A Sure and Steadfast Hope

photo credits: pol sifter/flicker.com

photo credits: pol sifter/flicker.com

By Stacey Kuszak

I talked with several women last week at the brunch and asked them how their Christmas was. The overwhelming response was “Iʼm glad itʼs over.” Carey alluded to this last week, but we arrive in the New Year exhausted, donʼt we?

What is it about the end of December that leaves us feeling like we are over it? Maybe we are weary from all of the holiday hoopla . . . maybe we are discouraged that the year didnʼt go as we had hoped . . .  maybe we are stuck.

But what promise does January hold that canʼt be found in December? I admit I am of the camp that loves to buy a new calendar, a squeaky clean journal and new pens to sit down and plan and dream about my year. As a new calendar year stretches out before us, I think what most of us feel is hope. For a brief moment in time our calendars are blank, our thoughts are new, and anything seems possible. We can change . . . we can do better . . .  we feel empowered. Right? We are hopeful.

Iʼm sure if I went around the room this morning each of you could tell me something you are hoping for. It would run the gamut from the usual New Yearʼs resolutions to those of you hoping for freedom . . . a cure . . . healing. Perhaps you are hoping someone in your family would come home. Maybe you are hoping for answers. Or, are you longing for direction?

Our souls yearn for hope. And actually, Godʼs Word has a lot to say about it.

Hebrews 6:18-19 says this:

We who have taken refuge (in Christ) have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have is an anchor of the soul. A hope both sure and steadfast.

This hope God gives us, we are instructed to grab onto. We are supposed to take it and hold on. Have you ever wondered why? Perhaps God knows the bumps and curves coming our way. Maybe He knows the sheer speed with which we will race through this year. Of course He knows exactly when and where we will need this hope of His, so He says come, take it, and hold on.

I love the picture of His hope being an anchor for my soul. If Iʼm being honest, I can get carried away in my own hope. My own hopes and dreams can keep me awake at night. And, if left unchecked, I can float away into fear.

Lately Iʼve been thinking a lot about my son who is a senior. He will leave for college in the fall. The past six months have been full of hoping and dreaming, for him and with him, about what his next stage of life will be. But, if Iʼm not careful, that type of hoping
can change into fear as I start worrying about all the little things a mother worries about when her son goes off to college.

Yet, Godʼs hope anchors me. I picture myself slowly floating away from Him and His hope for me, then suddenly the anchor pulls tight and He brings me back close to His heart and His hope.

The passage in Hebrews ends describing Godʼs hope as sure and steadfast. His hope is a sure thing. Itʼs not the wishful- thinking- of- the -world type of hope. It is steadfast, loyal, firmly fixed and immovable. Think about what you can do with a hope like that!

The exciting thing about Godʼs hope is itʼs not just available in January, and itʼs not dependent on our abilities and strength. This hope is built on the unchanging God and His trustworthiness. Itʼs not some far flung hope based on our own success or failure. Itʼs an anchored hope–a hope of peace, wholeness, and holiness.

My heartʼs desire is that our Tuesday mornings together would be full of this kind of hope. I pray our worship and study and prayer would anchor us to this God of hope.

  • That we could bring our hopes and dreams to Him and align them with His hope.
  • That each week we would be encouraged to hold on to this hope.
  • That we would leave here hope-full–filled to the brim with what our souls crave.

Romans 15:13 says,

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We can live hope-filled lives. We can have a hope-filled year. Letʼs believe it. Letʼs live it.

Will you pray with me? God, all of the women sitting here in this room are hoping for something. I know some women here sit quietly, afraid to hope. Some are plain worn out from their own hoping. God, will you bring us a fresh season of hope? Will you anchor us in your hope and keep us from drifting off course? God, your kingdom is full of hope. May we experience it today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff?

Tues AM brunch1It’s always good to be back to routine . . . especially when that routine includes Tuesday Morning Equip Her. The first Tuesday back is always very special, not only because of the beautiful decorations and the delicious food, but also the sweet chance to worship with all of you. I’m so thankful for Carey and the rest of the worship team and the way they lead us with authenticity and transparency. Here’s what Carey had to share.

By Carey Helmink

I don’t know why it is always so shocking to me that another year is off and running. It seems so redundant to say it, but it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the years go by. I am 55 (well, I will be 56 this year, but I’m in denial that I am that close to 60 – so, let’s just say that I’m 55 and leave it at that – for good) and there are days when it feels like I just graduated from high school . . .

And then there are days when my 76-year-old mother could probably outrun me, so there you go.

I used to be one for New Year’s resolutions. I loved starting the new year with fresh goals and the hopes that by year’s end I would have lost weight, had whiter teeth, read my bible every day (and had an extended prayer time), been more organized and a better steward of my time and money—all good goals without a doubt.

But the opening to 2015 has felt a little different to me.

To be honest, I started this year pretty exhausted. As many of you know, I lost my precious dad in November and it has been a rough couple of months. I have not had the energy – physical or mental – to make resolutions. But I have thought quite a bit about life and what matters and what I want my life to look like from here on out. So I have made one SMALL resolution for this year.

I’m sure you have heard the saying – “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – but actually, that is exactly what I intend to do this year. I want to care about the little things because that is where life is lived . . . that’s where character is formed. The small decisions are the ones that determine the ultimate course of my life.

Listen to these familiar words from Luke 16:10:  “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”  Jesus had just told a parable that deals primarily with finances when he spoke these words,  but I can’t help thinking that principle is pretty universal.

Some of you are like me, in that, you have followed Jesus for a very long time. If I’m honest, I have to admit to you that if I’m not careful, I can find myself just going through the motions. For example, the desire of my heart is to lead worship from a place of authenticity, but I have done this long enough that it would be very difficult for you to know if I’m doing that or not. That is very frightening to me. If I don’t live intentionally through the moment-by-moment, everyday choices I make, I can pull off this Christianity thing and the people around me would never know if I’m sincere or not.

But I would know. And more importantly, God would know.

So let me challenge you to think about the “small” areas of your life.

Are there things you do or say that are sinful, but you excuse them because that’s just your personality? Do you get on Facebook intending to stay for a few minutes and an hour later . . . ? Oh, and related to social media, do you feel discontent with your life because your friend’s lives seem so much more exciting or “perfect”? Maybe you and your husband agree on a certain amount of spending money each month but because you do the grocery shopping you can fudge on that a bit. Do you tell people you will pray for them, but never give it a second thought? Do your children hear you say things about other people that affect their opinion of them as well – coaches, teachers, pastors? Maybe you intended to read your bible last night but that rerun of Modern Family was calling your name . . .

I feel like I just confessed some of my many “little” sins . . .

Dear friends, please hear me when I say that my intention is not to make you (or me) feel guilty. Not at all. But to remind you (and me) that a life of joy and peace and character and influence doesn’t happen in the big moments of life. It happens in the small decisions we make over and over through the day. It happens as we take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 says: “Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.”

When we knew for sure that we were going to lose my dad, my mom said, “I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this without your dad.” My brother and I told her, “You can. It’s going to suck. There are going to be really hard days, but all you have to worry about is the next thing. Do the next thing.” And she is. It’s so hard, but she’s doing it. She’s making the next small decision in front of her and trying to honor God with her life.

You and I can too. What is the next decision you have to make? Be intentional. Choose wisely. Ask for the Lord’s help. And next year at this time – maybe we won’t need to make a resolution.

 “Lord, I need you. Oh I need you. Every hour I need you. My one defense, my righteousness – Oh God, how I need you.”

Four More Days!

crossed_out_calendarFour more days until the winter semester of Equip Her Bible Studies begins again!

Are you ready to come out of hibernation and join us? Granted, there’s not much that will get me out of the house on these cold January days, but Tuesday Mornings at Berean is one of them. And though we can’t promise you warmer temperatures, we can promise a warm and welcoming environment with an abundance of friendly, smiling faces.

Have I convinced you yet? If not, take a look at the classes we have to offer this semester.

For those of you who signed up for the Beth Moore Children of the Day study last fall, I’m sure you are raring to be back in the study again, to reconnect with your small group and see what 2 Thessalonians has to say.

The MUMs class will be diving in to what it means to be WHOLE–spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. Laurie has put together a great line-up of guest speakers who will challenge you in all these areas. You will also be digging deep into the books of 1-3 John and Jude.

There are also two new classes to choose from this semester. Renee Meyer will be leading a study on the Sermon on the Mount and delving into what it means to live as Kingdom people here on earth. And I will be facilitating an in-depth study into the books of 1&2 Peter learning how we can “stand firm in grace.”

For more details on any of these classes, click on the Winter Classes 2015 button in our header or check out our previous blog Winter Preview.

If you haven’t registered yet and would like to, follow these simple steps. Click HERE to go to our Women’s Ministry site. Scroll down to find the Tuesday morning classes and click on the Register button at the bottom left. If you would prefer to have someone help you register, there will be women available at the Spotlight Booth during service times at Lincoln Berean Church this weekend.

I hope to see you on Tuesday!

Jesus Is King

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

By Renee Meyer

Traditionally, on the fourth Sunday of Advent we consider that Jesus is King.

Hark! the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King!’ . . .

Joy to The world! the Lord has come; Let earth receive her King . . .

This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing . . .

It can be difficult for independent, democratic Americans to fully understand what kingship means, but this is the story of the whole of Scripture: God is King.

According to the dictionary, a King is:

King [king]  noun 1.  a male sovereign or monarch; (one) who holds by life tenure, and usually by hereditary right, the chief authority over a country and people.

At Christmas, we celebrate the reality that the God of universe took on flesh and became a tiny helpless baby. That baby in the manger is the Light of the world. And He was born Savior. That baby is God Incarnate.

And that baby in the manger was born a KING, the fulfillment of ancient promises.

Generations before Jesus was born and named Immanuel, God with us, Isaiah promised:

“A child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the GOVERNMENT will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, PRINCE of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His GOVERNMENT or of peace, On the THRONE of David and over his KINGDOM, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Jesus was that child given, and on His shoulders rested government – the right to rule.

He was Prince.

Prince of peace.

Peace in Hebrew is Shalom, wholeness or wellness, welfare. This is a whole self word, soundness of spirit and body, things as they should be, between God and men.

Isaiah tells us that His authority brings wholeness, makes things as they should be between God and men. Not by might or by power, but by sacrifice and love.

This is the gospel.

Christmas is the gospel.

The GOOD NEWS that the King has come into this broken and hurting world.

It is good news because that baby in the manger, that baby king did not stay a baby.

He grew up like a tender shoot before His God (Isaiah 53:2). And as a man, He stood up before the great power of His day: Pontius Pilate, representing Caesar himself. Caesar, King of Rome, who was known as the very “son of god.” That baby King grew up to be asked by Caesar’s representative, “Are you the King?”

His answer?

You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. (John 18:37)

For this He was born. For this He came into the world, to testify to the truth. What truth? The ancient truth of Judaism, Yahweh is King.

It is worth noticing that when the long awaited Jewish Messiah King came, He came in such an unexpected way – as a baby born to a poor peasant teenager in a small town in Israel.

And when He was enthroned as King, it was not with pomp and splendor. He was enthroned upon a cross, with a sign over His head reading “Jesus, King of the Jews.” Victory through love, death, surrender, and suffering. This is the story of our King.

“In the ancient world one became king by inheriting the throne or by gaining victory over the currently sitting ruler. . . . The irony is that the very event that seemed to show clearly that the Jew from Nazareth was merely a pretend Messiah and a pretend king was the occasion at which he became king; not only of the Jews, or over the Roman Empire, but over the whole world. The defeat of Jesus of Nazareth on that Roman cross over two millennia ago was his coronation. On that cross He won victory over all earthly powers and kingdoms and took his rightful place on the throne. On that day, Jesus became King.”

(Mark Mathewson, from Lincoln Berean Church’s Good Friday booklet: Come to the Cross.)

So, as we celebrate the baby in a manger, remember that baby was born to be King.

He became King not through politics, force or military conquest, not even by popular vote.

He took up a crown of thorns and won the victory through suffering and death.

He is our King now, and our prayer is “thy Kingdom come.”  We can live that prayer this Christmas and every day.

With that in mind, I wonder:

Who (or what) is King of my Christmas?  Is it my to do list? Is it impressing people with thoughtful gifts or a Pinterest-worthy home? Making sweet memories with my family? Decorations and baking and toys and gatherings? These are all good things, but there is no place for them on the throne. There is certainly not space on the throne for stress, which too many of these good things can cause. Jesus is KING.

This Christmas I am asking myself:

Who (or what) is on the throne?

And does my celebration of the baby born in a manger, born to be King, reflect the kind of King He is?

  • A King who lived among the poor and unknown?
  • A King who didn’t have a place to lay His head?
  • A King who lived far outside of the power and authority structures of His culture?
  • A King who reached out to the oppressed, the lonely, the afflicted?

Does my Christmas reflect the heart of this King who reigns in LOVE, and was enthroned through sorrow and suffering? A King who died for His subjects, but through the glory of His Father’s resurrection power, lives today?

Whose birthday am I celebrating?

Merry, merry Christmas, friends. I hope you enjoy all the twinkle lights and decorations. Toss around a little extra kindness, and have a peppermint-scented, hot-chocolate flavored, wonder-filled American Christmas. I hope you get just the gift for which you’re most hoping. Have a very Merry Christmas.

But remember, this is our King’s birthday. What are you giving Him? I think what He wants most is our hearts. So don’t let anything draw your heart away from your King. Let all these Christmas things be reminders that a King has been born. Celebrate Christmas in a way that honors Him.

This week, people all over the English speaking world will sing

Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel!

And one day, we will sing a new song–the song of heaven–perhaps with the same angel chorus who sang to shepherds in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago:

 “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:17)

Jesus is God

ImmanuelIt comes up too often to ignore, to push aside and move on. Whether lingering over warm cups in my favorite coffee shop, sitting face-to-face at the kitchen table, or side-by-side on a fireside sofa, our conversations often come to “where is God in this?”

Where, indeed, is God in the dark places that mark our experience – discouragement, wayward children, cancer, divorce, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, overwhelming weariness?

Our Advent reflection this week reminds us that Jesus is God. He is Immanuel, God with us.

I certainly take that gift for granted, but when Jesus arrived as a baby everything changed for God’s people. Instead of finding God only in a Holy place within the Temple walls, now He walked among them. Instead of a chosen few Levite men being qualified to come into God’s presence, He became present.

We notice skeptical surprise in old Zechariah when, after 400 silent years in the Temple, God’s messenger declares the unfolding of the Immanuel plan. Even in the very place where God had promised to dwell, he wasn’t ready for God to show up. (Luke 1:5-20)

Compare that with the messenger’s next stop to a young virgin in Nazareth – about as far away from the Holy of Holies in the Temple as any good Jew was willing to travel. Yet in this out of the way place, to a girl who had much to lose in the process, the plan for Immanuel’s coming was received with hope. (Luke 1:26-38)

As Jesus grew, He visited the Temple often to learn and teach, but He never entered the Holy of Holies where the Spirit of God dwelt. He was not allowed. Instead, we are told He met the Father alone on mountains, under olive groves, in a home in Bethany, among the least of them, even with the demon-possessed and prostitutes!

And as He took His final breath, the effect of His death ripped the dense fabric that secluded the Holy of Holies. Never again would God be exclusive to one place . . . to one people. God is with US.

Where is God in your difficult relationships?

in your testing circumstances?

in the dark reality of our sin-filled world playing it’s drumbeat over news and social media?

Dear friend, He is here. I can’t prove it to you, but He can. I can’t take away your pain and confusion, but He will. He is as close as your whispered prayer, as urgent as your aching heart, as present as your deepest regret. There is one thing you must do: BELIEVE.

Don’t’ just believe that Jesus can be with you, but that He already IS.

Pause to reflect:

Psalm 31. This Psalm seems more dreary than cheery, unless you look through the lens of belief. David wrote this with anticipation, but we already live in the reality of the closing line: “Expect God to get here soon” (Message paraphrase). How might you place your life in God’s hands hour by hour this Advent season?

O Come, O Come Immanuel by Selah:

A Savior is Born

Nativity_tree2011A cross forms the backdrop for my nativity scene downstairs. There’s a reason for that. I don’t know about you, but I need a visual reminder—not just once, but many times during the holiday season—for the real reason we celebrate.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I love how the season starts with “thanks giving” on Thanksgiving. I love the opportunity to get together with family members who live too far away. I love the familiar Christmas songs . . . the lights . . . the baking . . . the fact that everyone seems just a little kinder, a little more giving at this particular time of the year. I love the excitement on the faces of children anticipating Christmas day. I love all the warm fuzzies this holiday brings.

But I also know how easily I can get caught up in the stress of the season and start to panic over a to-do list the length of the Mississippi. I think we women especially can get entangled in our desire to create a Pinterest-perfect Christmas and, in the process, forget all about celebrating. When was the last time you stopped to truly CELEBRATE Christmas? Because as wonderful as all the trappings of Christmas can be—the decorations, the food, the moments with family— they are not the reason we celebrate.

We celebrate for the same reason the angels and the shepherds celebrated that first Christmas night. We celebrate with the same sense of awe Mary and Joseph must have felt when they held their baby for the first time and pronounced his name—Jesus. We celebrate with the same joyful expectation that Simeon and Anna expressed when they gazed into the face of their long-awaited Messiah.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a SAVIOR . . .”  Luke 2:11

A Savior.

Our Savior was born.

Two thousand years into this age of grace, the significance of that simple statement often escapes us. But travel with me for a second back to the garden, back to that moment when Adam and Eve first began to realize the full consequences of what they have done. They made a decision to listen to the Tempter. They chose to be their own gods, and in that moment EVERYTHING changed. There was no do-over, no going back. They had lost Paradise. Their perfect world lay in ruins around them and there was NOTHING they could do about it.

The ugliness of death suddenly became very real when God sacrificed an animal to cover their nakedness. But in that moment . . . in the midst of the chaos of their own making . . . God made them a promise:  The seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head.

Did Eve look to her son Cain to be her Savior? Maybe. We all know how that dream ended . . . how far and how quickly mankind can fall when he chooses to forsake God.

But whispers of that promise continued down through the centuries.

To Abraham: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed . . .” Genesis 22:18

To David: “I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.  . . . Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”  2 Samuel  7: 12&16

To the Israelite nation:  “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Then finally, an angel repeated it to a young virgin and the promise was fulfilled.

Are you stressed out today in your efforts to create a perfect Christmas? Newsflash: There is no perfect Christmas. Pies will burn, siblings will squabble, whole families will come down with the flu.

But there is perfect love, joy and peace in the gift of God’s salvation.

Our Savior has come! Take time to CELEBRATE that this Christmas season.

As a bonus this week, I’ve included a link to a favorite new Christmas song of mine. For those of you who like to worship through song . . . enjoy!

Jesus, Light of the World

falling starIf I really need some uninterrupted time in the morning, I bundle up and head outside to my porch. When the sky is deep and dark I might happen to glimpse a falling star. It’s never much more than a glimpse out of the corner of my eye at a flash of light.  In the short time it takes to look toward the falling star, it’s gone . . . burned out and fallen.  But even that passing glimpse of light against the dark sky is a wonderful gift.

When time permits, I linger on the porch until the sun comes up. From the moment the sky begins lighten until the sun tops the horizon, time passes slowly.

The sky takes on colors . . . clouds streak and change in the light . . . objects form on the horizon . . . a drift of cool air hugs the ground.

Just when I think it’s way overdue, the sun appears, flooding the landscape with light.

With the light of a new sun, tears well up in my eyes, and I remember the words to a song:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, new every morning … great is Thy faithfulness, O God.” 

That chorus comes from the book of Lamentations.

Have you read this lately? It does NOT paint a pretty picture.  It’s the sad song of Israel’s ruin.  But more than that, it’s full of graphic language about cannibalism, sacrilege, famine, drought, murder, rape.  It’s the darkest place of humanity–body and spirit–listed out in 5 agonizing chapters.

The story of lament takes us here:

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all – oh, how well I remember – the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope. Lam. 3:19-21, MSG

In this utter darkness, there’s a flash of hope. If you blink you might miss it.  But it’s a glimpse of Light that’s so desperately needed in the inky darkness.

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. Lam 3: 22-24, MSG

Truly, a story of lament (mourning) birthed a song about how the mercies of God are new every morning.

We’re entering the time of year called Advent, which simply means we’re choosing to focus on the arrival of Jesus.  The first week of Advent looks at how Jesus is the Light.

When I think of all that goes on around the holidays – humanly speaking it’s pretty dark, isn’t it? (Is that why they call it Black Friday?)

There are little flashes of wonderfully bright moments, but many of them are just falling stars of hope.  God longs for us to experience WONDER as we honestly focus on Jesus this season.

God invites us to experience a sunrise of hope as we wait, really wait for Jesus to come.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times. When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst. Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. Lam. 3:25 – 31 MSG

What would it mean for you to passionately wait for Jesus this Advent season?

Would it mean giving up something you’re already passionate about?

Would it mean taking on something new to honor him?

Would it mean spending some time each day differently?

When I sense that I’m having a hard time focusing on Jesus, I choose to offer something I’m especially fond of to Him. It’s been different things at different times.  And when I’m compelled or craving that “thing,” I pray . . . I wait . . . I offer such a small thing to Jesus.

The Advent of Christmas seems a lot like sitting on the porch waiting for the sun to rise.  I know the sun will rise and I want to be there when it does.  I want to see it pop up again. I want tears to well up in my eyes when I remember: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, new every morning . . . great is Thy faithfulness, O God.