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After his crucifixion and resurrection, before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave one final command to his followers telling them to "go and make disciples of all nations." This command is the job of every believer and is the task the church is given, but it begs the question: "What does it mean to 'make disciples' of Jesus?" We get a picture of how the first Christians put this command into practice and how they went about making disciples in Acts 2:42-47. In this passage, we see that there were four essential ingredients in the discipleship process of the Early Church: community, equipping, worship, and mission. At Harris Creek, we believe biblical community is the foundation, or root system, upon which discipleship must be built. A commitment to living in biblical community is ultimately the catalyst that moves us toward living the life God calls us to live.
here are moments, even long seasons, in every life when we get confused, bewildered, and disoriented. We ask ourselves how we got to this place and wonder how we are ever going to get out. We also tend to question where God is in these moments. In Genesis 37, Joseph finds himself in a situation just like this when he is thrown into a literal pit by his own family members. What we see in Genesis 37 is that the name of God does not appear in this chapter, yet God is still at work in his life. When you face these moments, it is important to remember that you are only one degree away from the next thing God wants to do in your life.
The past four weeks have been about Advent, a season in which we observe God's plan of redemption through the Incarnation and are invited to participate in it. In revisiting the story of Jesus' birth, we encounter a number of different individuals, including the Magi, men from the East traditionally labeled as "wise." In ancient near eastern cultures, wisdom literature was a common genre of writing shared among the nations, and the Book of Proverbs is like an anthology of "words to the wise." In Proverbs 3, we find a word of instruction about trusting God. During the season of Advent, we join in a season of waiting; as we await the arrival of our Savior's birth, we are trusting all along the way, are we not? So why should we stop when our Savior is born? If God has appeared, what keeps us from expecting him to appear again? Trusting God entails having the expectant hope that God is near and you're prepared for the next encounter. With each new day, you can always afford more trust in the Lord.
In Luke 2, Jesus is a newborn baby and is taken to the temple by his parents to be dedicated in accordance with Scripture and Jewish tradition at the time. While they are at the temple, they encounter a man named Simeon. God told Simeon that he would not die before laying eyes on the Messiah God had promised to Israel. As soon as he sees baby Jesus, Simeon recognizes him as the long-awaited Anointed One. Overwhelmed by what was happening, Simeon launches into a Spirit-led proclamation about Jesus. In this declaration, Simeon says that Jesus was going to bring freedom not just for Israel, but for "all people." He takes it even further and says Jesus will be the light that reveals God's message to the Gentile nations. In this proclamation we see that another way we can participate in Advent is by loving all kinds of people, particularly those who are different than us.
Gift giving is one of the most celebrated traditions at Christmas and is one of the biggest social pressures we face in our culture during this time of year. The question for Christ followers is how can we participate in the story of Advent while also being part of our culture? What is obvious is that giving people gifts is not, in and of itself, in conflict with the Gospel. In fact, the goal should be to "give more" during this time of year to those we love. However, it is the kinds of gifts and our approach to gift giving that needs to be reframed. How can we approach this tradition from the perspective God would have us take? In John 1:14, we see that we can participate in the story of Advent by giving more of ourselves relationally to others, as God did for us.
The purpose of the season of Advent is to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. While most Christians would say the goal of every Christmas season is to celebrate the birth of Christ, many of our traditions and habits tend to be counterproductive when it comes to accomplishing this goal. It's safe to say the original story of Christ's coming lacked the fanfare and luxuries of the average Christmas morning in America today. One way we can be a light and actually participate in the story of Advent is by spending less of our resources on ourselves. When we abandon our positions of status to serve those in need, we are joining in the action of Advent and participating in the revolution Jesus started long ago.
Advent is a season traditionally recognized by the Church that celebrates the Incarnation of Jesus. Believers all over the globe set aside time to remember the coming of Christ, God in flesh. One particular way Scripture describes Christ's coming is by saying that Jesus—the light of the World—stepped into darkness. Advent is a time when Christians not only celebrate the light that Jesus brought to this world, but also Advent reminds us to participate by becoming the light we were created to be. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says to his disciples, "You are the light of the world." He goes on to describe what this means by saying our light is to shine through our "good deeds." This Advent, we're going to talk about what it means to participate in Advent by becoming a light. And the first action, if we are to be a light, must be engaging with God by worshipping Him fully.
Throughout the Book of Judges, the culture within Israel was deteriorating and spiraling out of control. This was because everyone was doing what was "right in their own eyes." By the end of Judges, the entire culture had basically fallen apart. The thought of entire communities and cultures giving in to systemic sin can be overwhelming to us as individuals. Living in a morally dark culture can leave us confused, paralyzed, or indifferent to it all. However, Scripture reminds us that we are still responsible for how we live, no matter the culture around us, and we will be held accountable for our individual actions. In the story of Ruth, we see a practical example of how we can live faithfully in a morally gray culture. Ruth lived during the period of the judges, so her story is meant to function as an alternative narrative to the stories found in Judges. In the story of Ruth, we see that our job as children of God is to be a faithful presence working for the good of others.
The Book of Judges chronicles a time in Israel's history when "everyone did what was right in their own eyes." Early on in the book, there was a mixture of both good and evil, light and darkness; however, as the story continues it is clear that the culture begins to deteriorate over time. What seemed like individuals making a few personal, or private, bad decisions in the beginning eventually leads to complete cultural disintegration for the people of God. By Judges 19, we see that the entire culture and fabric of the Israelite community begins to fall apart. In what has been called a "text of terror," we see the horrific results of a culture that has completely given in to sin and corruption. The painful lesson to learn is that this is where sin always leads us, both personally and corporately, if we let it. Sin does not lead to life, fulfillment, or even fun. It leads to death, and this death spreads like a disease.
Scripture says God is committed to being present in every moment of every day of your life. This means God wants to be present, or take up residence, in our lives. In fact, the idea that God is present with His people is one of the most significant truths about God in the entire Bible. In John 15:4–5, Jesus says God's abiding presence is actually what produces spiritual fruit and maturity in our lives. This means knowing that God is actively present in your life has the potential to be a catalyst for growth and spiritual development. However, while God is committed to living with us and being present in our lives, our tendency, often times, is to keep Him at a distance. When we lack the awareness of the presence of God in our lives, we end up becoming spiritually inconsistent and bored. Our task as believers is to live with a growing awareness that God is present in every moment of our lives.