By: Sarah Norman
Why did God become one of us? Couldn't there have been a different way? Why would a great, all-powerful, almighty God leave His throne, put on skin and come to dwell among sinners, living with sadness, grief, pain and poverty?
I'm sure the disciples asked this question. They learned their whole lives about the coming Messiah. They believed the Messiah would come as a ruler, to set up His kingdom here on earth. They believed He was coming to overthrow the Roman empire and make the Jewish nation great again, as in the days of King David and King Solomon. They picked and chose the prophecies of old that they wanted to associate with who their Messiah was. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, just a few days before His crucifixion, the disciples had no idea what was coming. They believed they were about to be apart of a revolution. They believed the people shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” (John 12:13) were praising the man who would replace Caesar. They believed things were about to change, but they had no idea exactly what they were in for.
Jesus did come to change things, but not in the way the disciples had grown up believing. He turned the world upside down. He came to show the emptiness of their religiosity and show them what it truly meant to follow God. In John's gospel, he begins with saying “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” (John 1:1-5). Jesus is the Word who was there in the beginning. He was there, creating all the things of this world, the sun, moon, stars, water, land, trees, birds, fish, animals and people. He created all the things and declared them good. He had a relationship with Adam and Eve that was severed by sin. And then Jesus became the answer to that severed relationship. He stepped into the broken lineage of Adam to make that relationship whole again. He came into the world as a light shining into the depths of our darkest places. Where that light shone, life was given.
Later in that chapter, John writes, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (1:17). Up until that point religion was ritual and observance. It was legalistic, and performance based. The purpose of the law given by Moses was to show the people that they would never be good enough on their own, to show their desperate need for a Savior. It was so they could see what they had been missing all their lives when they finally met Jesus. John says Jesus came to bring grace and truth. He released us from following rituals with no purpose. He came to give us freedom based on what He did for us, based solely on His grace, not by anything we could do to earn it. And He came to have a relationship with us.
It's that relationship aspect of our faith that can sometimes be so difficult to understand. Why would God want to have a relationship with me? I've spent so much of my life running from Him, doing what I want to do, worshiping what I want to worship, living how I want to live. What does God want with me? There was a time in my life I asked these questions often. I knew Biblical truths, I knew the laws and the rules. I understood the religion aspect of my faith. But it was so hard for me to understand why He would want a relationship with me, someone who had spent so long running from Him. Galatians 4 tells us that Jesus came to earth, died for us so we could be adopted into God's family, so we could be heirs alongside Christ to the kingdom. Verses 6-7 say “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” When we choose a relationship with Christ, we are adopted into His family. We are no longer slaves to our sin. We no longer have to live the empty life this world offers, or legalistic religion offers. We can live a life of freedom belonging in the family of God.
So why did God choose to come to this earth, to become one of us? He came to show us that God wants us to know Him as Father. He came to show us that we are meant to be in relationship with Him. He came to release us from the rigidity of the law and show us how to live in His grace. He did not come for the pomp and circumstance of setting up an earthly kingdom in the way His disciples believed He would. He came to prepare us for the kingdom that is to come, the Heavenly kingdom in which we are heirs along with Him.
By: Sarah Norman
Our pastor has posed many questions over the last few weeks for our church to consider. This week, he asked another one. Why? More precise would be, why has all this happened? The world has been rocked by COVID-19 for a little more than a year. Millions across the world have died. Millions more will suffer long term effects. Millions have lost their jobs. Children have lost a year of school that some say they will never be able to catch up from. People have been isolated, suffering from anxiety and depression that has only been escalated. Disparities in our country have been magnified. There is suffering everywhere we look. So why? Why does it happen? Why is there so much suffering in this world? Why does a good God allow all this to happen? I honestly don't know if we will ever have a perfect answer this side of Heaven to these questions. But we can look to God's word, specifically in the story of Job, for how to respond to suffering.
Job lived in the land of Uz, around the Saudi Arabian desert. He was not from Israel and most likely lived prior to Abraham. He did not have a Bible, or the Law, or Jesus. But he knew who God was. He lived a righteous life of service and worship. Satan basically made a bet with God that if all the wealth and livestock and children were taken away, Job would no longer be a righteous man, but one who blames God and hates God and goes his own way. So that's what Satan did. He caused all of his livestock and ability to acquire wealth to die. Then he killed all of his children. Job didn't realize it was Satan doing all of this, but believed it to be from God. His response was this: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (1:21). He refused to curse God's name. He understood God had given him all those things so he understood God had a sovereign reason for taking those things away from him. He had a patient faith, knowing God was in control.
So Satan tried again. He went to God for permission to cast physical affliction on Job. He thought that surely Job would curse God if he were sick and dying. His wife came to him and told him he should curse God and die. But his response to her was, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad,” (2:10)? This question is so profound and one that we should consider in our lamenting of all that we as a country have suffered this past year. We are so quick to thank God for the blessings, so quick to worship when life is going good. But when life is hard, when we are scared of losing what we have, we question God's motives, we question His goodness, we forget all He's done for us and often choose to go through those hard times on our own because we think God has abandoned us.
Two years ago, my oldest son became very ill. Looking back through the lens of hindsight, I see how much God was with us during that week and how much God protected my sweet boy. He had a very rare infection that the ER and his doctor didn't catch. The infection was burning him from the inside out. As I watched him grow sicker over about 2 days, I was frightened that when we finally got him checked in to a hospital, he wouldn't come home. I wanted to be angry at God and question Him, but my wonderful husband who is one of the most faithful men I know, pointed me to Jesus and challenged me to have faith in God and trust that God was sovereign and would take care of our little boy, whatever that looked like. Thankfully, once he saw a specialist, he was diagnosed quickly and received the treatment needed quickly and was healed. Had we waited a day, or the hospital waited to begin treatment until the diagnosis were confirmed, the outcome might have been much different. I don't know what my response would have been had the outcome been different. But I know I spent several days doing nothing but praying and reading scripture, calling on God to protect and save my son. I know that in our suffering, the only thing I had, the only thing I could truly lean on and draw comfort in was God.
The suffering we went through was small compared to what so many have gone through this past year. But the truth still remains. God is good. We praise God in the good and the hard. Justin said this week that suffering comes from creations of God that have been twisted and manipulated by and for evil. Our bodies are good things that God created, but because of sin entering the world, we get sick, we get hurt and eventually we die. Weather and God's creation of this earth is good and beautiful and breath taking, but because of sin entering the earth, we have hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires and famines that devastate entire states and countries. Sex is a wonderful gift of God created for a husband and wife to enjoy in marriage but because sin entered the world, for millennia sex has been used in power and domination, it's been used to rule over and hurt women and people thought to be inferior. There are countless good things that sinful humankind twisted and turned evil for the purpose of hurting others. But none of that negates God's goodness or his good purposes for the people He created. God created us with freewill and because we had the choice, we chose to rebel. What was God's reaction to his creation's rebellion? His reaction was to make a redemption plan to save the world.
The whole story of Israel is one of longing and suffering and desperation. But God, through the prophets, tells his people to hold on just a little while longer, that redemption is coming. He tells his people to be patient, that the story is not over yet. And then a baby came to earth, a baby that would change history forever. That baby lived a sinless life and grew up to be our redemption. He died in our place, took on all the sins of creation, all the rebellion of creation, took our pain and suffering on Himself. He defeated death and rose again so that even though we may know suffering on this earth, we will not know suffering in our death. If we choose to trust in Jesus and what he did for us, we get eternity with Him, an eternity of no pain, no tears, no suffering.
C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” He wrote this while the love of his life was suffering and dying. He knew pain in a way that many can only imagine. God does not cause suffering arbitrarily. And even harder, we may never know the reason for some of our pain this side of Heaven. But I don't believe there is no purpose in it. James 1:2-5 tells us “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” I don't know the purpose of your suffering or my suffering, but I do believe God tells us throughout his word to look for joy, to find the joy a midst the suffering. That does not mean we have to put on a smile and pretend everything is fine. The book of Job is full of lament. He asked God why, he questioned God just like we would. But he didn't leave it there. He found purpose in his suffering. Job 19:25 says “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” He knew God had not forsaken him. He lost everything he had and still chose to believe God was good. He lamented. He grieved. He was sad and angry. We're allowed to do all those things. Every person deals with suffering differently.
Friend, wherever you are and whatever you're dealing with, know that God is with you. He knows what you're going through. He knows what it's like to suffer. He wants to walk with you and show you how to get to the other side. He wants to help you find the joy in the suffering. It's hard and it's painful and you don't have to pretend that it's not. Jesus did not pretend that his suffering was not difficult. In fact, he asked God to take it from him, but submitted to what God wanted. Trust that God is with you. Be patient in your suffering as Job was, trusting that God is not finished with your story yet. Redemption in the pain will come.
By: Sarah Norman
Last week, we talked about a big question, why did God create the world. We explored several facets of this conversation, but ultimately the answer is, God created the world to bring himself glory. This week, our pastor posed another question, similar, but more difficult, especially in the polarized and tense times we live in. Why did God create us? Specifically, why did God create all 7 billion people currently living, 190 nations, 650 unique ethnic people groups?
This is a question that is easy to ignore as someone part of the majority culture living in a small rural town in North Carolina. I am not faced with difficulties relating to this question when I walk outside my door on a daily basis. But that's exactly why I need to face this question and need to consider all the implications to the answer of this question.
Two thousand years ago, things were not so different than they are today. Racism was just as prevalent, especially among God's people, the Jews. We see it explicitly a few times in the gospels. The first time is in John 4 where Jesus purposely goes through Samaria and talks to a Samaritan woman. Jesus broke all kinds of societal rules with this trip. Not only did he talk to a Samaritan who was considered unclean and not worthy to be around, but she was a woman, the worst kind of Samaritan. But Jesus showed her kindness and compassion, breaking social barriers to show His disciples that his good news was not just for Jewish men but for all people, Jew and Gentile, men and women.
Luke 10 gives us another example of how Jesus expected His disciples to break social barriers and show love to everyone. A lawyer tries to trick Jesus and asks him what you must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him to tell him what is written in the law and he answers, “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” (27). And then the man asks who is my neighbor?
I understand this question to my core. I like boundaries and for the most part, I have always followed rules. I would categorize most of my younger years as living in legalism. I added more rules so I wouldn't mess up and then expected others to do the same. So I get this question. He wanted to know how far he needed to go. He wanted to know who his neighbor was. Who was it that he was suppose to love as himself. Were his friends his neighbors? Were his family his neighbors? Were his in-laws his neighbors? Were the people living beside of him, or the people who went to temple with him, or the clients he represented in court his neighbors? Where did it stop. When we have spent our whole lives in a homogeneous society, it's hard for us to think outside our bubble. Jesus' answer to the lawyer's question was groundbreaking.
Jesus told the lawyer a parable. A Jewish man was walking on the road and was attacked by robbers when he was left for dead. A priest saw him, did nothing and passed him by. Stopping to help a man covered in blood, almost dead would have left him unclean and would have required him to perform a ritual cleansing. The man's life was not worth the trouble. Then a Levite saw the man and passed him by as well, probably for the same reason. Then a Samaritan man saw the man lying in the road. He saw the state he was in, and he had compassion on him. The story gives no indication of hesitation because he was Jewish. It says he helped him. He took him to an inn, and paid the innkeeper to care for him till he could come back. Jesus asked the lawyer which of these 3 were a neighbor to the man. He couldn't even bring himself to say it was the Samaritan, but he did say, “The one who showed him mercy,” (37).
The point of Jesus' parable was to say that literally everyone is your neighbor. It doesn't just stop with the people in your area, the people you like, the people you're comfortable with. Your neighbor is the one who looks different than you, the who who practices the Christian faith differently than you, the one who practices a completely different religion than you, the person who votes differently, the person who identifies with the LGBTQ community, the person of a different socioeconomic class, the person who speaks a different language making it difficult to communicate. When we live in our segregated, homogeneous groups, this is difficult to consider. When we live in the echo chamber of the algorithm that feeds us our news, it becomes easy to see people who believe differently than us as the enemy rather than our neighbor.
Revelation 9:7-10 tells us that John saw a vision of the end of times. It says, “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” This is what eternity will look like, believers of all nations, tribes, ethnicities and languages coming together, praising the God who saved us. If this is what eternity will look like, what are we doing in the present?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a statement that I think about often. He said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.” This was in 1963. It made more sense then when segregation and Jim Crow were still legal. But almost 60 years later, it still holds true for much of America. We make the choice to segregate into our comfortable groups on Sunday mornings rather than choosing to look like the kingdom of God and congregate with our brothers and sisters who look different than us. God made us different for a reason. Justin said this so well on Sunday that God's image is so magnificent and so diverse that He couldn't get all of his image into just one type of person, or one people group. He chose to use all the diversity of our world to show us his glorious image. For centuries, American Christians denied this fact. I'm sure it happened outside of America too, but this is our country, so America is where I'll talk about. From the beginning of people being on this land who were not originally here, light skinned people who claimed Christ as their Savior in one breath denied the humanity and dignity of dark skinned people in the next. Christians could have made a difference. They could have stood up and said denying basic human rights to any person was wrong. They could have stood up and said all people were created in God's image and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and enjoyed all the same freedoms in a country that claimed freedom was an inerrant right given by God. But for the most part, Christians did not do this. The association we are apart of was created because southern missionaries refused to give up their “rights” to own slaves. The problem we have in this country, if not created by Christians, was at the very least, perpetuated by the complicity of the Christian community. And because it was created by us, it is our job to take steps to fix it, to reconcile, and to move forward together, not by requiring those who look different than us to conform to our customs, traditions and ways of worship, but by celebrating our differences in Christ and learning to live together in mutual love and respect.
I don't have all the answers concerning this issue, I don't think anyone does. But I do think, as Christians we need to take a look at ourselves and evaluate how we treat our neighbor. We need to figure out who we have difficulty fully accepting and we need to ask God to change our hearts. I believe there are lots of means to change, lots of means to bring about reconciliation, some by changing laws and systems. But it has to begin by being honest with ourselves and asking God where we've been wrong and where our hearts need to change. Sometimes it's scary to ask what needs to be changed or where we are wrong, but God will meet you in the scary places every time.
By: Sarah Norman
Why did God create the world? I think this answer is both easy and complicated all at once. The easy answer is God created the world and us and everything in the world because he loves us. But once we begin to consider all the evil in the world, all that the world gets wrong, the answer becomes harder to figure out.
It says in Genesis 1 after everything He created, that “it was good.” Everything God created pleased Him, it brought Him joy. And then on the sixth day He said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness...so God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them,” (Genesis 1:26-27). The concept of image bearer is one I have thought much about in the past several years as I try and teach my sons how we treat people, how we love people. People are made in the image of God. Justin brought up a point this week that I had never considered before. We are told to not make false idols, false images to worship because God is who we should worship. Created images are not meant to point to God because we are the created images meant to point to God. That doesn't mean that we worship ourselves or the people God created, but we are to live our lives in such a way that points other people toward the one who created us.
The purpose of God creating us was solely for His glory. The rebellious, human nature in me bristles and gets defensive when I think about this. When Justin mentioned it this week, I immediately thought about how arrogant that sounds, that God would create us for the sole purpose of glorifying Himself. It's so easy to put humanness on this concept, which is why I think sometimes it's difficult to understand and except. If I put it in a human context, my husband and I create a child so that child will reflect wonderfully on us and will grow up to glorify us. That is completely the wrong way to think about becoming a parent. Mostly because it will not happen. We are humans who sin and let each other down. Our children will not always reflect well on us and if we put something like that on them, they will more than likely end up resenting us. But God is not me, thank goodness. I don't completely understand the concept of an omniscient, all-powerful, always has been and always will be creator, but I am thankful that I don't have to. If I could understand exactly why God created me and everyone and everything on this earth and in the universe, then God wouldn't be God. God would be something I've made in my own image which will always disappoint me.
So when we think about the fact that God's motive for creating us was for His glory, that's not a bad thing. It's what He deserves. When I stop and think about the world we live in, the creatures that walk the earth, the land and it's beauty, the people created, not to mention the magnificent universe and beyond that's yet to be discovered by humans, I am in awe of God. Psalm 19:1 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.” When I stop and think about all that God has done, all that God has created, all that God has worked in my life, I have no other response than to worship Him with the awe that he deserves.
Justin asked a second question this morning, “Why did God create this world.” We can look at all the things God created both in the world and the universe beyond earth and see how amazing they are and see how they reflect God's goodness. But it's more difficult sometimes to wonder why He created a world where people would not worship Him, but rather worship themselves or other gods they created. When he made Adam and Eve, he knew what they would choose. He didn't want to create robots who all fell in line and did exactly what they were told. That love and devotion wouldn't have been real. So he gave us a choice, while at the same time knowing exactly what they would choose, what we would chose. God had a plan from the very beginning. We go back to the end of Genesis chapter 1 where it says, “Let us make humankind in our image,”. That is not just God the father talking, but God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He had a plan, even then to save humanity from ourselves. He knew what Adam and Eve would choose and so he knew that eventually, when the world was ready, God the Son would come to Earth to save us from our sins, to save us from ourselves and the destructive choices that we most certainly will make when left to ourselves.
As we are in this Lenten season, preparing our hearts for the joy of Easter, this is what we have to reflect on. We are sinners. Left on our own, we deserve nothing but Hell. Without the blood of Jesus as our sacrificial lamb, that is what would most certainly have happened to all of us. No one can live the perfect life required to be in communion with our Holy God. The time leading up to Easter is not necessarily meant to be joyous as we consider what it was that put Jesus on the cross. I lament the fact that it was my sin that put Him on the cross. And if it was only my sin, and no one else, He still would have done it, He still would have died to save even one person. But it wasn't just me. We are all sinners. We all deserve Hell apart from Jesus. But that is not where God left us. Easter happened just for that purpose. Jesus died as the perfect spotless lamb sacrifice, but then defeated death and rose from the grave. That power that rose Jesus from the grave is the power that saves us, the power that allows us to say no to the sin that dwells in us.
John Piper says “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” God created us for His glory. So often we think that can only mean just sitting in a church pew, singing songs that we don't always like, listening to a boring preacher (not Justin of course), and then going home. But we don't always know how to glorify him outside of church. While God created us for His glory, He also created us all different. He gave every person gifts and talents and a creative brain to figure out how to use those gifts and talents to serve Him. Our glorifying God by being satisfied in Him does not look the same for every person. It can be done through art, through our work, through our relationships, through hobbies. God can use any passion we have for His glory if we are willing to give it over to Him. So consider today what you love to do, what God has given you a passion for. Think about how you can use that love to serve God and bring Him glory.
By: Sarah Norman
The story of Ruth is a story of a restless God. Like I said a few weeks ago, so often, we read Ruth as a love story, a fairy tale, but when we do that, we miss so many truths about who God is, how he loves us and the lengths he went to save us. This is not just a story of a woman and man meeting, falling in love and marrying, but a story of God drawing his people back to him after generations of following their own way, living their own lives. It's a story of how God made a way for Jesus to do the work he did on the cross to give us life with Him.
Ruth has never really known a life of rest. Most people in those days didn't. They lived, they worked and they died. If they were truly observant Israelites, they rested on the Sabbath. In the beginning of chapter 3, Naomi seeks to find security, rest, for Ruth through a marriage to Boaz. Naomi wants her daughter-in-law to be protected, to not be vulnerable, to not be on the margins of society any longer. At the end of chapter 3, she tells her the man will not rest until the matter is settled. For Ruth, a marriage to Boaz means rest and security. It means she will belong, she will be part of Israel, no longer an outsider, but part of God's family.
But this story is so much more than a marriage story between a man and a woman. As Justin pointed out in this week's sermon, Ruth did not find her completion in Boaz, but rather, she found her completion in God. So often in this world, we look to everything around us to give us validation, to find our completion. I have tried to find completion and validation in my job, my children, my marriage, my friendships. None of that gives me what I need. I can't look to a created thing, no matter how good it was meant to be, to find my identity. Just like Ruth only found completion in God, that is where we need to look as well.
God spent the first 3 chapters of the Bible creating the world. He made every living thing on this planet, then he rested, not because he had to, not because he needed to, but because he could. He looked at his creation, saw it was good and then rested. But then sin entered the world. And he could have continued resting. He could have said he no longer needed to intervene, His work was done. He's the creator of the universe, maybe He would have been justified in that. But He didn't. Since the beginning, since chapter four of Genesis, God has been restlessly working to draw his children back to him. Everything he does in the Old Testament is to bring his wayward and lost children back to him. He is patient and kind and loving. And the story of Ruth is no different. Without Ruth we don't have Jesus. She is the outsider. She is the marginalized. She is from the people group who were hated. Yet God brought her into His family. God had mercy on this woman who didn't belong and showed her that she belonged to Him. She had a place in Him.
The song, reckless love, talks about the concept of God being a restless God. It says “There's no shadow You won't light up, mountain You won't climb up, coming after me. There's no wall You won't kick down, lie You won't tear down, coming after me.” This is how God pursues us, this is how much he wants us as part of His family, as His own children. We can run away from God, look for God in all the things of this world, in alcohol, in sex, in social media, in politics, in food, in relationships, but we will not find our rest in any of those things. We may find ourselves numb enough to get on with our day, numb enough to continue existing, but true rest can only be found in God.
The restless work of God culminates in Jesus and what he did on the cross. From Genesis to Malachi, God had a plan. Everything he did pointed to that plan. The patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith pointed to that plan. God's kindness and love toward Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheeba pointed to that plan. God was showing his people that he had something better coming, but they needed to be watchful for it, they needed to be ready. And then he came. Jesus left his Heavenly throne, put on skin, and came to this world to live among us, to know what it was like to want, what it was like to be hungry, what it was like to hurt and grieve, and while he was here, he restlessly worked to show the people who He was and what he was coming to do. He endured a brutal death on the cross and resurrected so we could know Him, so we could be a part of his family, so we could find our rest not in the finite things of this world but in His infinite love.
I know when life gets hard, it's easier to run away, it's easier to shutdown and go on autopilot just to get through the days. It's easier to find temporary happiness in all the things the world has to offer. I know because I've done that, I've been there, I've looked for that happiness that doesn't last. Friend who is reading this, please know that even if you are running to the things of this world to find happiness, to find your completion, you can't completely run away from God. He sees you. He hears your. He knows your pain. He knows how lost you feel, how frustrated with everything you are and He loves you. He is restlessly pursing you. Cry out to Him. He can handle your pain. He can handle your anger. He can handle your questions. He can handle all of those things because He is your creator. He is not surprised by them. He loves you. He wants you to run to Him for completion, rather than seeking it in the things this world has to offer. He did all he did on the cross for you, all you have to do is trust in Him.