A few times a year in between our planned series, we leave a open Sunday to allow space for the Lord to address a particular theme or passage that He puts on our hearts. Over the past few months, He has continued to bring up the theme of religion as it pertains to our Reality family- religion, religiousness, and religiosity. This week we will expose the spirit of religion under the microscope and listen to the Spirit's call to the life and freedom of the Kingdom of God.
Central to the message of Christmas is an announcement of joy- great joy for all the people. However, in a season when joy should be known and celebrated, so many people experience just the opposite: Christmas stress, depression, and the heavy weight of life. Any ounce of joy can quickly get squashed in the harsh reality of the everyday. Humanity needs a lasting joy that comes from an untainted, outside source.
Amidst the darkness of the human story, the Christ child is born in Bethlehem but definitely not as any ordinary Jewish baby. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to reveal the true identity of the Coming Child, the Messiah. Through his names, we learn his true identity, and we uncover the source of indestructible joy. He is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. After spending much of 2015 talking about our name and identity, we come this Advent to re-discover His names which stand as bedrock to the eternal and indestructible joy that Jesus has come to bring. This Advent, may our joy be full.
After a month of waiting and preparation, we are finally ready to light the last and final candle- the Christ candle. Through the birth of the Christ child, Jesus, God the Father has given the best and ultimate gift, the gift of His Son. He is the one who made all things and all things hold together by the word of His power. As the classic carol, "Away in a Manger" declares, He is the "Little Lord Jesus"- small but yet Lord. And He has come so that in everything He might be preeminent.
As we look at this last of the 4 names, we want to ask the questions: What is the peace that the Bible speaks of? And if God has promised peace – Where is it?
This week we will see that God’s promise of peace is the promise of Shalom – “The webbing together of God and man with all creation to create universal flourishing and wholeness.” And that the way to this peace, is through the prince. Who has come offering peace, but is returning soon with a sword.
Bound by time and space, we wrestle with our past, our present, and our future. But there is One who transcends it all as the author and source of eternity. Not to be confused with the first person of the trinity, God the Father, the title of Jesus as the Everlasting Father points to the fact that He is the author of eternal life. He is the source of eternity for His creation. But to accept this title is to accept the scandalous reality about Jesus, us, and this present world. This Christmas we are invited to see ourselves and our lives through an eternal perspective. The invitation is to live, truly live, in Him. Enter His Realm.
The depth of joy springs ultimately from right relationship with the Creator. He is truly the Mighty God and it is only when we are fully submitted to His power and authority that our joy is made complete. But what does the “Mighty God” look like? How is his might and power expressed on earth? When His authority is displayed, when His mighty voice speaks, how do we respond?
Part of the joy erosion in our life stems from the internal confusion that plagues the minds of humanity. Among the many voices, competing allegiances and the old ways of sin, we need what only the Wonderful Counselor can bring. But His strategy is counter-cultural. Heed His Counsel.
In much of the ancient world, a person’s name and their identity have been inextricably bound together. What you are called (your name) and who you are (your identity) have historically shaped a person’s life and story. To talk name is to talk identity.
This fall we are starting a new series titled with this question- “What is your name?” That question, taken from 2 moments in the life of Jacob from the book of Genesis, will drive us over the next few months as we wrestle with issues of identity and the challenge of knowing exactly who we are. We are going to follow Jacob- from his birth in Genesis 25 to the end of his days. And if there ever was a person on planet earth who struggled with his identity- it was Jacob. His story is marked with turmoil in this area, every step along the way. But it ends in beauty that hopefully will guide us deeper into the truth of knowing God and knowing ourselves.
With an amazing list of God-encounters behind them, Jacob and his family continue their journey home. However, a couple of hours away from Bethlehem, Rachel goes into sudden labor and delivers Jacob his last born son. In the trauma of the birth, Rachel dies and their journey is marked with a mixture of deep sadness and joy, new death and new life. As this sermon series comes to a close, we will watch Jacob take action out of his new identity. He renames and builds pillars. And in doing so, he shows us all what maturity looks like: taking a new identity and actually finishing strong.
After a life-altering wrestling match with God, Jacob emerges with a new name, a new identity and a blessing. However, the time quickly comes for the new man to face up to his old problems. Immediately after leaving Peniel, Jacob comes face to face with Esau for the first time in 20 years. Nonetheless, instead of finding anger, vengeance and retaliation, Jacob is surprised to find a brother who welcomes him home with open arms. This week we will discuss reconciliation, restoration, and the way our Christian identity flows into mending the broken relationships of our life. How does your life reveal the face of God and the face of grace to those who have wronged you?
After months of following Jacob's rollercoaster life, today we find ourselves at the defining moment of our series. While preparing to reunite with his brother Esau, Jacob experiences a deep fear that leads him to carefully scheme in self-protection. He divides his camp in two. He sends a lavish bribe gift ahead of him. And, in one last-ditch effort, he pushes his wives and children across the riverbank to lead the way toward his angry brother. However, in this place of anxiety around the haunting memories from the past, Jacob unknowingly finds himself in an all-night wrestling match with God. As the day breaks the following day, Jacob limps away a changed man with a new name. For Jacob and for everyone, this wrestling match with God stands central to any hope for a changed identity.
Having resolved some problems with the in-laws in Genesis 31, Jacob and his family move on to the future and place God has for them. Jacob soon learns however that his brother Esau is close by and that he intends to meet with Jacob. This is the Esau whose birthright was stolen by Jacob. This is the Esau who once consoled himself with the thought of murdering Jacob. Jacob’s past sin comes very much into the present and poses a threat to his property, his loved ones and his very life.
Following Jacob's marriage and fourteen years of service to Laban, Jacob is thinking about returning home. But in this passage we see that all three people involved are still struggling to identify themselves. Jacob is looking to himself. Laban is looking to his possessions. And Rachel is looking to others. All are still looking for something other than God to tell them who they are. Laban may have a little Idol, but we all have a god that we are looking to and longing for to fulfill us.
In the wake of leaving his home and encountering God in a dream, Jacob eventually reaches his desired destination in the land of the east: Haran. Not only does he find his uncle Laban, but he discovers that Laban has two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Through the story of Jacob, Laban, Leah, and Rachel, we soon discover each one's deepest desire and greatest pursuit - Jacob's passion, Laban's plan, Leah's pain, and Rachel's panic. With each person and their pursuit, we find valuable lessons about who we are, what we want most and the disillusion we are often left with. We are made for desires even greater than we might know.
This week, Jacob's spiraling story and chaotic life hit rock bottom as he curls up to sleep on a rock in the middle of nowhere. Having fled his family and a brother that wants to kill him, Jacob stumbles into an unknown place and falls asleep in exhaustion. However, in that place of darkness, Jacob encounters a ladder, angels, and the God of his family in a monumental and life-altering dream. This God encounter forever changes the course of his life and begins the process of restoring a new identity for Jacob. This backwards ladder redefines everything we assume about earth, heaven, and the way in-between.
Our journey this week centers on the concept and meaning of "home." As Isaac and Rebekah’s family is torn apart by sin and Jacob is forced to flee, he finds himself at the very depth of the crisis- forced to run as a result of sin after sin. Their "home" is destroyed and all appears lost. The identity Jacob and his family might derive from the place and relationships found within the "home" is shattered. "Home" becomes a memory of pain and a reminder of what’s been lost. Without his "home," who is Jacob? This forces us to ask, who are we when our foundation of "home" crumbles?
We all can appreciate the unmistakable power of a father's blessing. After exchanging the family birthright for a bowl of stew, things don't improve for Esau and his relationship with his younger brother, Jacob. As Isaac reaches old age and senses that his death is near, he calls Esau to prepare food for him before receiving the family blessing. However, Jacob the Heel-grabber strikes again. At the prompting of his mother, Jacob dresses up as his older, hairy brother and tricks his father into bestowing the blessing on him. As we watch this scene unfold, we will not only understand the nature of the blessing but the battle inside all of us to be blessed. Identity is not just about who you are, but whose you are.
This week we will continue to follow the twin boys, Jacob and Esau, as they grow up and find their own niche in the family. Esau, the skillful hunter garners the love of his father, Isaac. While Jacob, the quiet younger brother remains in the tents and is loved by his mother, Rebekah. Out of this divided family comes a painful lesson of identity and appetite. In a moment of desperation, Esau sells his birthright to his younger brother for a bowl of red stew. This story, which spirals quickly out of control, provides us with a glimpse into an all-too-common pattern: identity confusion with breeds a momentary lapse of misplaced desire which becomes a lifetime legacy of regret. Our appetites and identity need redemption.
The beginning of the Jacob story is one that emerges out of a series of struggles in Genesis 25: family struggle, marital struggle, fertility struggle, and sibling struggle. As the story progresses, will be introduced to the family of Isaac and his eventually pregnant wife who gives birth to twin boys: Jacob and Esau. Much like us, Jacob's life begins with grasping and sets into motion a lifestyle of discontent. Together, we will explore our hope for a life free from the grasping reflex within us.