Reverend Dr. William H. Curtis

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Isaiah 7:10-16

Isaiah’s prophecies are for both his present context and the future. These involve the coming of Jesus Christ to free God’s people from oppression. King Ahaz, the king who received this prophecy, trusted his human allies and refused to put his trust in God, even as his enemies were sitting on his doorstep.

However, God is patient and kind. Despite Ahaz’s doubts, God told Ahaz to ask for a sign to prove how powerful and faithful God is. Surprisingly, Ahaz rejected the offer. He suggested that asking for a sign would be offensive to God. So, God calls him a fool and tells him that He will give him a sign anyway.

There will be a boy, born to a virgin in Bethlehem. His obedience to God, rejection of sin, and willing sacrifice of His life will save humanity and restore the world to divine intentionality.

This prophecy and what we celebrate as Christmas are about the same thing: What do we do with God’s big invitations in our lives? God’s big invitation to Ahaz was to ask for a sign, and it is the same in our lives. He is asking us to ask Him for a confirmation.

Jesus has come, and He is patiently waiting for us to accept Him. God’s grace and mercy are so deep that God will answer our rejection with other opportunities. He looks beyond our faults and caters to our needs. He does all of this because He knows that sooner or later we will taste and see that the Lord is good.

This is why we ought to love God. God never lets our limitations be His ceiling. He meets us where we are and gives us more opportunity and provision than we have ever asked for. God has always stood one step further than we thought was our last step. He pushes us so that we might achieve what He has in store for us.

Our struggles in life are because God loves us so much that He wants to sharpen us. He is always trying to teach us to walk by faith so that we can ultimately stand in His presence. God wants us to be able to enjoy the fullness of our blessing. It may not make sense in the moment, but God’s love for us is so wide and deep that He is always working for our good.

Luke 9:12-17

Jesus challenged the disciples when they attempted to dismiss the crowd that had excitedly followed Jesus all day long. The disciples were concerned about the practicalities: How would the crowd get home when it gets dark? Does the crowd plan to eat? So, the disciples suggested that Jesus should send the crowd away. The disciples didn’t want to accept any responsibility for these people.

Jesus then gave the disciples a strong lesson. He told the disciples that they would not be sending anyone away. Then, He pushes the disciples by telling them, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus is telling them that He will not send people away to search for a solution to their problems because He is that solution.

The disciples failed to understand the importance of care and connection, so Jesus had the disciples work the ministry that day.

Discerning a need is a calling for us, just like it was for the disciples, to stop being an observer. Spiritual growth fosters discernment in us and that discernment allows us to see need. When we see need in the lives around us, we are the first solution to that need. What we cannot do is walk with the Lord and dismiss our ability to help fulfill those needs.

Walking with Him is about more than proximity to holiness. It is accepting that we can only be observers for so long before we are required to channel what God has given to us as a benefit to someone else. If He saved us, He wants to use us.

Being part of a church is about more than just learning and worship. Church isn’t like the supermarket. It’s not a place where we go to get our teaching and worship and check out. It’s not like a football game where we are just observers. God saved us to be partners in kingdom expansion.

Every believer should be engaged in ministry. We should all be in a receiving ministry, like worship and bible study. We should all sing our worship whether we can sing or not because it isn’t just for us; it teaches those around us. We should also be in a service ministry: something that uses what God has handed to us so that we can pass it on to someone else.

We cannot be a part of God’s church and just receive. We can’t just come to worship and call ourselves mature disciples. God has to work through us so that we can be a benefit to others. That is why Jesus told the disciples, “You give them something to eat.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 NIV

As the saying goes, we can live several weeks without food. We can go several days without water. We can go several minutes without oxygen. Without hope you can live but a second. It makes sense, then, as the Apostle Paul is ending his letter to the Romans, he ends his letter with something he knows that they can’t live without.

But the strength in Paul’s benediction is the power of trust in God. For every one of us, we are tightly secured and fortressed by the God of hope. Paul hopes to convey to the Romans and to us that God is a God who inspires hope. He imparts hope to His children and can be counted on to fulfill what remains to be accomplished in our lives.

We can be in the midst of chaos and still be full of joy and this is what Paul means when he says “May the hope of God fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” God is not intimidated by our human challenges. He can prepare a table in the presence of our enemies and in the midst of our circumstances.

We live every day with favorable expectations. Our tribulations are real, but they cannot crush the plans that God has for us. We cannot feel so defeated or become so exhausted that God’s work will be minimized in our lives. We never have to accept what seems to have gone wrong as God’s will.

Hope is to know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. When we serve God, we should hope big. We can’t come to a big God and come with small plans. When we partner with God, we can come full to the brim with hope. We have to expand our plans until God can stand us in front of Pharaoh and we can say, “God said let my people go!”

As Christians, we know that no matter how haywire life becomes, we still have hope. Hope in God will never disappoint. Our hope in Jesus gives us permission to walk in the field of the unseen. It is the reason that we live in the present but with the future always at hand. We’re not walking around with blinders on, we’re just walking in the not yet.

We know how big our foe is. We know how hard we fight against him. But our mindset isn’t what is important. What is important is how strong our hope is. If our hope is stable, our weeping today gives way to joy in the morning.

Job 2:1-8

In a single day, Job’s entire life was turned upside down by a conversation that he was not privy to. God offered Job up to Satan with the intent to demonstrate His goodness and greatness in the lives of his free creation. God’s trust in the ironclad tenacity of Job’s righteousness created a test of Job’s faith to prove to Satan that God’s love need not ever be manipulated, but it is offered up in pure faith and total trust.

Satan believed that if Job was hit hard enough, he would curse God to His face. However, Job trusted God so much that when his children would go out, he would go into prayer and ask God to cover them and forgive them in case they sinned.

Satan was permitted to unleash his complete trilogy of demonic attempt: to steal, to kill, and to destroy. In one day, Job’s livestock perished, all his children died, his land lay infertile, and his body is covered in boils.

Trying to make sense of his seemingly unjustified suffering, Job sat in a pile of ashes scraping the puss out of his boils. He is in the emotional abyss, sitting and making no moves—not actively bringing about any answer or change to his current condition.

This is a portrait of spiritual unforgiveness. This is what happens to us when we are suddenly hit by human injury. When we cannot forgive, life comes to a standstill. We sit just as Job did. Our sores still run open because the actions that we are taking are not making a positive difference at all. As the saying goes, “Unforgiveness is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die.”

We cannot expect forgiveness to be a gift bestowed upon us by God. Forgiveness will not come to us as a virtue, supernaturally or otherwise. Forgiveness requires that we exercise discipline and decide to forgive. God wants us to wake up in the morning and exercise forgiveness by acknowledging the forgiveness that we have received from God.

Acknowledging the love of God in our lives brings us together. The only reason we are alive today is because our good God forgave us of our sins. We should fight to forgive because we live forgiven. God has accepted our repentance and treats us as though we have never created an offense against Him.

We have no business sitting on the ash heap scraping our sores. It is stealing precious time from an otherwise blessed life. We are empowering our offenders to have far too much control over our souls. We were not destined to sit in unforgiveness.

Deuteronomy 26:1-5

The book of Deuteronomy is Israel’s attempt to recount the history of their becoming a mighty nation and the covenant people of God. In chapter 26, Moses gave the young nation detailed directives on how they are to enter, possess, and settle into the land that had been promised to them, forty years ago.

Now, they are unapologetically following the God of their freedom. With all of the displays of omnipotent power, anyone would conclude that God has been good to Israel. He kept all of His promises, including the one that Israel was about to enjoy.

As the Israelites are about to enter into the Promised Land, Moses says:

When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us. The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. Deuteronomy 26:1-5 (NIV)

We may have assumed that the first thing that Moses would tell them to do was to worship. We may have assumed that they should then set to building houses and defenses around the land. We might have even thought that the best reflection of gratitude would be to possess the land and then praise God.

But Moses says that the first thing that they are directed to do is to gather the firstfruit of the land and offer it to God. Don’t eat first. Don’t plan to worship first. Don’t think about how to put God first. Just respond by gathering the firstfruits as a way of acknowledging that all of the blessings are blessings from God.

But the question that we have to ask ourselves today is: “When did that change?” When did God go from deserving the firstfruits to maybe not even being offered anything from the fruit that he let us pluck? When did God move down the list?

Many of us don’t conceive of our fruit as spiritual. We have become convinced by our culture that it is evil to even think about money, let alone consider that before we enjoy or spend our money that we should be honoring God with our money.

Satan has worked a diabolical agenda on us. He has weakened us by focusing us on worship as the main priority over giving. We have been convinced that as long as we worship, we’re alright. However, giving is a core aspect of our faith and should be our first response to God, even before worship.