) uncovers Haman’s (the king’s assistant’s) plot to kill Mordecai and all the Jews in the empire.  When Mordecai finds out about Haman’s plans, he informs Esther (who just happens to be the king’s wife) what has happened and tells her to intercede with the king.  She does this and gets the king to honor Mordecai, therefore, saving Mordecai from Haman’s plot.  In the end, Haman is actually killed the same way he had planned to kill Mordecai.  Through Mordecai and Esther’s actions, all the Jews were saved in the empire.

Read Esther 4:12-16.     

Did you notice that the author of Esther tells us that people fasted, but did not mention that this fasting and prayer was directed toward God?  The absence of this detail (the presence of God during fasting) is a rhetorical device that is consistent with the rest of the book of Esther.

The author is trying to show us that even though God cannot be found in the book of Esther, God is present and active throughout the story of Esther.

Take some time to think back over the recent events in your life.

As you re-look at the story of your life, how has God been trying to shape you? What has God been trying to teach you or do for your good?

Read Romans 5:1-5.

In verse 5, the phrase “has poured out” (referring to God’s love) comes from a verb in the original Greek language that indicates a present status resulting from a past action.  When we first believed in Christ, the Holy Spirit poured out his love in our hearts, and his love for us continues to dwell in us.  The final phrase in verse 5, “whom he has given us” (referring to the Holy Spirit) shows us that all true believers have the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is present and active in our lives even if we don’t recognize it right away.

Sometimes, life can feel a bit like the story of Esther, where at first glance God does not seem to be present and active.  But when we remember the promise from Romans that “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us,” we are reminded that we can trust God’s presence and action in our lives.

It can take some time to notice God’s presence in the situations in our lives.

We need to trust that God is there, working throughout our joys and trials, our good days and our bad, even when his presence is not felt.

“People of faith don’t expect immediate rescue from trials, we ask for it, we hope for it, we even work for it, but we leave the results to God.” – George Haraksin

Generate Hope

The Problem

  • San Diego has been identified by the FBI as a high intensity child prostitution area.
  • San Diego is an international gateway city for sex trafficking.
  • At least 1 million American children are involved in prostitution each year.
  • Sex trafficking is a multi billion dollar business annually & is the fastest growing business of organized crime.
  • Until now, there has been no long-term recovery program available in San Diego specifically for these young women.

The Vulnerable

  • Homeless, runaway & throwaway children (within 72 hours on the street a child is approached for sex)
  • Children who are victims of child abuse or domestic violence
  • Children in an unstable or neglectful home environment
  • Children with low self esteem or missing a parent figure in their lives
  • Any child with access to the Internet

The GenerateHope Solution

  • Safe Housing in a compassionate environment
  • A Learning Center – Groups & support for life skills, communication & relationship skills, parenting skills, healing from the trauma of child sexual abuse & the sex trade, poor self-esteem, and more.
  • Child Care – for the women are also parents
  • Education – high school, college, or trade school
  • Job Training & Job Shadowing
  • Up to 7 years of continued support

©2011 GenerateHope

Good Friday

“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”

Romans 7:15, 24

Our sinfulness can overpower us sometimes.  Not in a “I can’t physically function because I’m so sinful” way but a “I am so disappointed in myself I can’t think of anything else” kind of way.  We will dwell on our thoughts that don’t match up to God’s thoughts.  We will be shocked that we can’t remain faithful.  We will not let ourselves let go.  Maybe it’s that we aren’t forgiving ourselves.  Maybe we just feel the need to dwell on our brokenness so much that we become emotionally disabled.  I don’t think that’s what God intended.

Today is Good Friday.  A day intended to remember the sacrifice of our Savior.  Jesus died on the cross to set us free from our sin, to give us new life, the ability to be restored and to restore.  We remember our brokenness and sinful nature, the reason Jesus had to die on the cross.  But it doesn’t end there.  God made us a new creation, a holy temple, a blessed people.  He gives sight to the blind, health to the sick, and rest to the weary.  Paul asks, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”  It is Christ, who is the same God from Isaiah 40.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tires and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Remember those mistakes you made yesterday?  You’re forgiven.

Remember that person you wronged last week?  You’re restored.

Remember the sin you committed against your neighbor last month?  You’re made new.

Remember that unspeakable things you did last year, the one you’ve been dwelling on lately that you haven’t been able to shake?  Listen to the first words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Mark: “The time has come.  The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news.”  The good news of redemption and reconciliation and of new life; it’s here.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

Romans 1:16-17