Tag Archives: Faith

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT: Making Preparations

Prepare the Way, O Zion[1]

The season of Advent calls us to both anticipation and preparation. The Old Testament has many hints and promises of the Messiah to come, so we feel with ancient Israel the anticipation of Messiah’s coming. It’s like the excitement we feel looking forward to an upcoming special event, or the arrival of someone important to us. We unite our hearts with ancient Israel in their longing and hoping for Messiah’s arrival. But preparation? How do we do that? What do we do?

Prepare the way, O Zion, your Christ is drawing near!
Let every hill and valley a level way appear.
Greet One who comes in glory, foretold in sacred story.
O blest is Christ who came in God’s most holy name.

Frans Mikael Franzen, in this Advent hymn Prepare the Way, O Zion, calls on “Zion,” the people of God, to give attention to preparation for the coming of Messiah. He echoes the words of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, as she praised God for her son and the mission God had for him.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways . . . (Luke 1:76 NRSV)

Both Elizabeth and Franzen bring to mind the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5:

In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (NRSV)

In ancient times, preparation for the arrival of royalty would include people going ahead of the royal procession to prepare the road that would be traveled – removing obstacles and filling holes in the road to make the way “straight” and smooth. It was to this kind of “preparation ministry” that John the Baptist was called – to remove false ideas about what made people right with God, and to issue a call to repentance and preparation of the heart for the coming of Messiah. This was important because the Messiah Israel was to prepare for was not who they thought he would be.

He brings God’s rule, O Zion; he comes from heaven above.
His rule is peace and freedom, and justice, truth, and love.
Lift high your praise resounding, for grace and joy abounding.
O blest is Christ who came in God’s most holy name.

Israel was anticipating Messiah to be their king and deliverer. That’s what the prophets seemed to say.

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:19 NRSV)

Thus says the LORD the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49:7 NRSV)

But Messiah’s kingdom was not to be a political kingdom – not a kingdom of this world. Messiah would be bringing heaven’s kingdom values to bear on earth. As Franzen wrote: “His rule is peace and freedom, and justice, truth, and love.”  God’s kingdom is built on the foundation of truth and justice. It operates on the principle of love, and it offers peace and freedom to all who will receive it. It was to prepare the hearts of Israel for this King and kingdom that John was called. And it is to prepare our hearts for, and to make known to those with whom we have influence, this King and kingdom, that we are called.

Fling wide your gates, O Zion; your Savior’s rule embrace,
And tidings of salvation proclaim in every place.
All lands will bow rejoicing, their adoration voicing.
O blest is Christ who came in God’s most holy name.

Is there any better message to give to a troubled world – to our family, friends, and acquaintances – than the announcement that the true King of this world brings peace, freedom, justice, truth . . . and that He loves them very much? Is there any more important choice to make than to receive this King and His rule into your own life?

Prepare the way! Your Savior’s rule embrace! Tidings of salvation proclaim in every place!

O blest is Christ who came in God’s most holy name!

Follow this link – https://youtu.be/yZDqBt7qqsg – to enjoy a performance of this hymn.


To subscribe and receive A SONG TO THE LORD in your email, just follow this link: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community. A SONG TO THE LORD is just one of the audio resources that are available free at the website of The Fellowship of Ailbewww.ailbe.org. T. M. Moore, the Principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, and Rusty Rabon host THE AILBE PODCAST which you can find on The Fellowship of Ailbe website. The website has many printed, audio, and video resources for individual and group study available free of charge.

Rusty Rabon also hosts a Zoom book reading program called READING GREAT BOOKS five nights each week (Thursdays through Mondays). The Zoom link and current book information are available here on The Fellowship of Ailbe website. Rusty has written two collections of devotional meditations – on for Lent titled “Do All to the Glory of God” and the other for Advent titled “Lift Up Your Voice and Sing.”  Click here to purchase one of these books. You can follow Rusty Rabon at www.rustyrabon.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rusty.raabon.9/, and on Twitter at https://mobile.twitter.com/RustyRabon.

[1] TEXT: Frans Mikael Franzen (1812, revised 1819); translated Augustus Nelson, 1958, adapted by Charles P. Price, 1980. Copyright Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL, 60188. MUSIC: Bereden Vag For Herran with refrain. The Swenska Psalmboken, 1697. https://youtu.be/yZDqBt7qqsg

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SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT: Looking and Longing

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus[1]

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 NKJV

The season of holidays that begins with Thanksgiving and continues through Advent, Christmas, and the New Year is filled with moments of anticipating an arrival; like the one sung about in the traditional children’s holiday song written in 1844 by Lydia Maria Child:

Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river and through the woods to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top for ‘tis Thanksgiving Day.

Gathering with our families for a special celebration can be a joyful time, and the anticipation creates a longing and desire for it. If we have such great anticipation for the “advent” of special people in our lives, imagine the longing and yearning of the ancient Hebrews for the advent of their promised Messiah to fulfill the promises God had made to them for centuries through patriarchs and prophets. An overarching theme of the Bible is that the Lord Jesus Christ was the Messiah that Israel looked for. Charles Wesley, in his hymn Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, combined the truth of Jesus as the Messiah with the yearning of Israel for Him to come.

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver, born a child, and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Jesus was born through the miracle of the incarnation – God the Son becoming a human being.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NKJV)

Jesus was born to bring hope to his people.

. . . we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NKJV)

Jesus was born to set us free from fear of God’s judgment because of our sin. As Pastor Rich Villodas writes, “The good news, simply stated, is the recognition that Jesus is Lord over all things and invites us to a life free from the shackles of bondage.”[2]

. . . He Himself likewise shared in [flesh and blood], that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15 NKJV)

Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, whose Kingdom comes now in the hearts of all who believe in Him but will one day come in its visible fullness on earth.

. . . The Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:4 NKJV)

Jesus satisfies the deepest yearnings and desires of everyone everywhere. As Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[3]

The ancient Israelites looked faithfully for their Messiah’s advent for centuries. Even so should followers of Jesus faithfully look for his return – his second advent. “One of the earliest recorded prayers of the Church is the Aramaic word Maranatha, which literally means, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). The Latin word adventus means the same thing: ‘come.’  Advent is a season of waiting and wanting, looking and longing, inviting Christ to come once more into our lives and into our world.”[4]

Thank you, Father, for loving us so much that You sent Your Son to save us. Maranatha! May Jesus be born again amongst us this Christmas.
Thank you, Jesus, that You came before, and You are coming again in glory. Maranatha! We long for You to return and make all things new.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, for filling our lives. Maranatha! May the Lord Jesus Christ be born again in us today.[5]

Sing along with the worship band Lexington Road’s presentation of this hymn by clicking on this link – https://youtu.be/p8E9G763Ibs

[1] WORDS: Charles Wesley. TUNE: Rowland H. Prichard. https://youtu.be/p8E9G763Ibs

[2] Rich Villodas, “The Deeply Formed Life,” (Waterbook / Random House Publishers, 2020), p. 211.

[3] https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/ourheartisrestlessuntilitrestsinyou/

[4] LECTIO 365 devotional for November 28, 2021. www.24-7prayer.com

[5] LECTIO 365 devotional for November 28, 2021. www.24-7prayer.com

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His Kingdom Comes

A Mighty Fortress is Our God[1]

“The kingdom of God is the supreme and sovereign rule and reign of God over all.”[2] (Burk Parsons)

In giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray that God the Father’s kingdom would come, and his will would be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.”  There are times when our circumstances and emotions lead us to think and feel that God is truly in control of everything around us. Then there are other times – times when chaos is all around us – when we wonder where God is now.

Martin Luther was a priest and teacher in the Catholic church who lived in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He struggled intensely in his relationship with God. His mind and emotions were often painfully stirred with doubts and fears about whether he was truly God’s child – whether his life was pleasing to God – whether he was genuinely loved and accepted by God. His fears were assuaged when he came to understand the truth of justification by faith – that our relationship with God is based on trusting the death of Christ for us on the cross, and not trying to please God by our actions. While studying Paul’s letter to the Romans, he was drawn to Romans 1:17: “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (NKJV). The apostle Paul expanded on this truth in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV). He added further in Galatians 2:16 that “. . . we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (NKJV).

Because God is the supreme and sovereign ruler over all, and because Jesus died on the cross to bring us into a relationship with God, we can live with confidence, no matter the chaotic condition of the world or the fierce struggles we face in our own hearts and minds. It may not appear that God’s kingdom is coming “on earth as it is in heaven,” but God is at work no matter what is going on around us – as Martin Luther learned and expressed in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

God is a defense that never fails. No matter the obstacles we face, our God who is with us prevails. Still, we dare not let our guard down because our “ancient foe” never lets up seeking to “work us woe.” Satan’s power and evil intent cannot be matched by human effort, so we dare not ever trust our ability to overcome him.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same;
And he must win the battle.

The “right Man” is our Lord Jesus Christ, the “. . . image of the invisible God,” the Creator of “. . . all things in heaven and on earth,” the One in whom “. . . all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17 NRSV). It is through Him that we are “. . . made strong with all the strength that comes from His glorious power” (Colossians 1:11 NRSV). Therefore, we have no need to fear whatever our “ancient foe” sends our way.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.

God’s truth will triumph “through us.” God does not promise to keep us from the onslaughts of sin in this world, but He does promise to go with us through them. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NRSV). And we are given the means to fight our spiritual battles – specifically God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

That Word above all earthly powers no thanks to them abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God truth abideth still;
His Kingdom is forever!

Burk Parsons writes, “In His first coming [Jesus] established and inaugurated God’s kingdom . . . through the Holy Spirit, He is now expanding and increasing God’s kingdom . . . one day, He will return to judge all people. When He does return, He will bring the full and final consummation of God’s kingdom; established the new heaven and new earth; conquer all His and our enemies; save all who are true Israel and united to Him by faith; dry every tear from our eyes; and fully and finally eradicate sin and death.”[3]

What a glorious day that will be! Even so, Lord Jesus come!

[1] TEXT: Martin Luther (1529); translated by Frederick H. Hedge (1852). TUNE: EIN FESTE BURG

[2] Dr. Burk Parsons, TABLETALK, November 2021, p. 2.

[3] Dr. Burk Parsons, TABLETALK, November 2021, p. 2.

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The Promise of Easter in Real Life

We were still basking in the joy of Christ’s resurrection on the day after Easter when we got word that one of the young men in our church had been killed.  Just the day before – on Easter Sunday – we had read these triumphant words:

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting”
(1 Corinthians 15:54-55 ESV)

Then just over 24 hours later, we felt the sting of death.  We felt like we were being swallowed up with sorrow instead of death being swallowed up in victory.  And not only the death of one in our family, but our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka felt the sting of death at Easter as bombs went off in churches while they were celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. What do we do in times like this?  How can we know the victory of Christ’s resurrection when tragedy and death still haunt us in this life?

Asking questions like “Why?” or “What if?” don’t help, because those questions are usually unanswerable.  But there is a question we can answer: “What now?”  That’s a question that speaks to the future – to moving forward – and we can move forward because of the God who provided the great Resurrection victory over death that we celebrate at Easter.  The writer of Psalm 139 tells us three great truths about our God that help us know what to do now.

First, our God knows every movement we make and every action we take

We read in verses 1 thru 6 that God knows our lives down to the minutest detail – when and where we sit or stand, what our thoughts are, and even the words we are going to say before we ever say them.

Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up;
You understand my thoughts from far away.
You observe my travels and my rest; you are aware of all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord.
You have encircled me; you have placed your hand on me.
This wondrous knowledge is beyond me.  It is lofty; I am unable to reach it. (CSB)

This truth gives us hope in our grief because the God who knows us in such intimate detail is the God who controls the affairs of this world.  And in God’s world, nothing happens outside of his sovereign knowledge and control.  So, we trust.

Second, our God is present everywhere we are and everywhere we have been.

Verses 7 thru 12 tell us that no matter how dark our circumstances – no matter how tragic our experience – God is right there.

Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits,
even there your hand will lead me; your right hand will hold on to me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will be night”—
even the darkness is not dark to you. The night shines like the day;
darkness and light are alike to you. (CSB)

After being released from a Nazi prison camp, Corrie Ten Boom could testify that “there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”  As the hymn writer Isaac Watts put it, “everywhere that man shall be, Thou God art present there.”  And not only is God where we are going, but our God is not bound by time as we know it, so that He is still in our past – in the places we have been.  Past, present, or future, God is present and guiding our circumstances by his great love.  So, we seek to be close to our ever-present God.

Third, our God loves us more than we can imagine and loves our loved ones far more than we ever could.

Verses 13 thru 18 paint a word picture of how our God cares about every part of who we are, and everything we experience.

For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made.
Your works are wondrous, and I know this very well.
My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret,
when I was formed in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began.

God, how precious your thoughts are to me; how vast their sum is!
If I counted them, they would outnumber the grains of sand;
when I wake up, I am still with you. (CSB)

He is the great Creator of life in a mother’s womb.  He is the one who has our days planned before we ever come to be.  And He is the one whose thoughts toward us are precious and full of love.  He knows our grief – he has carried our sorrows – and He triumphed over all that causes pain and heartache on the Cross.  So, we rest in His great love for us.  The empty tomb of Easter is proof positive that, while the defeat of death is not complete yet, one day it will be.  One day, tears of agony will no longer run down cheeks.  One day, spouses or parents will no longer receive a dreaded phone call in the night.  Until that day, may this be our prayer:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
(Psalm 139:23-24 NLT)


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Thursday is Thanksgiving Day.

I want to be thankful, and I do have much for which to be thankful.  But I don’t feel thankful.  My emotions are not resonating with gratitude.  My mind is not turning over images of people or things or occasions or circumstances that bring joy.  Instead, my emotions are resonating with sadness and tension and regret and longing, and my mind is turning over images of things I wish had gone differently in the past or that I wish could be different now.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing this on a Sunday evening.  It is said that pastors write more letters of resignation on Sunday evenings and Mondays than at any other time – and I’ve written my share.  One of the hardest things I find in being a pastor is putting forward a positive image even when experiences or feelings are far from positive in my life.  A faithful pastor proclaims the truth of God’s Word even when what is objectively true is not experientially true in his life, and that is what I strive to do.  Today was overall a good day in our church.  Our worship was clearly focused on praising God for who He is and thanking Him for what He has done for us.  We closed our service with a meaningful observance of the Lord’s Supper.  In between I think I gave an adequate exhortation on how we can and should use holidays as “holy days” for deepening our love for Christ – as well as our experience of His love for us – and growing in love for others.

But I struggle in living out those truths because my emotions often wage war in my mind against the truth.

This morning, we sang, “Great is thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see,” but many mornings I can’t seem to see past my worries for that day or the emotional baggage building up from previous days.  We sang, “How great is our God, and all will see how great, how great is our God,” but I wonder if people really see the greatness of God in me.  I know they often see tension and a melancholy spirit.  I know they sometimes see bitterness and frustration.  But the greatness of God?  I’m such a poor witness of this.

I wish my life was more filled with the thankfulness that Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend write about with words that express truths that I believe – truths that I wish would cause confirming emotions to flow out of from me:

My heart is filled with thankfulness to Him who bore my pain
Who plumbed the depths of my disgrace and gave me life again.
My heart is filled with thankfulness to Him who walks beside
Who floods my weaknesses with strength and causes fears to fly.
My heart is filled with thankfulness to Him who reigns above
Whose wisdom is my perfect peace, whose every thought is love.

But on this Sunday night – and many other nights – the emotions are just not there.  Disappointment with myself and circumstances?  Yes.  Loneliness and longing for something or someone who will take the pain away?  Yes.  Feelings of disgrace and weakness?  Yes.  But right now, thankfulness and peace and love are not flowing on the inside.  Right now is an exercise of walking without “sight” – without feeling.  The way for me right now is to walk in emotional darkness, taking one step at a time.  Right now is living in hope that one day I will experientially know my fears taking flight, and my soul resting in His perfect peace.

Right now, I’m hoping that, perhaps one day, my feelings will confirm my faith and I will truly feel thankful.

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