Release Expectations - Have Expectant Hope

 Advent is the season that we prepare for the arrival of our Savior Jesus - when we celebrate his birth, and that he came to earth at the just the right time, to fulfill all the prophecies and promises of God. And to remember that we are waiting for him to come again, this time not as a babe born in Bethlehem, but as the King of Kings!  

 

This year I believe we have experienced grief upon grief.   What if we could look for grace upon grace?  

 

The truth is we have a God who does the unexpected! We see it all throughout scripture, and we even see it in our own lives.   God used a shepherd boy to kill a giant with a couple of stones and a slingshot. He fed the children of Israel with bread that fell from the sky. God does the unexpected. 

 

He chose a teenage virgin girl to be the mother of His son. He had an ordinary carpenter be his earthly father and not divorce his betrothed. He had his son be born in a feeding trough. His first visitors were the lowest in society, lowly shepherds.  He turned water into wine. He fed over 5,000 people with a little boy's lunch, 5 loaves and 2 fish. He walked on water. He healed a woman who barely touched the hem of his robe. God works in the unexpected.  

 

And this Messiah, the one sent to save the world, did the most unexpected thing ever, he died on a cross to take our place, to pay our penalty for sin. And then… he rose again!! The empty tomb, unexpected grace! 

 

You can be expectant, and full of hope.  What if, instead of clinging to expectations, we adopted a spirit of expectancy? To be expectant is to wait with anticipation. We can be expectant for what God can and will do in our lives. 

How do we shift from expectations to expectancy? First, we have to identify the expectations that are driving our attitudes, behaviors and responses. What expectations are keeping us from experiencing joy and allowing room for God to work?

Then, we confess and release those expectations to God. We recognize that we are approved by God, loved by God and that we are in need of God. He wants us in a place of dependency on him, trusting him. 

Finally, we reframe our expectations into anticipatory statements of what God can and will do. Reframing looks like this. Release expectations - surrender to God who can, and who will.

 

God can fill in the gaps of my parenting.

God will comfort me in my loneliness.

God can teach me to appreciate those who think differently than I do.

God will be constant and faithful regardless of my circumstance.

God can put a worshipful spirit in my heart regardless of where that worship happens.

God can bring peace into chaos.

God can turn hurt into healing.

God will never leave me or forsake me.

 

The truth is God can and God will and God did!  All of his promises came true the night when Christ was born. And no matter what your expectations are for this Advent season, this Christmas that may look so different than any in the past, you can be expectant and full of hope for Christ was born in Bethlehem, the Savior, born for you. Grace upon Grace -- gift given and received. A gift we have the privilege to share with others. A truth we can be certain of even in the midst of uncertainty. 

                Release expectations… Surrender to God who can and who will.


 
 

Finding Normalcy and Restoration in the Middle of Chaos

Things will go back to normal, or so they say. We’ve been waiting and longing for the day when we finally gather with friends, eat at a packed restaurant with our family, and worship and have fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Oh, how good it is to think about the moment when we finally break from this year of impermanence and see some semblance of normalcy.

 

We’ve never felt more vulnerable to the changing of times. Even Mary and all the Jews were anxious about the lack of permanence after the dynasty of David ended. However, one thing became abundantly clear: God has prepared a way for David’s line to be restored forever. That in the middle of fleeting peace and prolonged chaos, Mary, the Jews, and Gentiles like us can rejoice and be comforted by the fact that there is a source of goodness, joy, peace, and love that’s never ending. That there is a Kingdom everlasting. Luke 1:33

 

The circumstances we are currently experiencing are nothing when we think about what God has prepared for us in His eternal reign. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.

 

What kind of normalcy and restoration are we after?

 

When we talk about getting back to our normal routine --our normal life-- post-pandemic, we can’t help but think of ourselves in the center of it. It’s about the convenience and comfort that were taken from us by the current crisis that we want restored. These fleeting delights are not supposed to be in our hearts and minds.

 

It may not come as a surprise to you, but let me remind us all that everything in this world is just as ephemeral as the troubles we’re going through. Every good thing that we can think of on this earth is temporary. Even sin, shame, pain are all temporary.

 

The kind of normalcy and restoration that we should be after is with God above. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth, as Paul puts it. Colossians 3:2

 

After all, the center of the story of restoration is not us. It is God. He’s the protagonist. He is the source of goodness. He’s the One bringing about the joyous forever ending that will never be lost.

 

Our Creator became flesh to give us true restoration

 

Jesus was sent to us to complete the redemptive narrative of salvation. Luke 1:31 and Matthew 1:21 are in harmony in telling us that our Messiah will surely come and that we shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

 

However, knowing this Truth and the real meaning of restoration is not to be kept only to ourselves. God has specifically commanded us to go and share it with everyone. Matthew 28:16-20 

 

This is supposed to be the definition of going back to normal. This is supposed to be what we are expecting. God’s plan does not include starting a cycle of short-lived joy and impermanent grace in our lives. His plan is for us to be with Him in His everlasting Kingdom. Our only call to action is to spread the Hope we have in Him. To proclaim the true restoration and normalcy only found in Him.

 

As we endure the troubles of the current world, let’s look through the temporary state of things and set our sight to what God has prepared for us. For what God has already given us through Jesus: the Kingdom that is forever. The joy, peace, love that endure forever.

 
 

How Can We Be Confident and Certain of God's Love for Us?

This year has been nothing but full of hardships. Looking back earlier this year, who could have imagined that we would reach the Advent season being physically-distant from our friends and loved ones, not to mention the many difficulties we have faced and continue to face up to this day due to quarantine and isolation. 2020, for a lot of people, is a year of uncertainties. However, for us as Christians, one thing remains certain and we can be confident of: that God’s Love for us is for sure.

 

Luke, in his letter to Theophilus, tells us that we can have certainty concerning the things we have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4). But how exactly can we be confident and certain of God’s Love for us?

 

Knowing that our faith is essential

 

In verses 5 to 24 of Luke chapter 1, we see Zechariah’s story of how he doubted Gabriel’s message about him and his wife’s ability to conceive. The narrative can tell us of the two tendencies we may have concerning our faith: One is our casual disregard for the evidential basis of the Christian message. The second is basing our convictions solely on evidence and logic.

 

The first tendency we may have is leaning on our convictions in inherited tradition or personal experience. Zechariah’s story warns us that this is wrong because without faith being founded on evidence and truth, we will be easily swayed by the enemy.

 

The second tendency is when we base our convictions solely on logic. We must remember that our logic can sometimes be relative to what we choose to see or not see. When we doubt the Word of God because we lack the evidence, we’re probably wrong. If we believe the Gospel because we think we have sufficient evidence, we’re probably wrong as well. This tells us that our intelligence, no matter how broad and deep it may be, cannot save us.

 

When we have faith, then logic and evidence can move us from being puzzled to being absolutely certain. Our faith is essential, and it is a gift of God.

 

Listening to what Luke is telling us (through Theophilus)

 

In verse 3, Luke tells Theophilus that he wrote an orderly account for him. Luke was accurate in his narrative, and that he assures the integrity of his accounts. In essence, Luke is gifting Theophilus this knowledge (Luke & Acts) to bolster his confidence in God in the midst of other voices and skeptics. An awesome realization to this is that God, through Luke, has given us the same gifts.

 

Luke wrote to affirm that our faith is not just a new belief system. His letters offer us the evidence-based knowledge that God’s promises to Israel are being fulfilled —that the Messiah will come. His accounts aim to strengthen our confidence in the Love of God by sharing with us that God sent His Son to our world to die for our sins. The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus not only gave the Israelites Hope, but it was given to us, too.

 

Conclusion

 

The message from Luke’s letters not only brings us the truth and certainty that we, as human beings, always long for. It also brings us the Good News of salvation. Amidst all that’s happening in the world today, we can be sure that God truly loves us because He sent Jesus to seek and to save that which was lost. So this Advent season, let’s continue to be confident in our faith and reach to all those we love and bring them the Good News, too.

 
 

Generosity At Home

I have great excitement and anticipation as this holiday season approaches. It will certainly be different than other years. However, as always, I am eager to share this time of year with my family. It is also the time of year when we pay a little more attention to the idea of generosity and generous living. But what does true generosity in a home look like? I’ll admit I am easily lured into the idea that generosity means money and things. Already I am thinking about what presents to buy for the kids and how we can shower our love on them in that way.  (A bigger lego set? Yes! More doll accessories? Of course! The largest stuffed unicorn ever made? Sold!) 

 

God calls us to generous living. And, if our homes, centered on Jesus, are the epicenters of an active faith life, then that generous living should begin in our homes. How then, might we begin to live with great generosity in our homes? Is there a way for me to be abundantly generous with my kids without buying out Target? How did Jesus model a generous lifestyle? Here are some of the things that I noticed as Jesus lived life with generosity:

 
  • Jesus was generous with his TIME. 

  • Jesus showed GRACE abundantly.

  • Jesus allowed ACCESS to himself and his whole life.

  • Jesus left a LEGACY of faith.

  • Jesus eagerly MET NEEDS.

 

As I reflect on those things, I am left to ask myself the following:

  • Am I generous with the time (undistracted, fully present time) that I give my family? Or, do I let material things and the busyness of life take the place of the time I should be investing in them?

  • Am I quick to show grace to the others in my home?

  • Do I allow Micah and the kids full access to myself, or do I let other things have more priority?

  • What legacy am I leaving Oliver and Eliza? Am I generous with how I teach and equip my children to follow Jesus? Am I pursuing a faith life that I want my son and daughter to replicate?

  • Do I seek to know my community and the needs of others? Am I ready to help meet those needs as God prompts? Do I invite my children to participate alongside of me as I care for others in my community?

 

Jesus’ generosity was an investment in others and in the Kingdom. His wasn’t an investment in earthly things that are broken and destroyed, but instead it was generosity that allowed for the growth and blessing of His people and God’s Kingdom. This Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am eager to let Jesus guide my generosity. How are you practicing generous living in your home? What creative ways are you finding to invest in those in your home and in God’s Kingdom? Share your stories with me at epowers@livelifetogether.com.

 
 

NEXT

How would you describe the Christian life? What kinds of attitudes, characteristics, behaviors would you identify as evidence of the life of Jesus in a person?  The old adage warns us “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” That’s an indictment of contemporary Christian discipleship. We have assumed that if a church provides consistent events, biblical information and appealing programs for people, and the people consume these offerings, then the users will grow. But we rarely stop to figure out in practical terms what God expects of us, or to assess what we must do to improve our performance with respect to those desired outcomes. Why is it even important to decide and define the marks of a life lived in Jesus?  I can think of at least three.

Reason #1: We don’t want to settle for shallow descriptions of the Christian life.

Lacking a clear notion of what we’re trying to become as believers, we often settle for something less than the biblical standard, and certainly less than we are capable of becoming.

How instructive is it to discover that when pressed to do so, not only have most Christians and most church leaders failed to specify what  “spiritual success” means, but they do not feel compelled to work out a definition of such an endpoint or destination.

The result has been that believers and churches embrace a cheap facsimile of spiritual success with remorse or, in many cases, the realization that they have “dumbed down” Christianity. Or, even worse, many have left the definition of life in Jesus up for grabs.

This is precisely why we have taken the time to define our understanding of biblical measures of life in Jesus. We call them lifeMarks.

Reason #2: We don’t want to settle for head knowledge rather than complete transformation.

Talk to church leaders about their discipleship programs and you usually hear about teaching events and programs. Sunday school, small groups, Christian education classes, seminary courses, study groups, reading groups, video curriculum, VBS—countless ways of communicating empirical information based on Scripture.

This is laudable and certainly needed. But filling people’s heads with Bible verses and principles alone, is inadequate. Discipleship, defined as becoming spiritually mature in our imitation of Christ, demands that we give both the head and the heart sufficient opportunity to grow and to make a difference in our lives and the world. Settling for information leads us to be puffed up busy bodies, not life-bearing representatives of the Lord of Life.

This is precisely why we have taken the time to define our understanding of biblical measures of life in Jesus. We call them lifeMarks.

Reason #3: We don’t want to settle for random, disconnected activities rather than intentional and purposeful growth experiences.

Most churches are content to provide their people with biblical substance. The problem is not that the content in itself is bad, but that the content is not provided in a purposeful, systematic manner. Ultimately, believers become well-versed in knowing characters, stories, ideas and verses from the Bible, but remain clueless as to the importance of each.

Think of the way we teach people about life in Jesus as a massive game of “Connect the Dots.”

The problem is, in our version of the game, we do not put the numbers next to the dots, rendering players incapable of connecting the dots in the fashion intended. All of the dots are provided and are pictured in exactly the right place, but without a sense of direction or the big picture, failure is inevitable.

Few churches intentionally guide their people through a strategic learning and developmental process that has been customized for the student. We push everyone through the same generic journey, expecting everyone to “get it” at the same time and in the same way, simultaneously developing mature believers. It doesn’t work that way. Until we assume a more strategic approach to delivering insights and outcomes within a viable mental and experiential framework, we will continue to be frustrated by the results of our well-intended but poorly conceptualized efforts to grow disciples. This is precisely why we have taken the time to define our understanding of biblical measures of life in Jesus. We call them lifeMarks.

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Our lifeMarks are expressed in a four-by-four framework. We have four major lifeMarks, each consisting of four foundational areas. Those foundational areas have personal reflection questions. We hope you will use these questions to assess your own spiritual growth.

I use these questions throughout the year to help me discover where I sense God is leading me to grow. For example, I am the missional heartbeat of God: Teach led me to commit to a 1:1 discipling relationship with two brothers in Christ this year. We are helping each other live life in Jesus!

I AM Sustained by the Word.

I AM Dependent on Christ.

I AM a Visible Reflection of Jesus.

I AM the Missional Heartbeat of God.

(Check them out at: http://lifemarks.livelifetogether.com/)

Here are just a few blessings of identifying and defining lifeMarks. They can...

Help you be more intentional.

Help you identify the next step in your growth.

Provide a clear description of the Christian life.

My hope is that you could articulate these lifeMarks when you are trying to describe the Christian life to a friend who is curious about Jesus. Perhaps you can detail a time when you lived out one of these 16 marks and were blessed as a result. And, maybe, when you are looking for ways to help a friend learn how to follow Jesus you could pull one of these 16 marks and see where your friend might want to grow and join her in that exciting journey.