“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered  the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood  will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the  Lord  Almighty will accomplish this.”

It always feels like Christmas when I read this passage, and yet it was not originally written as a Christmas text.  In fact, it was written over 700 years before there even was a Christmas.  And it was written as an encouragement in the midst of fear.  The Assyrians to the North were a vast and growing empire and kept eyeing God’s people as their next conquest.  And as Isaiah keeps saying, they are to be God’s weapon aimed at the unfaithful, in this case Israel herself.  And sure enough, the Assyrians did conquer Israel, the first of the two exiles of the prophets.

The bible is not always a book that makes us feel better.  Sometimes its truth makes us afraid, or calls us to account.  So far, Isaiah has ticked back and forth like a metronome, first warnings of the impending disaster and then ticking over to encouragement for the future, and then back again.  Tick tock.  Tick tock.

This is life with God.  If we are courageous enough, and righteous enough, to listen to His voice, then we will hear both warnings of disaster brought on by our own sin and encouragement for the future.  For God is always honest, and always true.  But with an eternal perspective, He can also be always encouraging in the long run.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

It is always amazing to me how many people don’t believe Paul.  And it is usually those who most quickly proclaim their faithful obedience to the Word.  It was the problem of the Pharisees and is still a problem today for many.  They believe vehemently in select passages of scripture, but readily ignore others.

Paul teaches again and again that we are saved, made alive, and accepted as we are.  We are made alive “EVEN WHEN we were dead in transgressions”.  Our transformation into the likeness of Christ happens after we are convinced we are beloved and accepted, not before.  So why are so many so convinced that we have to live lives of obedience before we are acceptable to God?  Oh, we don’t say it, but we sure act it out.  We behave like nobody sinful is acceptable to God until they admit they are horrible, beg Him for forgiveness, and agree to not sin again.  But this ignores most of Paul’s teachings and Jesus’, too.

Think of Zacchaeus.  This criminal is invited to dinner with Jesus, or actually invited to host a dinner for Jesus.  Table fellowship was one of the most powerful statements of belonging in the ancient Middle East.  And our outrage at this is not unique – the Pharisees mocked Jesus as “a friend of tax collectors (the worst traitors of the day) and sinners” because He ate with them.

Can we accept people into our fellowship, our lives, our circles while they are still unrepentant sinners?  Can we stop excluding people who disobey the bible, understanding that their metamorphosis into Godly people will come later and is up to God, not up to us?

Wouldn’t you love to spend an evening eating a great dinner with friends from church at a warm and welcoming home?  That’s what “Who’d Coming to Dinner?” is all about.  Sign up to be either a host or a guest for a dinner on Oct. 27.  Let us know what side dish you’d like to bring.  And the week before the event you’ll be emailed an address.  At 6pm that evening, you show up at that address with the side you agreed to bring and find waiting there a home with church friends ready to welcome you to the party.  This is a great way to invite friends to experience one of LCC’s strengths – fellowship.  Just click the link and sign up today.

Wouldn’t you love to spend an evening eating a great dinner with friends from church at a warm and welcoming home?  That’s what “Who’d Coming to Dinner?” is all about.  Sign up to be either a host or a guest for a dinner on Oct. 27.  Let us know what side dish you’d like to bring.  And the week before the event you’ll be emailed an address.  At 6pm that evening, you show up at that address with the side you agreed to bring and find waiting there a home with church friends ready to welcome you to the party.  This is a great way to invite friends to experience one of LCC’s strengths – fellowship.  Just click the link and sign up today.

Our October newsletter is now available.  To download it, click here.

Does God really know everything?  This question has been at the heart of some of the biggest arguments in theology.  If God knows everything that is going to happen, then does predestination come into play?  Is there a difference between knowing what is going to happen and causing it?  What’s the point of trying to share His will with us in the hopes that we will follow it if He knows already whether we will or won’t?

The most current argument revolves around a theory called Open Theology. I heard it come from a theologian named Greg Boyd.  The thought behind this is that yes, God knows everything that there is to know.  But the future doesn’t exist, so it isn’t there to know, so God doesn’t know it.  This, Open Theology argues, doesn’t limit God or say there’s something He doesn’t know, and yet answers the great questions of predestination mentioned earlier.

This is considered heresy by orthodox and traditional theologians because however they try to say that this doesn’t limit God, it does and that cannot be.

Paul says today that we have been predestined.  If you think about that word, it means “destined beforehand”.  Which I see as different than being a puppet without free will.  Though I may have a destiny, I still have the choice to ignore it, swerve from it, or follow it.  We have been given a destiny in Christ before we were born, but that destiny is ours to discover, ours to follow, ours to ignore.

What specifically is your destiny, set for you before the creation of the world?  What are you doing to follow it?

This world does not play by our rules.  It is as simple as that.  Those who do not follow Christ play the game of life by a different set of rules that we who follow Christ, and we need to be aware of that.  The fact that they cannot win if they play by their rules should sadden and frighten us, giving an urgency to our evangelism.  It is like someone reading the rulebook for American football and then using those rules to play Football, what we know of as soccer.  Playing by the wrong rules means you can’t even decipher what victory means let alone how to achieve it.  They need to know and it’s up to us to tell them.

But the fact that they play by different rules means we cannot expect them to play by ours.  We cannot get angry when they break the rules, but instead realize that these are their rules.  Within the church, however, this is not so.  Within the church, we all play by the same rules, and when we break one, we need our teammates to correct us.  But how to do so.

This has been a debate for centuries: how do you correct and restore a fellow Christian who is breaking the rules?  Jesus spoke about this in Matt. 18, and Paul mentions it here.  Paul’s primary teaching on the topic is not the form of punishment to use, or the duration of their probation, but the attitude with which we do it.  We must “restore that sister or brother gently.”  This is where the sports metaphor breaks down.  Coaches are not know to be gentle with their team members who break the rules.  I have never been yelled at, sworn at, or belittled so much in my whole life as in the three months when I played freshman football.

But this is not our way.  We must be gentle, or we may be tempted to think we are above them.  We are not.  We fall just like anyone else and when we do, we should hope to be restored gently and humbly by the Body.

Both readings from today reflect a common theme: what does God want, anyway?

Isaiah says we are wrong to think that God wants religious obedience.  Festivals, offerings, Holy days… going through the motions is of no interest to God.  Today, these are people who go to church on Sundays, give the required offerings, but that’s it.  Instead, says God, I want people who hurt for the poor and stand up for them.  I want people who WANT to be obedient, not just those who are.  Something worth pondering.

Paul says we are wrong to think that God wants simple law-followers.  If we base our righteousness on our own obedience, then breaking one small part of that law ends our righteousness – it’s all or nothing.  Instead, God wants those who simply trust in Christ for their righteousness.  With Christ, it is not one failure and our righteousness is gone; it is instead one act of faith and our righteousness is assured.  Because that one act is not our obedience but our commitment to Christ.

What does God want?  God wants those who trust in Christ instead of their own obedience.  God wants those who love to be with Him instead of just going through the motions.  God wants those who WANT Him not for their own free ticket out of hell, or for their own pride in their self-righteousness, but who simply want Him.  Isaiah says it, Paul says it, Christ said it: so why can’t we simply accept this and put our energy into wanting God instead of our own righteousness?

The Galatian church is being tempted to return to their old ways, following the Law of Moses rather than putting their trust in Jesus.  Paul has some very unkind and unflattering things to say about those who are leading the Galatians back to their old ways, and also some hard questions for the Galatians themselves.

Paul likens them to the mothers of Abraham’s two sons, Isaac and Ishmael.  If you remember, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was barren yet God had promised him a son.  So together they decide that Abraham should conceive a child through Sarah’s servant, Hagar.  He does so and Ishmael is born.  But this is not God’s plan but Abraham and Sarah’s.  Later, Sarah is miraculously given a child of her own, Isaac, to fulfill God’s promise to them.  As the boys grow, Sarah fears that Ishmael, as the older of the two, will take the inheritance from Isaac, so she tells Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael to the desert, which he does.  They almost starve to death until God intervenes and saves them.

Paul uses these two to identify the two ways of life – life under the old regime of the OT Law, and life under the new regime of Christ’s death and resurrection.  The old way is the way of slavery, for Hagar was a slave woman.  The new way is the way of freedom, for Sarah was Abraham’s free wife.  The old way is the way of the flesh, for Ishmael was the human plan.  The new way is the way of divine purpose, for Isaac was God’s plan.  The old way is the way of persecuting those of the new way, as Ishmael persecuted his brother.

All of this is to say that following Christ is God’s plan, is freedom, and yet will be persecuted by the Jews.  It is the way Paul taught, and any other way is heresy, slavery, and simply our own design, not God’s.

The Song of Solomon has much to teach us about love.  Rob Bell, in his Nooma video “Flame” points out that Solomon uses three different words of love throughout his Song.  Most are familiar with the multiple versions of “love” in the Greek (eros, philios, agape), but few know that the Hebrew has three as well.

The first is raya, a deep friendship.  This kind of love is similar to our word “soulmate”.  It is a love that is irrespective of gender and is based on commonality, shared experience, and camaraderie.

The second is ahavah, love of the will.  This love is the love of choice.  We talk a lot about this love in churches.  I have preached that this is “real love”, to choose to put someone else’s needs above your own.  And while this is an important and often missing aspect of love, it is not the only type of love we experience.

The third is dod, the love of passion, sexual attraction, and physicality.  It is romance, arousal, and the most worshiped kind of love in our culture.  In fact, modern media seems to be obsessed with this particular kind of love to the detriment of the other two.

Solomon uses all three of these words for love throughout his Song because all three are important aspects of our relationships.  In fact, Bell notices, without all three, our marriages don’t work.  Imagine a marriage missing it’s raya.  This marriage is a chore you chose to do every day, with occasional bouts of romance but no real friendship for the day to day living together.  Or a marriage without it’s dod, a boring affair where the two are close friends with common interests but no attraction to each other beyond familiarity.  And of course a marriage without ahavah is rather common in today’s society, leading us to the current 53% divorce rate.  This is a marriage based on physical attraction that leads to friendships, but no self-sacrifice and no foundation.

Which aspect of love are you experiencing the most these days?  Which one is missing or weak?  How might you build that aspect up in your friendships, marriage, and even relationship with God?