Advent: Hope

Advent: Hope

Against all HOPE, Abraham in HOPE believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
— Romans 4:18, NIV

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have HOPE: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will HOPE in him.”
— Lamentations 3:21, ESV

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in HOPE of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces HOPE, and HOPE does not
put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
— Romans 5:1-5, ESV

What is hope? We say things like “I hope it will (or won’t) rain”, “I hope the Dawgs win on Saturday”, or “I hope things get back to normal soon”. Is there much difference between our hoping and our wishful thinking?

Statistics show that suicides have taken an uptick during the pandemic. Why? Simple: a lack of hope (the people perish for lack of vision or hope). Sadly, there are many in the church who seem to have lost their hope or placed it in something less than the real Hope of the World.

For the believer, hope has a definite aim and is so different from the worldly concept of hope. To the world, our hope is foolishness. But the world doesn’t see that we don’t hope in or for something; no, we hope IN someone! Like Abraham, when all human hope says it is impossible, we believe in Hope, embodied in the person Jesus and trust His word. Like Jeremiah, we can bring to mind His goodness and have Hope because His mercies are new every morning. And even in our suffering, a hope that does not put us to shame is produced as the Spirit is given to us and resides within us.

The believer’s hope has a backward looking component as well as a forward seeking component. We look back and see where we had no hope or our hope was placed incorrectly until we receive Jesus’ offer to follow Him; we placed our hope and trust in Jesus and He has proven Himself in our many past mercies. We look forward, seeking those times that He will prove the promises that He has given us as individuals and as a people, resting in His steadfast love.

And just as His birth long ago in Bethlehem forever marked time, Jesus still stands at the crossroads of our lives seeking to separate us from our hopeless past to a hopeful, hope-FULL future with Him. That is the gift of Christmas, past, present and future. Receive Him and share Hope this season.

Steve Pierce

Share Button

Songs of Thanksgiving

Songs of ThanksgivingPraise the Lord!
For He has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and shield.
I trust Him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. — Psalm 28:6-7, NLT

It is almost trite to ask what are you thankful for in this season. And I do believe that gratefulness is an attitude and discipline that we need to practice all year long; and it’s something that believers should be doing:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
—1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, ESV

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. — Colossians 3:15

But if you are like me there are a lot of sad memories in this season. November is the month that my Papa passed away over 50 years ago, my uncle Jerry passed away 11 years ago and just one year ago, my cousin Scott committed suicide. The good thing is that as I look back, I can see so many more good memories in this season – and much of my life – and for that I am truly thankful. I can and do choose to overcome the obstacle of sadness by thanking God for the good memories that by His grace and mercy fill my heart and mind.

The life of a Christian is not guaranteed to be smooth and painless; actually quite the opposite. And if the last two years have shown us anythihg, it’s that we all are not really good with dealing with life when things go awry. The real problem at hand is that God is left out of the picture; even His children seem to be chasing other sources of help, instead of crying for His mercy. We are too independent and think that we have got this (life) and we will make it through just fine but the first time we stub our toe on one of the stumbling blocks in life’s road – major illness, financial loss, soured relationships, you name it – we are lost and seem to enjoy finding someone to blame or making others miserable. Our tendency to take life (and God) for granted and our tendency toward ingratitude wreck our peace.

I think the solution is clear – maybe not easy, but clear nonetheless. We do what God designed us for – praise of our Creator and Savior (1 Peter 2:9). We praise Him and we pray. He hears and in His presence we are able to rejoice and with the Psalmist burst out in songs of thanksgiving. My late friend, Enoch, believed this with all of his heart and lived it (and I believe is STILL living it in heaven). So many more verses of scripture back this up also.

So, as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner – with family and friends or alone – remember to give heartfelt thanks to the One who hears your cry, who is your strength and shield. Let Him help you and let your heart be filled with joy. Let your songs of thanksgiving burst forth.

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.
— Psalm 7:17, ESV

Steve Pierce

Share Button

Deliverer

GodIsOurDeliverer

“And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel”, saith the Lord God, “that My fury shall come up in My face. For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; so that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at My presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.”

“And I will call for a sword against him throughout all My mountains”, saith the Lord God: “every man’s sword shall be against his brother. And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Thus will I magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord.”  — Ezekiel 38:18-23

Men, in the latter times, the Lord is bringing a massive coalition led by Gog, the king of the north, against Israel. He will allow evil thoughts to corrupt their angry minds as they form camps around the mountains of Israel. The fury of the Lord will then be displayed. Earthquakes will shake every living thing in the region from the fish, to the fields and even the birds. All mankind shall shake at His presence. Mountains and walls will fall down. Confusion will take hold until armies begin fighting themselves. Disease and bloodshed will come in judgment. Flooding rain, hailstones, fire and brimstone will descend upon the enemies of God.

For all the idolatry, agnosticism, and atheism on the earth when this happens, the Lord will be magnified and made known. The coalition coming against Israel at that time will seem invincible, and overwhelming. If not for the Lord God demonstrating Himself powerful over all His enemies, Israel would then cease to be.

For those who won’t know this prophetic Word in this future time, all will seem lost. Men’s knees will go weak at the sight of insurmountable opposition. Men will consign themselves to accepting their end, and then the Lord will unleash a barrage of fury upon His enemies.

We each have challenges in our daily lives that threaten to bring us down. Our personal defeat may seem at hand. It may seem we are opposed from all sides, with no hope of escape or victory. The Lord knows all things. He is not distant. While we may suffer until the opportune time, He is our deliverer, our rescue, our strength and refuge.

Move forward men, waiting on a victory. Hold your faith, hold your ground. Stand upon His promises and rest under His wing of security in Christ, our everlasting hope.

Vance Durrance

Share Button

God is Aware

God is awareNow the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you.

“Prepare yourself and be ready, you and all your companies that are gathered about you; and be a guard for them. After many days you will be visited. In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely. You will ascend, coming like a storm, covering the land like a cloud, you and all your troops and many peoples with you.” — Ezekiel 38:1-9, NKJV

Men, the Lord has promised to restore Israel and return the people to their land and to protect them from their enemies. Here in the next chapters God forecasts an upcoming season of hostility toward His people in “latter days” (v8).

In Genesis 10 we read a genealogy of the sons of Noah who would become the rulers of lands as they spread out and multiplied. The modern lands represented by the historic tribes of Noah will form a coalition, which the Lord God is against. This coalition of modern nations which will surround Israel include eastern Europe, Russia, China, the Arab states, Turkey, and the northern regions of Africa. When the nation of Israel is regathered, resettled, and finally lives in a measure of prosperity, security and peace, the Lord will lead this coalition out (v4) to come against Israel.

Brothers, a loose teaching of the end war has led us to conclude that the enemy, Satan, stirs this plan to motion. Read v4 again. The Lord God is in control. The enemy will seem to hijack the Lord’s plan (v10), but from the beginning of the prophetic word Ezekiel shares about Israel’s future enemies, we see clearly, the Lord God is not caught by surprise, but rather, working His plan to demonstrate His final authority. A strict reading of v4 tells us that Israel’s enemies will have no choice in the matter. They will come against Israel when the Lord God says so.

What troubles surround you today? What may the enemy be using today to convince you of God’s distance and your impending destruction? What God has spoken roughly 3500 years ago we can begin to see forming today. Are we really in any danger of finding ourselves outside of God’s expertise?

Move forward men, acknowledging God’s sovereignty, His awareness, His authority over all matters past, now and future. The Lord initiates what seems like distress, has a plan for victory and allows His people to share in that victory. Will we see His glory or only see dread and overwhelming opposition?

Vance Durrance

Share Button

Dry Bones

Dry Bones

The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. — Ezekiel 37:1-2.

Men, everyone who reads the Word along with these devotions will recognize an immediate shift in language for ch. 37. Elsewhere we have read, “Again the Word of the Lord came to me saying:” before the Lord granted prophetic knowledge to Ezekiel. Here, we read, “The Hand of the Lord came upon me.” God’s hand represents a different value in His authority. I didn’t say greater or lesser, but different.

Elsewhere, Ezekiel has heard God’s Word, and recognized physical elements to use in his prophecy to the people, but here, Ezekiel is led out of his normal state of consciousness into a state where he perceives both the voice of God and the physical attributes of the environment shown to him in a very literal sense. He can see and feel physical things though clearly not in his normal state or place.

Ezekiel is set by God into a valley filled with dry bones. The Lord caused him to pass through the whole valley where he again acknowledges that there are many bones, and indeed they were very dry. The Lord then asks: “Son of man, can these bones live?” We might suggest “no” from our own time and normal cognition, but Ezekiel is not in his normal cognitive element. He recognizes that he is in the realm of God’s Spirit, where His authority and power are on display unimpeded by the laws of His creation.

There are 2 predominant interpretations for the dry bones. Some argue the bones are the slain Israelites of the siege that had recently decimated Jerusalem and all Judah. Others offer that this is metaphoric for the deadness of the persecuted church, perhaps through the time of Jesus when even the religious leaders were far off course.

V11 offers more clarity, but for now, move forward as we consider, the realm in which we inhabit is a very small place, and the Lord God is not contained within it. The Lord God sees, experiences, shares and creates from a place beyond our doubt or understanding. The Lord God is great and limitless beyond our comprehension.

Vance Durrance

Share Button

The True Shepherd

Shepherd

‘For thus says the Lord God: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,” says the Lord God. “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.”
Ezekiel 34:11-16, NKJV

Men, the Lord has turned His attention to the failed shepherds of Israel who allowed the sheep to go astray and be scattered. The Lord here promises to seek out His scattered sheep and deliver them from the places they’d scattered into in the “dark and cloudy days” (v12), speaking of the siege which they had survived. The Lord will bring them back to their own land and feed them on the mountains and valleys of Israel. In their homeland, given to them by God, Israel will feed on good pastures. The Lord Himself will regather the lost, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick, but He will judge the fat and the strong.

In today’s time, obesity is driven by inactivity. In those days, obesity came by abusing power, exploiting the underprivileged. Many “shepherds” or leaders, of that time had deserted truth and the heart of their positions for personal gain. We can liken the fat of their time to rich politicians of today. How does someone in politics, earning 150k become a millionaire in 3 years? The same way religious shepherds get fat with no crops or cattle of their own, by selling out their responsibility to lobbyists and special interest groups.

It would be irresponsible to draw conclusion for how God might act tomorrow by this passage alone, but we can say with certainty that God is aware of all injustice. Though the people have endured much in the past months of their captivity, the Lord promises a healing and strengthening.

Today, Jesus offers us that same opportunity to be healed and strengthened. Though much of the healing and strengthening comes in ways hard to recognize, He is faithful. Will we endure our time of captivity waiting on the Lord to act? Will we blame each other? Will we fight among ourselves? Will we recognize when God finally does regather our strength?

Move forward men, receiving the hope promised to our time as Israel waited on the promises to their time. As then, our time has much to repent from and a Lord who renews.

Vance Durrance

Share Button

Who’s to Blame

whos-to-blame

“I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” –Jeremiah 10:23

I’ve been listening to a podcast lately—“The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church” from Christianity Today. It particularly intrigues me. First, because Mark Driscoll was one of the first preachers I started following on podcast in my early twenties, when God started stirring my heart to a wholehearted pursuit. Driscoll encouraged me to this end, challenging my assumed doctrines and admonished me to “man-up” as a husband and future father.

But also, because I can somewhat identify with the story. I was blessed to be on the frontlines of a similar ministry that broke the bonds of tradition in the effort to refocus on the lost, thoroughly involved in the excitement of its newness and growth. In my ignorance, I overlooked irreverent ideas, and took part in theologically problematic decisions. And I was “blessed” to walk through the ministry’s collapse, all the while grieving all parties involved—including my own flawed force of foolishness and reform.

What I found most fascinating about the first episode “Who killed Mars Hill?” was that its conclusion was, well, everybody. From the lead pastor, to the leaders caught up in the excitement of growth, to angry detractors who flourished on controversy, to those mesmerized by a personality, to those who left without saying a word… we should hesitate before pointing a finger.

Except to one.

God.

And yet this angle was strangely absent from the program’s conclusion. Is not God the cause of the rise and fall of nations (Dan 2:21)? And can we not draw the conclusion that He is also responsible for the trajectory of every ministry, business, and personal empire? He is the one who kills and makes alive (Deu 32:39), determining the days of every human being (Job 14:5). He is the one who makes one poor and another rich (1Sa 2:6-7). Even as people plan their way, the LORD establishes our every step (Psa 16:9)—so far beyond our understanding (Psa 20:24).

Let us humbly ponder this profound truth, being careful to assign credit when things come together, or blame when things fall apart. Rather, let us look to the Maker to understand His purposes in all things.

“So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.” –1 Corinthians 4:5

Billy Neal

Share Button

Purpose

purpose

And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, that one who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been captured!”

 Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me the evening before the man came who had escaped. And He had opened my mouth; so when he came to me in the morning, my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute.
Ezekiel 33:21-22, NKJV

Men, in the 12th year of Ezekiel’s captivity from the 1st siege against Jerusalem, someone from the final collapse of Jerusalem to the Babylonian empire escaped and came to Ezekiel saying, “The city has been captured!” In chapter 3:26, we recall that the Lord had caused Ezekiel to become mute, unable to speak except that which the Lord directed through the time of pronouncement of God’s judgment on Israel and the nations. Ezekiel expected a visitor with news the night before as the hand of God was with Ezekiel and his mouth became loosened.

In chapter 24:25-27 the Lord had told Ezekiel that someone would escape and report of Jerusalems fall, and at that time he would no longer be mute. We learn from this that much of our service to the Lord comes in seasons. This time of muteness lasted over 7 years in total as he was expected to prophesy only what was given to Him by God. The integrity of the prophecy was preserved by Ezekiel’s inability to speak otherwise. It also became a daily reminder that what had been asked of him was not yet complete.

Ezekiel will now step into a new role of more pastoral care as a wave of new captives enter into Babylon. We often think that special service to God should afford us new and amazing gifts. Here we find that special service to the Lord meant giving up the gift of speech in submission to His specific message.

Remember, that there was little to be noted as remarkable of Ezekiel from the beginning. He was probably bitter about being denied the priestly role he would’ve taken if not swept away in the first captivity. Still, God has used him mightily even if not how he’d expected and the Lord will continue to use him. Anyone who intends to walk with the Lord will find their expectations challenged. We may find ourselves disappointed and exhausted from the cost of service.

Move forward men, knowing it’s for a season, for a purpose larger than our perspective, and it will not likely match up with our personal desire. Yet, He is God, and His ways are higher. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Vance Durrance

Share Button

Circumcision of the Heart

Circumsion of the Heart

17 It came to pass also in the twelfth year, on the fifteenth day of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me, saying:

18 “Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt,
And cast them down to the depths of the earth,
Her and the daughters of the famous nations,
With those who go down to the Pit:
19 ‘Whom do you surpass in beauty?
Go down, be placed with the uncircumcised.’

20 “They shall fall in the midst of those slain by the sword;
She is delivered to the sword,
Drawing her and all her multitudes.
21 The strong among the mighty
Shall speak to him out of the midst of hell
With those who help him:
‘They have gone down,
They lie with the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’

22 “Assyria is there, and all her company,
With their graves all around her,
All of them slain, fallen by the sword.
23 Her graves are set in the recesses of the Pit,
And her company is all around her grave,
All of them slain, fallen by the sword,
Who caused terror in the land of the living.

24 “There is Elam and all her multitude,
All around her grave,
All of them slain, fallen by the sword,
Who have gone down uncircumcised to the lower parts of the earth,
Who caused their terror in the land of the living;
Now they bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit.
25 They have set her bed in the midst of the slain,
With all her multitude,
With her graves all around it,
All of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword;
Though their terror was caused
In the land of the living,
Yet they bear their shame
With those who go down to the Pit;
It was put in the midst of the slain.

26 “There are Meshech and Tubal and all their multitudes,
With all their graves around it,
All of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword,
Though they caused their terror in the land of the living.
27 They do not lie with the mighty
Who are fallen of the uncircumcised,
Who have gone down to hell with their weapons of war;
They have laid their swords under their heads,
But their iniquities will be on their bones,
Because of the terror of the mighty in the land of the living.
28 Yes, you shall be broken in the midst of the uncircumcised,
And lie with those slain by the sword.

29 “There is Edom,
Her kings and all her princes,
Who despite their might
Are laid beside those slain by the sword;
They shall lie with the uncircumcised,
And with those who go down to the Pit.
30 There are the princes of the north,
All of them, and all the Sidonians,
Who have gone down with the slain
In shame at the terror which they caused by their might;
They lie uncircumcised with those slain by the sword,
And bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit.

31 “Pharaoh will see them
And be comforted over all his multitude,
Pharaoh and all his army,
Slain by the sword,”
Says the Lord God.

32 “For I have caused My terror in the land of the living;
And he shall be placed in the midst of the uncircumcised
With those slain by the sword,
Pharaoh and all his multitude,”
Says the Lord God.
— Ezekiel 32:17-32.

Men, Ezekiel continues the lament for Egypt now with the cadence of song. In this song their are similarities drawn between many nations surrounding Egypt including Assyria, Elam, Meshech, Tubal and the Sidonians.

Each of these nations had a strong military, great wealth, vast influence, and regional authority. Each of these “uncircumcised” nations had been viewed with shock by the remaining people seeing their defeat, with the dead littering the ground or in mass open graves. Egypt was a nation that practiced circumcision like Israel, but even so, they had stirred up the Lord’s anger such that they too would share the same shame as the defeated nations that Egypt despised.

The lucky few of v27 who are buried with respect to their warrior customs still bear the shame of their own iniquities. None of the national customs or the customs among warriors of battle will guard against the judgment of the Lord God. Romans 2:25 tells us clearly, “but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” Egypt, though circumcised, did not follow the ways of the Lord but exalted their Pharaoh as god, along with the many idols of that land.

We too will face either judgment or a time of accountability. There are no customs of men that may ease the weight and tension of our common fate except that which is provided through the Lord Jesus our Christ and Defender. From Romans 2:27-29, We are a “Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter.”

Move forward, men, circumcised in our hearts and Spirit. May the old heart be cut out and a new holy heart, given by God, be placed within, that overflows with the goodness of the Lord our God.

Vance Durrance

Share Button

Correction and Discipline

 ‘Thus says the Lord God: “When I have gathered the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and am hallowed in them in the sight of the Gentiles, then they will dwell in their own land which I gave to My servant Jacob. And they will dwell safely there, build houses, and plant vineyards; yes, they will dwell securely, when I execute judgments on all those around them who despise them. Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God.” ’ ” —Ezekiel 28:25-26

Men, right in the middle of the Lord God’s proclamations of judgment on the nations surrounding Israel, and the lamentations spoken over the cities and kings, a promise of hope for Israel is declared.

The Lord is correcting His wayward child Israel for her sins and idolatry, but His anger won’t last forever. He will gather Israel from all the places they are taken captive and they will again dwell their own land given to the Lord’s servant Jacob. They will dwell safely there, build houses, and plant vineyards while the Lord pours out judgment on the nations that despise Israel. Then, all people will know that the Lord is their God.

This is good news for all people who love God. There is no one righteous, not even one, and the Lord chastises those He loves. His wrath, though unbearable and destructive, is poured out because He loves us as children. That child who is allowed to do wicked and self destructive acts without correction is not loved as much as the spoiled child who is told “no” once in a while. Israel is being told “no, that’s far enough” as a nation.

No child enjoys the anger of a father, and often hides until peace is restored. So it will be for Israel. Once the correction is realized and manifested in the lands where they are scattered, they will again return to their own land. The Lord will again fight for His children.

No matter how far you and I have fallen short. No matter how furious the Lord seems with you at this moment, He offers promises that if we turn from our wickedness He will return to us and restore us as He did Israel. The Lord is the God of a personal relationship as much as He is the God of nations and all creation.

Move forward men, acknowledging correction, manifest the appropriate disciplines, and enjoy His embrace as a loving Father. Let Him fight for you as you enjoy His peace thereafter.

Vance Durrance

Share Button