Advent 2016 – The One We Are Looking For message by Lead Pastor Terry Brisbane. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
We are bringing this theme ‘The One’ to a close. As we have the ending of one year and at the beginning of a new one, I’d like us to consider that the key to a long-lasting change, according to The Scriptures, resides in the one who makes us new. Not in our own ability or capacity to change. That being the case, the long-lasting change resides in the one who promises to make us new, yet He doesn’t remove our role in the matter. He still gives us the choice, responsibility, or invitation. However, we might want to look at it, to embrace the new thing He wants to do in us. He still leaves that up to us. We get to choose if we’re going to be open to what He might want to do. This is important for us to recognize, especially in the season in which we find ourselves. In the moment in human history in which we find ourselves because we live in a time and space where tech and science have done amazing things. We are given a lot of different advantages in this time that other generations only dreamed of. Some only wrote about in science fiction novels, shows, or films. Now we’re seeing them come alive.
My wife and I went through a neighborhood to a coffee shop. We’re just talking about one day when we have a family, what it would be like. She wanted to jaywalk. I said, “Nope, not doing that anymore. We have to grow up a little bit. You know, with that season, we have to start now getting ready for whatever the one is going to… I’m going to go to the corner.” She said, “Well, I like to go the fastest route.” I said, “Well, you know what? We’re going to…” She said, “You know what then, you better change the way you drive because they’re going to start copying that.” I said, “Nope, don’t need to worry about that.” She said, “What are you talking about? They (our children) are going to drive one day.” I just stumbled into it. I realized they might not. They might not drive one day because the car might drive for them. Oh, dangerous. But that’s true, right? This whole new era we’re on the edge of, in which technology is doing some amazing things. Some of the changes we’re scared of and some we want in our lives.
Medicine has done an incredible job of extending life. Able to address illnesses and prolong our ability to remain strong into later years. Yet, the truth of the matter is we are given all these promises. Especially at the beginning of the year, we’re going to start hearing about different programs. The key to the body we want is this program or this pill. They exist. Remove our appetite, which also promises to remove our need to restrain our appetite. That’s out there. Even as we think about it, we know there’s something about those promises that might have something of truth in them, but inevitably they let us down. They fall short.
I’m not speaking as one who’s anti-science or technology. If you get to know me, you know I enjoy my fair share of it. At the end of the day, it’s good for us to acknowledge and understand this is why for some of us, New Year’s resolutions have fallen out of popularity. This is why some of us would rather keep the desires we have within our heart to ourselves rather than share them with somebody and risk disappointment. We know that no matter what program, technology, or method we incorporate or try to implement into our lives, something is still not removed. That something is not going to ever be removed. At the end of the day, what is required of us will be for us to change.
We are the ones who will need to adjust, make shifts, and walk through those changes. The truth of the matter is that will be the case to some degree or another. For some of us, this may become something that can be a daunting prospect. Acknowledging that can be difficult and challenging because we might be the ones who look back in the rearview mirror and see our track record may not show a whole lot of evidence of our capacity to change. For others, we might have more reason for confidence and know that there is something in us that battles our desire. In all of us, there is a real desire for growth, improvement, and for something good to occur. At the same time, a competing battle within. That is why I personally have come to love what The Scriptures have to say. Not just about God, but about the human condition. The Scriptures don’t give empty promises that just blow hot air into our soul, giving us enthusiasm that leads to nowhere. What we start to see as we explore them openly is that they present an accurate picture of the human struggle. Perhaps because they are accurate in their assessment. They also offer a real solution to our dilemma. That’s important. If the problem isn’t accurately assessed, the solution may not be effective. The Scriptures do both.
For us, this is tremendously good news. The key to real long-lasting change according to The Scriptures, resides with the one who makes us new, not our own capacity to change. We are given the invitation to decide whether or not we will embrace the new thing God wants to do. This is the very thing that The Scriptures end up unfolding and unwrapping for the Israelites about 700 years before the coming of Jesus through a man named Isaiah. I’d like us to walk through a couple of the things Isaiah was asked to speak and convey. Isaiah, just so we understand, is speaking to a group of people, a nation that has suffered extraordinary devastation as a nation and a people. Their economic situation doesn’t look positive at all. Politically speaking, they’ve been overthrown and are now trying to rebuild. They’re on the other side of having been conquered. They’re not feeling great about their season of life. God has a message for them that ends up foretelling the one we just celebrated a week ago. The coming of Christ. Isaiah ends up describing what He will come to do.
In Isaiah 42:5, “Thus says God, the Lord who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it. I am the Lord.” Isaiah says this as a spokesman. He speaks as if he is speaking to this one, his servant, who we know Jesus ends up being the fulfillment of. Isaiah says, “I have called you in righteousness. I will take you by the hand and keep you. I will give you as a covenant that is an agreement for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison, those who sit in darkness.” What Isaiah is telling the Israelites is that his servant, the one who is being foretold of, the one who we know as Jesus, will come as one who administers a new way of relating between God and His people. That is what the covenant is referring to, a new agreement. He’s saying He will not be just for a single nation. He will be meant to speak into the entire world. He will be like a light in a dark place. John says it, “The light shown and the darkness could not overcome it.”
Isaiah is saying, He is meant for the entire world to be able to see. The great news is for anyone who cannot see because of Him, there will be something of sight given. They will be able to experience freedom at dimensions they had never been able to experience before Him. They will be like people caught in prison in the dungeon, they will be brought out and set free. Isaiah is speaking, if we can put ourselves in their shoes, to a nation who was accustomed to obeying rules and regulations in order to remain in right standing with God. Isaiah is saying no, there’s something far more radical going on here. God is not going to be concerned about behavior modification. He’s concerned about heart transformation. That is quite a different thing.
There is a sense as you read through the remainder of chapter 42 and into the next passages of Isaiah, that God ends up wanting them to understand that something radically different is about to happen in their nation, faith, and heritage. We’re on the hinge point of our year and season of life. I was thinking that this was a great word that resonated with me. In fact, it’s right underneath in Isaiah 43. God is saying through Isaiah. “Remember not the former things nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah is saying that there is a new way. There is something new that will require them to be willing to let go of how they are accustomed to relating with God, each other, the wider world, and to be open. To not throw away and dishonor what is old. To not hold onto it so tightly, to let it go, and be open to the new thing. Lest we think this is an easy thing to receive or to do, Isaiah was speaking to a group of people who were steeped in hundreds of years of a heritage they loved. How to go about this walk or journey with God where certain things, regulations, rules, and laws were meant for their benefit.
Isaiah ends up addressing it, especially through the life of Jesus where He ends up speaking to the ones who keep the law. The laws that were meant to help you end up the laws that confine you. They are now boxing God in. Because of that, you are not open to the new thing God wants to do. If it’s not within this framework, it doesn’t work for you. This is what Isaiah is trying to say. I wonder if perhaps there is something of this word that is meant for us. As we look into the coming year, I wonder if this is the word meant for us to grab ahold of. I love the way the message translation says it, which is in more colloquial terms. Pastor Eugene Peterson, who’s a scholar as well, ended up writing a translation called The Message Translation. His translation says this is what God says. Let’s just think of the imagery.
“The God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves. Think of the juxtaposition. God is able to do that. Forget about what’s happened. Don’t keep going over old history. Especially as it pertains to the path we have walked through. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out.” There it is. “I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Where there is no life bursting forth, there’s going to be a river bursting forth through it, and all the life associated with it.” He is not speaking of the physical dimensions of this earth. What he is speaking about is the real dimensions of our soul. Many of us might sense, ‘no, you don’t understand, my heart is like a raving ocean that I want go straight, but tensions pull me, and currents tug at me.’ Isaiah is saying, ‘no, you don’t understand. If God wants to do something in you in your heart, no amount of battle within can overcome it. He is able to do it. Where you sense in your soul nothing but death, the badlands, new life will erupt.’ Don’t you see it? This is the great thing God wants to do.
It is an incredible promise. An incredible promise that Jesus stepped into human history and fulfilled with what He did on the cross and offered to anybody who would embrace him. Everlasting life is not meant only for the future, but the abundant life meant for the present. He spoke to a woman. If you drink the water I give, it will produce within you a fountain. A fountain will erupt from you. This is what God is able to do. Jeremiah, who is another spokesman for God, spoke to Israel as well. He ends up unpacking this new way of relating and covenant would look like. In verse 33, Jeremiah says, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel.” Israel is representative of any who call themselves the people of God and on His name. “After those days, declares the Lord, I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. It will be internalized. Change will occur from the inside out. I will be there, God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall each one say to his neighbor and each his brother saying no, the Lord, for they shall all, they will know me personally, intimately. My presence will be in them from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.”
What is Jeremiah saying? There will be a great equalizer. The equalizer is Jesus on the cross because at the foot of His cross is where there is no one superior than any of it. For we all stand there equal in our need for grace, equal in our need for forgiveness, equal in our need for what He offers, the ability to make us new. We see it. It’s an incredible, incredible point of hope. Especially for us as we move into all that we hope and anticipate the new year will bring. I think of this in terms of how we might want to unpack this in our own lives. I consider a couple of things that Isaiah and Jeremiah are saying to us. These prophets of old speaking into the new things God longed to do through Jesus, the one who makes us new. I want to put some things up for us to consider, think on, and utilize as we move into this week. In our downtime, we can revisit and prayerfully look at and digest with God.
Firstly, we see that we serve a God who wants to do something new in our lives. This is the truth. We must begin here. We might be the ones who desire something new, but we have to understand that desire has been deposited by the one who created us. We might be the ones desperate for change and that desperation is meant to compel us, to draw us to the one who said, “Good, you hear my call. Good, you sense what I have put within you. Come, let’s dialogue.” Because He is the one. Listen, He is not a God who wants us to become stuck in certain ways. He doesn’t desire for us to be held. Some of us might have an image of God as one who only longs to judge and hold us under His thumb. What we are being told is quite the opposite. He is a God who says, “I want to breathe new life into you. I want to do something new in you.”
He is the one who wants to not encourage us to remain focused on what was. This is where the rubber tends to meet the road. We start to consider that we are the ones who are exempt, our past will be our present and future. It is difficult for us to let go of certain things. But He is the one who says, “I won’t hold those over you. I will not. Your iniquities will be forgiven, washed, white as snow.” He invites us to take risks with Him. He invites us to be open to what He might want to do or speak into our lives. In my own time, I have already been thinking about this. I’d like to share a couple of questions I think are worth answering. I wonder, what is the new thing that you think God longs to do in you? What would a river in a badland look like in your soul? What would that, practically speaking, look like? A lifeless place filled with abundant life. What is that? What does He long to write within us? What word does He long to inscribe on our soul?
Perhaps the word is faithful or courageous. Perhaps the word is committed or loving. This year, may generosity be written on our souls. This year, may graciousness define the way we relate to each other. That is what will flow out of us. Why? Because He is the one writing it in us. What would that be? I wonder what another way of looking at it is? What is a rut we have gotten into that He longs to get us out of? This is the year we’re going to get you out. We’re going to dislodge this. We’re going to forget the old things. We’re going to become open to new things. We’re going to pave a way where things were crooked. We’re going to straighten it up together. We’re going to dislodge things. Maybe another more clear way of putting it is what character qualities does He want to form within our lives? What would that look like?
We don’t need a share. If we just say, “God, what is it that you want to form inside of me?” We seek His word. We might say, “Wow, there’s so many things.” Well, what is that one thing? One thing we know, according to what Isaiah and Jeremiah, especially what the newer Testament has to say and the coming of Jesus explains to us, is that it means we have an internal sense of strength. A source of strength that supersedes our abilities, resources, and networks. In other words, there is nothing external we have that can overpower what He has deposited within us. When we embrace Jesus in our lives, He gives us a sense of power and strength that supersedes and overrides our external circumstances. It really does. It is capable of giving us the ability to sustain true life in the middle of terrible situations. Paul ends up writing to the Corinthians and says, “Listen, I want you not to lose heart because though our outward self is wasting away, our inward self is being renewed day by day, day in and day out.”
There is a part of us that is new every morning that is filled with His mercy. It is the part that we cannot see. It’s true. I was looking at a picture of myself from less than 10 years ago. Who is that guy? What happened these last seven or eight years? I looked at my wife. She looks the same. I thought, well, that’s not fair, but that’s the reality. There’s something about our external being, no matter how hard we try, it will get older. If there’s nothing these last few days have reminded us of, it is how fragile life actually is. The passing of different people that are recognized internationally. The way we are reminded how we are not given or guaranteed a single day. But one promise we are given is that when we call on His name, there is something within us that is given power and strength that does not depend on our capacities, financial means, or the people we know. There is something of His spirit that is capable of producing more life than we can possibly contain.
If we venture forth, we will be able to recognize He can heal our wounds. He can help us move past things. He is able, amid our failures and weaknesses, to whisper words of love and grace, to pick us back up and give us wisdom because now we understand our weaknesses better to move forward. That is what He promises to do. He asks us to be open to Him, to do more than be open to Him, to embrace and draw near to Him. That is what He asks of us. The rest, He loves to do. He loves to do it. Because the more we get to move forward with Jesus, the more we discover that we are given hope no grim circumstance can overshadow. There is truly no circumstance that can overshadow the eternal hope He gives to all of us.
If you were to read any one of Paul’s letters, you get the sense that Paul is saying we can’t lose. Do you not see how radically different life is with Jesus? We cannot lose. What Jesus has done in our life makes it so we simply aren’t able to lose if we entrust ourselves to Him. What Paul tells the Romans changes everything. Perhaps this is where we’re going to be headed into the coming year. Paul says, “Even adversity can’t overcome the hope we have.” He says not only that, but we rejoice. He goes a little further than I’m going. He says, “We rejoice in our sufferings.” Knowing that suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character and hope. In God’s gracious way with us, He uses the circumstances we would consider bad, but we want to avoid. The things we would rather not deal with, He says, no, they are used. Those points of suffering are used to our benefit and give us hope. A hope that does not put us to shame. It means it won’t let us down. It won’t mock us at the end of the day. We won’t feel like fools having entrusted ourselves to Him.
We’ll have no regrets because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. This is what He offers us. He offers us the ability to recognize and understand. He will not relent in His pursuit of us, in His strengthening of us, in His ability to meet us right where we’re at, whether a low, middle or high point on the mountain top. He’s able to meet us and speak life and hope into us that enables us to endure. That is what He does. I’m reminded of this story I ran across this week. I was spending some time reading this book. It was a story that occurred in 2008. The story takes place in London.
There was a man in London in the year 2008. It was raining ferociously hard. It was raining harder than most times. One day the rain let up, but the sidewalks and streets were flooded with water. There was enough room for this older man to take his young three-year-old daughter and their dog along for a walk. They stepped out and were walking out on the street. As they’re walking, the dog ran over to this deeper side of a puddle and ends up jumping on the puddle. The dog is playing in the water. The three-year-old ends up thinking that looks like fun. She goes off, runs over, and she jumps into the puddle. She jumps into the puddle and disappears. The man saw that his daughter just disappeared. In a matter of seconds, realizes that what had most likely happened was a manhole had been removed through the storm and some type of suction had occurred. His daughter was sucked into the manhole.
In a matter of seconds, he realizes, this is going to empty out into the river about a hundred yards away. He immediately ran towards the river where he’s hoping and thinking his daughter will come out. He ran up to the edge of the river and saw out in the water this coat floating with his daughter in it, face down in the water. Without a moment’s pause, he recognized her, jumped into the water, picked her out of the water, put her on her side and she’s breathing and conscious. He saved his daughter’s life. People saw this. They saw the entire thing occur in a matter of seconds. They asked him, which is what the author was impressed by, “How did you do that? How did you move forward so quickly and decisively, knowing exactly what you were supposed to do?”
This author says, “Therein lies the secret.” This man, Mark Baxter, wasn’t working out a step-by-step process of what he had to do. He knew exactly what he needed to do. That wasn’t the question. What he needed to do, every step of the way he said, “was every time a bad thought came into my mind, I had to push it out. Every step I took, a bad thought would come in and would tell me why try? I’d push it out. It was too late and I had to push it out. I took a step forward and a step forward and a step forward. Then I jumped into the river and I grabbed my daughter as I was wondering if she was filled with life still. I pulled her out and she was not lifeless. She was still filled with life. That hope of seeing her still alive is what helped me move forward.” The author says that sense of hope that no situation is too dire, no circumstance is too grim, nothing is final, especially when we invite the one who makes us new is involved. That hope is what gives us the courage to move forward one step at a time.
Oh, if we do that, 2017 can be our best year yet. May we move forward knowing we have the one who makes us new, who gives us hope nothing can overshadow, who gives us a resource that nothing can supersede. We serve a God who wants to do new things in our lives. In a moment when we receive our time of giving in our closing song, I would love to pray and ask for His blessing. God, I thank you. I thank you, God, that you are the one who knows us through and through. We can’t hide anything from you, and yet your posture towards us is one of grace, gentleness, and love. You also offer strength and courage and I pray that you would give each of us, however, we may need it, the capacity to be open to you, the capacity to let go of some things, and to be open to new things you long to do. I pray God, that you would write a beautiful word on our hearts, that 2017 would be one of our best years yet. We ask God for your help to live it well. We pray for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Advent 2016 – The One We Need message by Luis Menjivar, Associate Teaching/Young Adults Pastor. For more information, visit cornerstonesf.org
Advent 2016 – The One We Worship message by guest speaker Jeff Louie. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org